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December 7, 2004

Weston Noble retires after 57 years at Luther College

Quad City News (IL):

Though it’s already after 3 p.m., lunch can wait. A trenchcoat veers from the main hallway toward locked double doors. This is first-class.” Inside, a thin finger attached to a slight figure slides a set of switches. The lights raise, and the glory of The Weston H. Noble Recital Hall is revealed. Gradually, illumination fills a perfectly sculpted cathedral to music and the human voice. Finely tuned silence surrounds a piano waiting quietly at center stage. Walls support towering panels of wood imported from Indonesia and concrete hardened to reflect nuances. “The material on the seats is special. The acoustics don’t change whether the seats are empty or full.” The guide lingers, savoring the space, then turns and closes the door. Satisfied, Weston Noble, namesake and icon, heads for a waiting bowl of soup.

The walk from Jenson-Noble Music Hall to the student union takes about five minutes. Along the way, Noble stoops to collect a scrap of paper, a plastic cup and a disposable spoon. He drops the items in a trash bin. On the return trip, he picks up a pop can and an orange peel. “When you have a beautiful campus, you want to keep it that way,” he says.

Luther College has had one choral director for 57 years, and that man, Noble, reached the lofty plateau of living legend decades ago. At the start of his career, Noble also served simultaneously as Luther’s concert band director. He held that position for 25 years. On Nov. 30, Noble marked his 82nd birthday. He celebrated where he spent most of his life, on campus creating a joyful noise.

“He is probably the most respected conductor in the United States in choral music,” says friend Paul Torkelson, director of choral activities at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa. “He ends up being a competitor, but I look at him as more of a mentor,” Torkelson says. “We recruit against each other, but I’m always looking at what he does and how he does it.”

Since Noble started at Luther, thousands of others have been watching and learning as well. He shares his expertise with choirs, bands and orchestras. Besides directing Luther’s world-renowned Nordic Choir, Noble has participated in more than 800 music festivals and all-state competitions in 48 states. In one outdoor event in the Republic of Estonia, he conducted a choir with an estimated 25,000 voices. From a long list of large accomplishments, Noble selects two as particularly important. The Nordic Choir once shared the program with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir —- in the Tabernacle’s own house. And Luther’s concert band once gave a full concert at the Lincoln Center in New York. Over the years Noble’s groups also charmed Russian communist leaders in the Kremlin and enchanted two different kings of Norway.

As a sign of their esteem, members of the Iowa Choral Directors Association in November at Iowa State University unveiled the Weston Noble Endowment Fund. Scholarships will benefit vocal music educators with less than two years experience who attend the organization’s summer symposium. But others revere the master for smaller, more personal achievements. “You feel like he knows you and wants you to do well,” says Maria Smith, coordinator for music tours and marketing for Luther’s music department. Smith also was one of Noble’s students and sang in Nordic Choir two years. She picked Luther in the early 1990s after meeting Noble at an all-state high school choir event in Tacoma, Wash. Noble, a native of Riceville, Iowa, started at Luther as a music student in 1939. He was 16 years old. By 18, he was occasionally leading the choir.

The music stopped in 1943. Noble graduated early and entered World War II with the Army’s 750th Tank Battalion. His unit fought at the Battle of the Bulge and was part of the mad dash across Germany. He has photos from the era standing on Adolf Hitler’s balcony in Berlin. “I thought I knew where his headquarters were. And it proved to be right,” Noble says. After the war he taught high school at LuVerne, Iowa, for two years. Luther hired him —- for what was supposed to be one year —- in 1947. He was 25 years old, held no advanced degrees and had precious little experience. “Looking back on it, it’s just part of the master plan,” he says. The 2004-05 school year will be his last. Luther officials will likely name a successor within 30 days.

Posted by acapnews at December 7, 2004 12:53 AM