August 31, 2012
By Michael Hemmesch '97
Axel Theimer's 44-year teaching career in Minnesota might have been cut short, if not for the action of a few former students. Early in his career, with his work visa due to expire, his departure from the United States seemed unavoidable. To his surprise, some former students contacted the offices of U.S. Sens. Walter Mondale and Hubert Humphrey on his behalf. Problem solved.
More recently, former students rallied on his behalf once again. This time, they joined a chorus of colleagues and admirers as Theimer, professor of music at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University was awarded the F. Melius Christiansen Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Choral Directors Association of Minnesota. The award was presented Aug. 9 at SJU, during the annual ACDA MN Summer Dialogue. Theimer has been on the music faculty since 1969.
Established in 1973, this award is for members who have lifelong conducting experience providing outstanding contributions and distinguished service to choral music in Minnesota.
Theimer was joined at the awards dinner by former CSB and SJU students, CSB/SJU music faculty and numerous high school and college choral directors from across Minnesota.
As part of the awards presentation, several people spoke about his illustrious career.
Representing the Saint John's monastic community, the Rev. Anthony Ruff, OSB, addressed Theimer and said, "You have transformed the way we all sing together, as we participate in, and gratefully hear choral music."
Richard Ice, CSB/SJU academic dean, gave remarks on behalf of Theimer's faculty colleagues: "Axel Theimer is a wonderful teacher and an incredible conductor who has dedicated his life to the creation and performance of great choral music."
Theimer is a native of Austria, where he was a member of the Vienna Boys' Choir and director of the Chorus Viennensis. He received much of his training in Vienna and then completed his studies at SJU and at the University of Minnesota with a master's in choral conducting and a doctorate in vocal performance.
He is an active recitalist and has presented master classes, workshops and seminars for state, regional and national music conventions and conferences, and has conducted all-state choirs, choral festivals and honor choirs throughout the United States.
At CSB and SJU, Theimer directs the CSB/SJU Chamber Choir and the SJU Men's Chorus, and teaches choral conducting, applied voice, vocal pedagogy and other related courses.
Comments by Kim Motes, CSB vice president of institutional advancement and former voice student of Theimer, reflected the high regard his former students have for him. "Axel Theimer is the epitome of the highest standards, tireless dedication and selfless generosity that makes him one of the great leaders and choral directors in music education at the collegiate level," she said.
"I also want to recognize and thank Axel - or Theimer, as we, his current and former students, call him - for perhaps the most important element of this lifetime achievement award, the impact he has on students' lives each and every day," Motes said. "Theimer is more than a vocal technician, albeit a masterful one. He is a teacher, a coach, a mentor and a friend."
In his acceptance remarks, Theimer acknowledged the shared accomplishments and aspirations among his fellow music educators. "We have come a long ways ... we are in this together ... we have a ways to go."
He described the vital role of music in human expression and interaction. "Music making and singing is not the place for competition. Music evolved to bring people together, to allow them to share celebrations, to express emotions, to be moved by it - and not to learn how to control it. It also became a tool and was used to unify people in opposition to other cultures and peoples. Music is powerful, and music and text expressed by voices is an invincible force. The voice is the most incredible and miraculous instrument."
His remarks also revealed the values he holds as a music teacher. "Music, like so many other things, is something to be shared. We are all learners. Let us all continue to explore better ways to be teachers/educators whose priority it is to provide a classroom/rehearsal room environment that enhances learning by allowing students to be comfortable with where they are at and not encouraging them to try harder to be better than where they presently are."
In addition to his professional activities at CSB and SJU, he is founder and music director of Kantorei, a Minneapolis/St. Paul choral ensemble; of the Amadeus Chamber Symphony, a chamber orchestra for central Minnesota musicians and audiences; and is music director of the National Catholic Youth Choir. He is on the faculty and executive director of the VoiceCare Network. In November 2001, the American Choral Directors Association of Minnesota awarded him Choir Director of the Year. In 2004, he was elected to the Minnesota Music Educators' Association Hall of Fame.
While this is a lifetime achievement award, Theimer's career is certainly not over. He remains committed to teaching and sharing music with students and other faculty at CSB and SJU, as well as music educators across Minnesota and throughout the country.
In his words, he still has "a ways to go."