Tabor alum receives lifetime award from National Opera Association

The National Opera Associa?tion has awarded former Tabor College professor and alumnus Carl Gerbrandt its prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award for his significant and distinguished contributions to the area of sacred opera.

Gerbrandt, 69, graduated from Tabor in 1962 and returned to teach voice at the college from 1963 to 1966. His parents, sister and wife also attended Tabor, adding depth and richness to the Gerbrandt family?s legacy at the college.

According to Tabor College historian Peggy Goertzen, director of the college?s Center for Mennonite Brethren Studies, ?Carl Ger?brandt is an impressive example of a music professional who can trace his academic preparation and inspiration to Tabor College and its faculty.?

Now professor emeritus at the University of Northern Colorado School of Music in Greeley, Gerbrandt directed the opera theater program at UNC for 21 years. He also served as music director and conductor of the renowned Greeley Chorale for 20 years.

Gerbrandt described receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual NOA convention Jan. 9 in Atlanta, Ga., as ?one of the highest moments? of his life.

?To be so honored among the great names of the opera world such as Beverly Sills, Marilyn Horne and Sherrill Milnes is a lifetime experience?one I shall never forget,? he said.

While at the convention, Gerbrandt presented a session on the staging of oratorio, using Mendelssohn?s ?Elijah? as his focus, and gathering a group of professional singers, including his son, Greg, in the title role of Elijah, and putting them through their paces on stage.

The session, lauded as one of the most inspirational of the convention, can be added to a long list of his musical directing accomplishments.

In all, Gerbrandt has presented recitals, masterclasses, and choral workshops nationwide, while performing more than 70 opera and oratorio roles. He made his professional directing debut at Washington D.C.?s Kennedy Center with Mozart?s ?Die Entf?hrung aus dem Serail.?

Additionally, his staged production of Mendelssohn?s ?Elijah? was filmed by PBS-TV and broadcast nationwide. He has directed more than 40 operas, and his ?Opera in Education? productions have been seen at three national music conventions and by thousands of young people.

Gerbrandt?s expertise in the use of sacred subjects in opera has culminated in his book, ?Sacred Music Drama,? which he wrote while serving as visiting scholar at Cambridge University in England. The first edition of the book was published in 1993 with a second edition printed in 2006.

The book has been described by the NOA as the ?go to? resource for the organization and its members, and the definitive book on the subject of sacred opera.

As a performer, Gerbrandt appeared as bass soloist with the Annapolis Naval Academy in films of Handel?s ?Messiah,? as well as other major symphonies and opera companies throughout the country.

He continues to teach voice part-time and is directing Mozart?s ?Magic Flute? for the Opera Theatre of the Rockies, Colorado Springs? professional opera company.

Young Carl learned to sing while harmonizing around the family piano. Born in Meade, Gerbrandt grew up in the Mennonite community of Reedley, Calif., where his late father, Jacob, was a teacher, pastor and administrator.

Earlier, his father founded the Meade Bible Academy. Carl?s first exposure to opera came from listening to Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts with his mother, the late Mary (Klassen) Gerbrandt.

Carl?s mother graduated from Tabor in 1925, and his father in 1926. His parents were married in August 1926. Carl?s oldest sister, Geraldine, also attended Tabor in 1952.

As a Tabor student, Carl was a member of the Tabor College Choir under the direction of Paul Wohlgemuth. Gerbrandt also played French horn in the concert band.

About his decision to attend Tabor, he said, ?I came to Tabor in 1960, transferring from Biola University, primarily due to the influence of Dr. Wohlgemuth. He had been chair of the music department at Biola and was called to Tabor to assume a similar position. So, the decision to follow him to Tabor was really quite easy.

?I would say without hesitation that the greatest influence on my life at Tabor was Dr. Wohlgemuth,? he added. ?He became my life-long mentor, until his untimely death, of course.

?Paul, more than anyone, helped me see the potential in a singing and music career, and that with a Christian lifestyle.?

After completing his master?s of music in choral conducting and voice performance at Wichita State University in 1963, Gerbrandt returned to Tabor to serve as an instructor of voice.

?This position and working with Paul and the Tabor family gave me the stimulation to stay the course of music performance, but more important to continue my work in church music,? Gerbrandt added. ?This I have done through church choirs all my life.?

In 1983, he took a teaching position at the University of Northern Colorado, where his contribution to Tabor College music continued in an indirect way. One of his students was Brad Vogel, who earned his master?s in music from UNC in 1988. Vogel joined the Tabor music faculty in 1997 and today is professor of choral music and director of the Tabor College Choir.

?Every student patterns his early teaching off of his own teacher, and I have certainly utilized many exercises and concepts learned in my studies with Dr. Gerbrandt,? Vogel said. ?His knowledge and experience certainly helped me find my way as a teacher of voice.

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