Mary Breden, professor of music and director of choral activities, celebrates the long tradition of the Gala Christmas Concerts and reflects on her 27 years of service to the LMU community.
Q: How long is the tradition of the Gala Christmas Concerts at LMU and what were some of the highlights from this year’s concert?
Mary Breden: Basically, this tradition began at Mt. St. Mary’s College with the Loyola men joining the women of the mount in a magnificent Christmas Concert presented in the reverberant Carondelet Center chapel on the Brentwood campus. With the merger of Loyola and Marymount well established and a Women’s Chorus on a par with the noted LMU Men’s Chorus launched by the mid-70s, the LMU Gala Christmas Concerts became an annual event for the university community and neighboring areas. This year’s Gala Christmas Concerts, presented on Dec. 6 and 8, was my 27th to conduct. Each of the choral ensembles, the Concert Choir, the Women’s Chamber Ensemble, and the Consort Singers were featured. As has been our tradition, the 101 singers combined for a larger work with brass accompaniment, in this case the festive “Gloria” of English composer John Rutter. Of special note for 2018-19 is the participation of 37 chorus alumni in the Concert Choir. As a part of this year’s recognition of my upcoming retirement, it has been a joy to see these former students return to renew friendships and relive some of the musical memories of their college days. Graduation years of the alumni members range from 1977 to 2018.
Q: How did you meet Paul Salamunovich and how did you become associated with the LMU Choral Program?
MB: I first met Paul Salamunovich at the age of about 10 years old when my family would drive to North Hollywood to hear his famous choir singing at St. Charles Borromeo Church. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine what an important role he would play in my life. I started working more directly with him during my undergraduate studies at Mt. St. Mary’s College [now Mt. St. Mary’s University] where he was a choral director. In addition to singing in the choruses, I also accompanied the choruses at both the mount and Loyola for nine years. This was the start of my association with LMU and where I learned to “think as a conductor.”
Q: What are one or two of your most treasured memories from your time at LMU?
MB: In building on a great choral tradition at LMU I have had the incredible experience of exposing a broad cross-cut of the university and community populations to the extraordinary beauty of choral music. Transforming student and community singers into artists and in, many cases, being a facilitator in changing lives of many of the singers who have crossed my doorstep over the years has been truly amazing and something I will always treasure. I think in a simple glance at these 27 years, the chance to perform with several generations of singers in such venues as Carnegie Hall, Disney Concert Hall, Dodger Stadium, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel, the American Cemetery in Normandy, France, and, of course, our beautiful Sacred Heart Chapel has represented the stewardship of the choruses as great ambassadors of the arts and for the university. Most current in my mind must be this year’s Gala Christmas Concerts where, in addition to the main program, we were joined by over 60 chorus alumni on our traditional encore of “Silent Night.”
Q: How long have you served as the director of choral activities and when did you become a member of LMU’s music faculty?
MB: I joined the LMU Department of Music in the fall of 1992 when I was hired as an associate professor of music and director of choral activities. Initially I conducted the Concert Choir and the Consort Singers and later the Women’s Chorus [added in 2004-05]. In addition, I have overseen the Choral Conducting Concentration, teaching all of the academic courses associated with choral music.
Q: When did you decide to retire from LMU and how will you celebrate your retirement?
MB: I have always thought that 70 would be a good age to retire and that’s what I will be next year. But before retirement I still have another semester to work with these wonderful singers in preparation for the 54th annual Spring Chorale where we will give a preview of the true grand finale – our fourth international tour next summer with concerts in London and Paris. This will certainly serve as a celebration of my retirement, while giving the singers and I one more welcome opportunity to bring our music to audiences abroad. As I look forward to retirement, I will welcome the time to do all of those things I have felt I didn’t have the time to do. I do hope to continue my love for travel both here in the States and internationally. Down the road I would like to continue giving to others through volunteer work.
This article originally appeared on LMU This Week. Reprinted with permission.