BYU alumnus Matthew Nielsen steps in as interim director while Rosalind Hall is on professional leave
BYU alumnus Matthew Nielsen is serving as interim director for BYU Concert Choir and BYU Men’s Chorus while Rosalind Hall is on sabbatical. He is also teaching two conducting classes. Nielsen is a published composer, was taught by Morten Lauridsen, is a former interim choral director at Utah Valley University and a former BYU Concert Choir and BYU Singers member.
Hall will be returning in the fall, but is taking this time to advance her learning as a choral professional.
“For a very long time, I have been wanting to advance my learning as a choral professional,” Hall said. “I knew though that it would be impossible for me to pursue these many avenues of inquiry while teaching my full load at the university. I am delighted Dr. Matt Nielsen agreed to take over my duties in order for me to take a professional leave.”
Nielsen graduated with his Bachelor’s degree in sound recording technology followed by a Master’s degree in choral conducting, finishing at BYU in 2012. While at BYU Nielsen went on three tours with BYU Singers and participated in the first London choral conducting study abroad. Nielsen then began a doctorate program in choral music in his home state at the University of Southern California, which he has nearly completed.
Nielsen credits his time as a member of BYU’s choirs as preparation for this interim director position.
“I understand how these singers operate because I was one of them and I understand the special music that BYU has from combining intellect and spirituality and incorporating that into a very mission driven ensemble,” Nielsen said.
When first approached with the position of interim director for the Winter 2017 semester Nielsen was excited for the opportunity.
“My initial thought was, ‘That’s fantastic! Who wouldn’t kill for an opportunity to conduct the Men’s Chorus and Concert Choir?’” Nielsen said. “Then it was sort of tempered by the intimidation.”
Nielsen expressed his admiration of Hall as well as the important role she plays at BYU.
“Sister Hall is so well loved and rightfully so,” Nielsen said. “She is one of the most respected professors on this campus. That’s a tough act to follow. Those are big shoes to fill.”
Nielsen said as he discussed the position with current faculty it became more apparent that his fears needed to step aside and he needed to rise to the occasion.
While Nielsen has enjoyed music for most of his life, his biggest life changing experience came when he began singing with BYU Concert Choir under the direction of Rosalind Hall.
“Sister Hall gave me my first break in music when she let me into BYU Concert Choir,” Nielsen said. “The very first day of rehearsal totally changed my life because we started singing ‘Psalm 104’ by Cyrillus Kreek and I had never heard a choir sound like that before.”
Nielsen said when he joined Concert Choir as a student he was amazed by the sight-reading ability as well as the group’s dedication, commitment and passion to the ensemble. Nielsen remembers he had never met a conductor who cared about the singers as much as Hall did.
“That first rehearsal turned my world upside down and I actually started counting down to rehearsals,” Nielsen said. “I’d never looked forward to rehearsal until that moment and now I really love being involved in and dedicating my life to the choral art.”
Now completing a true full circle, Nielsen will be directing Concert Choir in the Four Psalms of David by Kreek in their April 7 concert in the de Jong Concert Hall at the Harris Fine Arts Center.
Under Nielsen’s direction BYU Men’s Chorus will be going on tour to St. George beginning March 4 and the women in concert choir will be performing in April for the Women’s General Session of LDS General Conference.
Nielsen hopes to share his unique experience with his students while at BYU and his experience with choral performance outside of college.
“I sang with a staff section leader at St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral and when you’re rehearsing and singing a new program every single week and you’re one of two bases instead of 80 bases, there’s a certain sort of knowledge that you gain,” Nielsen said.
Before coming back to BYU, Nielsen sang with university ensembles in Los Angeles, worked as company manager for the Santa Fe Desert Chorale and was hired as a professional singer in a New Jersey choir called Kinnara.
After completing the interim position Nielsen’s plans to finish his dissertation, graduate and find a job that will allow him to keep contributing to the choral art.