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Fine and Performing Arts will lend voices to 'unsung heroes' at Opus Prize ceremony

Members of the Creighton Chamber Choir will perform at the Opus Prize ceremony on Nov. 17 at the Holland Center in downtown Omaha.The Opus Prize is a $1 million award bestowed upon a faith-based organization engaged in some of the most profound and direly needed charity work around the world.

Given those variables, Creighton University, which hosts the 2016 Opus Prize ceremony on Nov. 17 at the Holland Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Omaha, has turned to faculty and students in the Department of Fine and Performing Arts to set an appropriate mood for the prize, the finalists and the causes they represent.

To that end, the Creighton Symphony Orchestra will play the triumphant “Academic Festival Overture” from Johannes Brahms to open the ceremony and Robert Jager’s “Esprit de Corps” march for the recessional. The University’s Chamber Choir will punctuate the introductions of the nominees with two traditional American folk pieces that nod to Creighton’s theme for the event: “Restoring Hope, Lighting the Way Home”: “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” and “Poor Wayfaring Stranger,” the latter of which will serve as the music for a dance piece by the Creighton Dance Company.

One of the prize’s main functions is to recognize “unsung heroes” engaged in humanitarian pursuits. Thus, Creighton is hoping to give voice to the nominees and their stories.

“It’s everybody offering their talents to serve and to make this a fitting celebration,” said Barron Breland, DM, associate professor of choral music and director of the Chamber Choir. “And it’s a tremendous opportunity for the students to perform in the Holland Center and to be a part of the ceremony. The nominees have moving stories to tell and we want to encapsulate that as best we can in the music.”

From the announcement of Creighton’s hosting of the 2016 Opus Prize, University organizers were eager to infuse the arts into the ceremony. Breland and Frederick Hanna, DMA, professor of music and conductor of the Creighton Symphony Orchestra, began looking at musical possibilities to imbue the ceremony with both the necessary gravitas and celebratory atmosphere.

The 2016 Opus Prize finalists represent a range of charitable work. Jesuit Worldwide Learning, represented by the Rev. Peter Balleis, SJ, looks for ways to provide higher learning opportunities for refugees and others on the margins at 11 sites in nine countries. Cana Communities Inc., ministers to the chronically homeless and drug-addicted in Sydney, Australia. Sari Bari is a social business in Kolkata, India, helping women escape the city’s sex trade.

Hanna hit upon the “Academic Festival” as a means of setting the tone for the award and the Jager march as a kind of winking directive as the audience files out.

“A big, happy piece,” Hanna said of the Brahms. “It is the celebratory piece of the evening we want to convey. And the ‘Esprit de Corps’ is not a reflective piece at all. It’s a march. It gets everyone out of their seats and hopefully feeling good about what the nominees are doing, maybe gets them thinking about what they can do to contribute. If we are going to play orchestral music, we wanted to focus on restoring that hope.”

In the ceremony itself, Breland chose the choral pieces as reflections of the nominees’ efforts to combat homelessness, human trafficking and the plight of refugees.

“Folk songs, especially in the African American spiritual tradition, really spoke to the ‘Lighting the Way Home’ theme,” Breland said. “All along, the Opus Prize committee has asked us to infuse the prize into the classroom and we’ve been talking about how these pieces fit. There are some serious themes in both the songs, talking about dealing with troubles, but also showing that there is hope, there is a better place just around the corner.”

During the choir’s performance of “Poor Wayfaring Stranger,” a complement of seven Creighton dancers will perform to the live music in a modern dance piece choreographed by Nichol Mason Lazenby.

“It’s very exciting for the students and it will be a very interesting piece,” said Patrick Roddy, who coordinates Creighton’s dance program. “The dancers will represent souls on a journey through life in search for solace. It should be a moving piece, especially since it’s being performed to live music and most of our performances are set to recorded music.”

The vocal and instrumental music, combined with dance, help set the stage for Creighton to make a worthy and poignant contribution to recognizing a few of the world’s leading humanitarians.

“It is an important prize for people who are doing important work,” Hanna said. “It is, after all, a million dollars. But more than that, it speaks to the kind of work we want to see our students doing at Creighton.”

To register to attend the Opus Prize ceremony on Nov. 17 at 7 p.m.

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Creighton University is a Jesuit, Catholic university bridging health, law, business and the arts and sciences for a more just world.