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Henry Engbrecht Responds to Honorary Doctorate

Henry Engbrecht, Professor Emeritus of Choral Music at the University of Manitoba, received an honorary doctor letters at the Providence University College graduation ceremony on April 22, 2012. Here is his wonderful and gracious response.

Dr. August Konkel, President of Providence University College and Seminary, and Henry Engbrecht, Professor Emeritus of Choral Music at the University of Manitoba


Dear Friends and Colleagues at Providence University College,

Recently, at the 2012 Providence University College Convocation this institution chose to present me with a very special recognition. Someone put my name forward, a committee made a recommendation and the Faculty and the Board of Governors approved it; and then came a telephone call from President Konkel inviting me to accept the recommendation to be granted the next D. Litt honoris causa. After a speechless moment I accepted.

This is a very high honor. I accept it with deep gratitude; and I will move forward from here with the memories of a beautiful experience at the graduation ceremonies and the banquet the night before. I will always be mindful of this gracious, generous act on the part PUC.

Due to a most unfortunate misunderstanding on my part you did not hear what I would have liked to share with you at convocation. My sincere apologies, but here it is.

The importance and the impact of choral music on church and community strikes a powerful chord within me. The congregation in which I grew up had a very strong singing tradition. We sang at ALL meetings ... even committee meetings. At age fifteen we were welcomed into the youth choir, which sang every Sunday throughout the year. Those experiences left a deep imprint. It wasn’t until I was in graduate school that I realized what a treasure of songs and singing experiences I had been given in this little country church. During the course of my career the value and power of singing together, congregationally and in choirs, has been confirmed over and over again.

What does choral singing do for us? How can an act or an activity that has such a wide range of differentials produce such incredible results?

Choral singing transforms diversity into unity ... like the multitude of thin, fragile, fiber-like threads of a rope. High voices, low voices, women’s voices and men’s voices; widely varying vocal colors, timbres, textures and strength of sound; a wide range of abilities and skills; some with vast experience and confidence, and others with very little experience or none at all, each with their measure of insecurities. (There are more variables, but let this suffice.) Maybe this is why it is so magical and, indeed, powerful when at the end of a year of diligent, disciplined, detailed rehearsing it all comes together at final concerts and overseas tours. There is positively no other activity anywhere, in any field in this universe, that is so inclusive, so equally demanding of every member and so unified and unifying in its results. At the same time it is an art where the job is never finished, where there is always more to discover and experience; where it can be sung/performed over and over (as on a choir tour), and each time the experience is a new one. This is what has fascinated, nourished and driven me. It is high art, it feeds the soul, and every person has access to it.

Choirs are the models for what it means to be a community.

Such a model is your premiere ensemble, the Providence University College Chamber Singers, recognized across the country as one of the finest among university choirs nationally. The value and the effect of this group of individuals and what they do within and beyond the halls of this institution are immeasurable. When they sang the Gloria by Timothy Corlis in the graduation ceremony, their excellent performance said far more than the high degree of finish they brought to this event. Under its strong, clear-minded, faithful and committed leadership they demonstrated to us all of what it means to be a community. When they joined the choir as individuals these singers brought with them all their variables – albeit talent and the will to give it an honest try – and worked out the human challenges: personality, attitude, background, understanding, discipline, consideration, manners, habits, conduct, work ethic and more; and the academic and musical/vocal challenges: pitch, rhythm, phrasing, vocal color and endurance, diction, expressiveness and nuance. They delivered! They communicated. The many threads of fiber were wound into a beautiful rope that went the distance to our hearts and gave us a pull. God grant Providence the wisdom and the will to continue nurturing this, the finest model of and for your community.

Thank you for the honor and the privilege.

Henry Engbrecht



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