SDSU Symphony Orchestra and Choir Join Regional Choirs to Present To Be Certain of the Dawn

California Premiere of Commissioned Oratorio Emphasizes Importance of Interfaith Relationships

Contact: Lizbeth Persons Price
SDSU Public Affairs for the Arts

SAN DIEGO, CA — The SDSU School of Music and Dance presents the California premiere of To Be Certain of the Dawn, an oratorio of remembrance, renewal and hope, on Saturday, April 25, 2015, 7:30 p.m. at the College Avenue Baptist Church (4747 College Avenue, San Diego). Dr. Patrick Walders, SDSU Director of Choral Studies, will conduct the 60-piece SDSU Symphony Orchestra, and a 130-voice combined choir comprised of the SDSU Chamber Choir and Aztec Concert Choir, along with the Palomar Chamber Singers, MiraCosta College Chamber Choir, the Cecilia Choir (children’s choir) from St. Paul’s Cathedral, and student and professional soloists.

Composed by Grammy-nominated American composer, the late Stephen Paulus, in collaboration with award-winning poet and librettist, Michael Dennis Browne, this moving, hour-long oratorio was commissioned by Fr. Michael J. O’Connell of Minneapolis, and first performed in the Basilica of Saint Mary in November 2005. To Be Certain of the Dawn seeks to educate, through music, that understanding the past is key to preventing atrocities such as the Holocaust. The original 2005 performance of To Be Certain of the Dawn commemorated the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camps in 1945.

The work opens with the triumphant sound of a shofar, or ram’s horn, the unmistakable ancient Jewish instrument, accompanied by illuminated images depicting the faces of Jewish children, and the Biblical verse ‘You should love your neighbor as yourself,’ representing the guiding theme of the oratorio. Presented as a triptych, the first section deals with Christian repentance for the Holocaust; the second section focuses on the experience of the Jewish people during the Holocaust; and the final section presents the importance of interfaith relationships. Paulus chooses to close the piece as it began, sounding the shofar, signifying movement and transformation across all denominations, bringing about a gathering of peace following change.

In a note to audiences, Paulus describes Fr. O’Connell’s vision of the work as a “vehicle for communicating to individuals and communities that children are the key to prevention of genocide, both today and in the future,” and Librettist Browne concurs, “the faces of the children are the sun, moon, and stars of this piece.”

“The piece seeks to create transformation and change in the audience,” explains Walders. “The music is immediately engaging to the listener and performers, eliciting a visceral response. The libretto is thought provoking and brilliantly set. It will be a meaningful event for everyone involved.”

Tickets for To be Certain of the Dawn are $10, general admission, and $5 students, and can be purchased online at or at the box office one hour before performance.  Parking is free at the venue.

The SDSU School of Music and Dance presents over 200 concerts, recitals and dance performances each year. For news and information about performances, many with free admission, visit the School’s calendar or connect on Facebook or Twitter.

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Steven Paulus (Composer): Stephen Paulus (1949-2014) was a prolific American composer of classical music. He wrote over 600 works for chorus, opera, orchestra, chamber ensemble, solo voice, concert band, piano, and organ, receiving premieres and performances throughout the world as well as a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Classical Composition in 2015. He was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, the Santa Fe Opera, and the Opera Theatre of St. Louis. The New Yorker described him as a “bright, lyrical inventor whose music pulsates with a driving, kinetic energy.” He was a recipient of both NEA and Guggenheim Fellowships.

Michael Dennis Browne (Librettist): Michael Dennis Browne is a librettist and poet and professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota where he taught and served as the director of the creative writing program. He is a member of the Academy of Distinguished Teachers. He has won awards for his volumes of poetry and his works have been published in major magazines, journals, and anthologies. His work has been recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Bush Foundation, the Jerome Foundation, and the McKnight Foundation. Two of his collections have won the Minnesota Book Award for poetry.

Dr. Patrick Walders (Conductor): Patrick Walders maintains an active career as a professional vocalist, music educator, church musician, clinician, and conductor. He is Director of Choral Studies and Vocal Arts Coordinator within the School of Music and Dance at San Diego State University. An Associate Professor, he conducts the Aztec Concert Choir and SDSU Chamber Choir and leads the graduate program in Choral Conducting that offers the Masters of Music degree and Artist Diploma. He and his wife founded the San Diego Pro Arte Voices, a non-profit organization engaging professional artists of all disciplines for the advancement of the arts in society. He is Founder and Artistic Director of the annual San Diego Summer Choral Festival designed to give teachers, church musicians, students, amateurs, and professionals a high-quality summer choral performing outlet. For four seasons, he was the Associate Conductor of the National Philharmonic Chorale and Artistic Director of the National Philharmonic Singers. Patrick has performed as a professional soloist and consort artist throughout the northeastern United States and southern California.

Fr. Michael J. O’Connell (Commissioner): Father O’Connell has been pastor at Church of the Ascension since 1999. During this time and up until the summer of 2008, he also served as rector of The Basilica of Saint Mary in downtown Minneapolis. He was at the Basilica for 17 years. Known as a visionary and adept fundraiser, Fr. O’Connell is acknowledged as a leader in the Twin Cities community. He is founder of the popular Basilica Block Party and the Jeremiah Program. Fr. O’Connell is recognized as well for his dedication to interfaith relations. He is a member of the Downtown Interfaith Pastors Association and the Jay Phillips Center for Jewish Christian Learning Board. Additionally, Fr. O’Connell serves as a board member for the Saint John’s Graduate School of Theology; Friends of Ascension Catholic Grade School; Lundstrum Center for the Performing Arts; FOCUS: Friends of Catholic Urban Schools, and the Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi Foundation for Children, EastGateway Partnership. He previously served as chair of the Hazelden Foundation Executive Committee, and he remains a member of the Jeremiah Program’s executive committee and leads the growth and expansion committee.

About the SDSU School of Music and Dance
The study of music was an early area of concentration at San Diego State University. Among the first seven professors hired in 1898 when the university was chartered, one was a music professor.  By 1907 the Department of Music at San Diego State University began conferring degrees, and a commitment to excellence in artistic innovation was dedicated.  The commitment fostered a long legacy of educational and musical leadership for the program.  Today it flourishes as the SDSU School of Music and Dance.  For more information visit

The Ensembles:
SDSU Symphony Orchestra, Michael Gerdes, Director (Orchestral Preparer)
SDSU Chamber Choir, Patrick Walders, Director
Aztec Concert Choir, Dr. Patrick Walders, Director
Palomar Chamber Singers, Sally Dean, Director
MiraCosta College Chamber Choir, Arlie Langager, Director
Cecilia Choir, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Martin Green, Director