MASON CITY | Two Mason City High School graduates have composed choral works that will have a world premiere during Saturday's Una Vocis Concert in Mason City.

Connor Koppin, a 2009 MCHS graduate and December 2013 Wartburg College graduate, used the poem "Heaven-Haven" by Gerard Manley Hopkins as the text for his piece.

Michael Betz, a 2011 MCHS graduate who is now a junior at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., set the Walt Whitman poem "A Clear Midnight" to music.

Betz, a pianist and a percussionist, said the cadence of this poem spoke to him musically.

"I do not find every poem I read to be musically suggestive, but I heard several musical fragments in my head after reading through this a few times, so I knew I had to set it to music," he said.

THE MOST STRIKING FEATURE of his musical setting for the poem is its dense harmony, according to Betz. He said although the piece is not written in a jazz style, its harmonies are definitely informed by jazz harmonies.

Betz said "A Clear Midnight" is one of the first choral works he has ever composed, but he has written many instrumental pieces that have been performed on the concert stage and in a variety of media, including video games, a YouTube series and an independent short film. 

He said he began making things up at the piano at a young age, but didn't get serious about composing until he was in middle school.

Betz, who is comfortable in both jazz and classical music, maintains an active performance schedule as a solo and collaborative pianist in North Iowa and southern Minnesota. He has played at the Mason City Public Library, Prime N Wine and several other locations around Mason City.

In July 2013, he traveled to Paris to take part in the European-American Musical Alliance Summer Composition Program.

KOPPEN SAID "HEAVEN-HAVEN" is a piece that "puts the text first."

He said the text of the poem is indicative of the choices he made as a composer, including the vocal techniques and harmonies.

Koppin currently is a long-term substitute vocal music teacher in Lino Lakes, Minn. He has been hired as a vocal music teacher in the Roland-Story School District, beginning this fall.

He said he didn't start composing music until the summer before his junior year at Wartburg. 

He went on a European tour with the Wartburg Choir. During the tour Stanford Scriven, who had composed one of the pieces the choir was singing on tour, came to talk to them.

Coppin said Scriven was a student at St. Olaf College at the time, which showed him that someone his own age could be a composer.

JUST A FEW YEARS LATER, Coppin has published more than 30 pieces of choral music that have been performed by groups at Wartburg, Luther College, various high school choirs, and churches all over the United States.

He said now that he has been composing for a while and is familiar with the process, he is slowing down so he can "craft things just how I want them to be."

More about Saturday's concert can be found in the Preview section of today's Globe Gazette


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