Elon professor’s new work to premiere at campus concert

“Numen Lumen" will be performed Oct. 6, 2013, by Duke University's Ciompi Quartet, and Tim Olsen from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, as part of the Mary Duke Biddle Chamber Recital Series. The concert is free and open to the public.

By Sarah Mulnick ’17

A concert that takes place Sunday afternoon in Whitley Auditorium will feature the premiere of musical work by Associate Professor Todd Coleman commissioned as part of Elon University’s quasquicentennial celebration.

“Numen Lumen,” a composition for strings and organ inspired by the Elon University motto, promotes the notion of searching for meaning and truth as an essential element of human nature.

The Ciompi Quartet of Duke University, and organist Tim Olsen from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, will perform the piece on Oct. 6 at 3 p.m. as part of the Mary Duke Biddle Chamber Recital Series. The concert is free and open to the public.

“Most human beings balance what they learn intellectually and scientifically,” Coleman said of the meaning to his work. “You can prove that things exist. But then there is this spiritual, intuitive part of our existence. This explores the notion of searching – that we are always searching and striving for answers, that it is human nature to want to find out what we are called to do with our lives.

“And I wanted something where the strings and the organ were truly equal. Not just a ‘back and forth,’ but a piece where they are working together.”

Challenging the use of different instruments and how they work is something at which Coleman excels, and he closely examined the way in which different instruments interact as he composed “Numen Lumen.” His primary instrument and style is the double bass in a classical medium, and bass guitar, the use of which he taught himself in eighth grade.

Coleman is also known for his ability to branch into other genres of music, including pop and classic rock. That flexibility impresses his colleagues, including Clay Stevenson, a music lecturer at Elon University.

“He has a unique sensitivity to various musical styles and an ability to successfully compose both art and contemporary music,” said Stevenson. “His versatility is inspiring.”

Mary Alice Bragg, an organist for Elon University, attended practices by Olsen and the Ciompi Quartet, and she said she was struck by the way the musicians interacted with Coleman. “It is impressive, a professional piece, and they got to hear from the composer how he wanted it to sound,” she said.

The piece for the Mary Biddle Duke Series is not Coleman’s first commission from Elon University. Last spring, it was Coleman’s creative force behind a centerpiece composition for the President’s Gala, one of the Department of Music’s largest fundraising events to date.

Coleman’s interest in music started from a young age, thanks in part to his father who would play various genres of music around their home. In the second grade, he was handed a recorder and told that he was in the musically gifted program.

“I am not entirely sure how that worked,” Coleman said. “But I learned to play on that, and it continued from there.”

By the time he was in high school, Coleman had picked up the violin, the cello, string bass, bass guitar and piano, and he performed in the orchestra. He soon began to consider a career in the arts, and he won a national composing competition his last year of high school.

That contest entry, “Adieu” was his first published work and is still widely performed by school orchestras throughout the world.

At Brigham Young University, Coleman was among the top students in the music composition program. He attended the prestigious Eastman School of Music as a graduate student, continuing on to Grinnell College, where he also was a professor of music composition and theory. He moved to Elon in 2007, where he founded what is today known as the Music Production and Recording Arts program.

“It is a watermark for him to be here,” Bragg said. “Elon students are fortunate to have a working musician as a teacher.”

For the last three years, Coleman has worked on a team of Elon-affiliated faculty and students for the annual Greensboro 48 Hour Film Project. He composed the musical score the first year and has since served as the video editor, recently winning the contest award for best editing.

Outside of music, Coleman serves as bishop of the Burlington First Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He is fluent in Laotian and conversant in both Thai and American Sign Language. Coleman also is responsible for helping to maintain the music department’s website.

He likes to work with visually appealing things, he said, and to do things with different media. Several of his pieces have expanded the performance from simply playing music, including one composition where light and video were used to make it an interactive experience for the audience.

“I have an artistic sense that spills over into different areas,” Coleman said. “I love the act of imagination and creation.”