Shining star: Craig native Laurel Luke-Christensen to debut musical composition at Virginia choir concert
A Craig native is making her voice heard.
Laurel Luke-Christensen will see her musical composition skills come to fruition during The Virginia Chorale’s “Pioneering Voices” program May 12 at Virginia Wesleyan University.
Luke-Christensen, who grew up in Craig and graduated from Moffat County High School in 2006, entered the Chorale’s 35th anniversary Composition Contest, beating out other entries from the United States, Canada, Europe, Israel, and Australia with her piece, “I Saw A Star.”
The show specifically focuses on highlighting the talents of female composers and will also feature works by Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, Lili Boulanger, and Alice Parker.
Luke-Christiansen, who currently lives in Philadelphia, has studied and taught music for the better part of the last decade.
Her parents, Shellee and Forrest Luke, currently reside in Craig.
Craig Press caught up with her about her accomplishments in the discipline and how she began her path in Craig.
Craig Press: What kind of musical style is the work that will be performed? About how big of an ensemble will be involved?
Luke-Christensen: The composition is one work for a capella — so, voices only — mixed choir — soprano, alto, tenor, bass — and it’s about three minutes long. The piece will be performed by the Virginia Chorale, a fully professional ensemble — meaning all the singers are paid — conducted by Chuck Woodward.
What inspired your piece?
The text for “I Saw a Star” is taken from a line in the novel “The Waves” by Virginia Woolf. The line reads, “I saw a star riding through the clouds one night, and I said to the star, ‘consume me.’” I tried to create an ethereal feel with the harmonic language I chose, and the sopranos have a line that suspends above the other voices at the beginning and the end. Sort of like a star being suspended, I guess.
What kind of impact did your time in Craig have on your future in music?
While I lived in Craig, I took piano lessons from Lorraine Morrison in Hayden, I sang in choir all four years of high school — with Noelle Winn, junior and senior year — and participated in the musical every year with Amy Pottinger. I also played piano in the jazz band for one year. I had a couple of English classes with Sylvia Duncan that introduced me to Emily Dickinson and other poets I still love. My dreams changed a lot — some of them weren’t very realistic — but attending the Colorado All-State Choir for the first time in 2005 had a huge impact on me deciding to become a choir teacher.
Since graduating, I have earned a bachelor’s in music education from Brigham Young University and by May 11 — the day before the premiere — I will have earned my master’s in music education from Virginia Commonwealth University. I also minored in English as an undergrad, so I got more exposure to poetry and literature to dig through to find texts for compositions.
I taught middle school in Norfolk, Virginia, for two years and high school in Williamsburg, Virginia, for five years. We moved there for my husband to attend medical school. I wrote a little bit for my choir at Jamestown High School in Williamsburg. My five years at Jamestown High School have definitely been the most defining years of my career so far, teaching choir, music appreciation, and AP music theory. I grew a lot as a conductor and teacher there and taught some really wonderful students. Now, I live in Philadelphia and have an 8-month-old, so I haven’t been working full-time to be with him, but I am serving as the assistant conductor of a community choir called Voices Chorale NJ in Hopewell, New Jersey, an hour drive from Philly. I took music theory and choral arranging in undergrad and studied composition with a teacher in Norfolk and a teacher in Philadelphia, but I feel like taking some time away from teaching has allowed me the time to really finish and polish something for the first time.
What does it mean to you to have a big step like this? Any other big projects in the works?
I didn’t tell people that I had been composing music. I felt kind of shy about it, so the most exciting and scary thing to come from this is that people have started to refer to me as a composer. I have spoken to a high school teacher and former colleague about writing something for her women’s choir, which I’m very excited for. I would really love to write more for women’s choirs, as we really need more women composers writing for women’s voices. My composition teacher — a Ph.D student at University of Pennsylvania — has some assignments for me composing for strings that will be very challenging for me. I would really like to keep composing, and winning this award has given me a little boost in thinking that maybe I have some business composing. I still think I have a way to go before I really own it, if that makes any sense. I do hope to get there, though…
After years of leadership turnover at Moffat County High School, students and staff will find some continuity in their newly selected principal.