This month, Capital University is hosting Minneapolis-based composer and conductor Jake Runestad for a residency that culminates in a March 25 performance. The concert marks the premiere of Runestad's latest choral work, Please Stay—inspired by stories of overcoming depression and choosing life over death—as well as the first annual Young Choral Artists Festival.
Runestad was born 30 years ago in Rockford, Illinois. He's a graduate of Winona State University and the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University. His music has been called "highly imaginative" and "stirring and uplifting" (Miami Herald).
What intrigues me is the social conscience informing a lot of Runestad's music. To date, he's best known for the colossal Dreams of the Fallen, a cantata for chorus, orchestra and piano written with poet Brian Turner, a veteran of the war in Iraq.
Runestad wrote Alleluia in 2014:
Please Stay, his latest choral work, is a commission from the Ohio Choral Directors Association. A portion of the proceeds from this work will be donated to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
I recently spoke with Runestad about Please Stay:
Runestad is known for his creative and compelling choice of texts. Please Stay is very powerful. He wrote about the inspiration for the work:
In 2013, suicide took the lives of 41,149 people in the USA alone. Depression affects about 20 million people in the USA, 350 million worldwide. Mental health disorders are serious issues in our culture and it is important that we have open conversation about their existence and that we show support to those who are battling them.
To Write Love On Her Arms is a nonprofit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. Their 2016 campaign for World Suicide Prevention Day was titled “And So I Kept Living.” Using the hashtag #IKeptLiving, thousands of individuals who battle depression shared their stories on Twitter as to why they chose to life over death. I read through and collected hundreds of the tweets and used them to inspire the text for this work.
“Please Stay” is an anthem for hope — an attempt to destigmatize mental illness and challenge all of us to support those who are battling depression and thoughts of suicide. You are not alone. We can make a difference. We can be the support system that saves a life.
Runestad is collaborating with the wonderful Lynda Hasseler, director of choral activities at Capital University's Conservatory of Music. If you haven't yet been over to Capital to hear Hasseler's choirs, GO!
Hasseler got me very interested in the March residency. The Capital University choirs are preparing a concert program of Runestad’s beautiful and compelling music for the March 25 performance.
Additionally we are initiating the inaugural Young Choral Artists Festival on March 25. The YCA ensemble will be made up of quartets from flourishing high school choral programs throughout Ohio. I am inviting the directors of these programs to nominate four of their upper-level, musically talented students to participate in this exciting event. The YCA ensemble will rehearse with guest composer Runestad for a couple of hours on that Saturday afternoon and perform during the concert in the evening.
Here is an opportunity to hear a new work embracing an important topic, written by an acclaimed young composer, sung by a superb choral ensemble, conducted by a world-class artist and performed a few miles away from where many of you are reading this.
See you there!