ACU alumnus writes song for Pope's birthday

For Immediate Release
April 25, 2000


Wendy Waller, Media Relations Specialist
(915) 674-2696

Tom Craig, Director of Media and Community Relations
(915) 674-2692

Media Note: This story was written by Matt Lowe, junior computer science and journalism major from Corpus Christi. It is written in feature style.

Charles Heimermann attended Abilene Christian University in the fall of 1971 but stopped taking classes after one semester, enthralled with rock 'n' roll and wanting to perform with his band.

Lately, he has been recognized for his skills in a different musical genre: classical.

Mass of the Angels, a composition Heimermann finished eight years ago, is scheduled to be performed in its entirety for the first time at St. Ignatius of Loyola cathedral in Rome on May 17.

The occasion is Pope John Paul II's 80th birthday celebration.

"I still pinch myself," said Heimermann, who resides in Nashville, Tenn. "It's like everything is happening at once."

Heimermann's mass will be performed by Poland's National Orchestra of Opole and the Slowaska choirs. Heimermann said the performance will be presented as "a gift from the Polish people to a Polish pope."

A mass is a worship framework in the Roman Catholic church as well as a traditional musical form. Mass of the Angels remains true to the mass's time-honored structure, a format that Heimermann said serves to help people make the transition from concentrating on their everyday lives to concentrating on worship.

"It's basically getting us set in place to worship," Heimermann said. "The mass is just a format to take you from daily life to being able to focus in on an intimate place with God."

Mass of the Angels has taken a winding route from Nashville to Rome; it began as a piece composed by Heimermann's brother Mark, who is a producer for contemporary Christian groups such as D.C. Talk and co-wrote the song Jesus Freak.

Heimermann said after he had tinkered with the piece, his brother-in-law, ACU alumnus Don Wise, said he thought Heimermann should develop the piece into a full mass.

"I had thought the same exact thing as I was writing it, but I thought: why take a year or so out of your life writing something you'll never hear?" Heimermann said.

Heimermann worked on and finally finished the piece, replacing the part his brother had written with one of his own composition. This new section fit better with the feeling of the mass as a whole, Heimermann said.

"It's a very musically bright mass; it's very refreshing," Heimermann said. "Most of the time in a mass you think of something very heavy and totally introspective. There are introspective parts, but it's very joyful and uplifting."

When the composition was complete, it was recorded at a studio in Russia. For several years, Heimermann and Wise, as composer and producer, tried to find someone to perform the piece. The difficulty of the music made it very difficult to find a children's choir in the United States that could perform it, Wise said.

But on January 31, Wise spoke to the maestro of the Polish National Philharmonic, with whom he had dealt in the past.

He told Wise that if Wise could convince officials in the Vatican to accept the performance as part of the year's calendar, he would provide the choir and orchestra to perform the piece.

Wise contacted the International Association for Sacred Music, and by Feb. 2 they had arranged for the piece to be played at the Pope's birthday celebration.

"They came back two days later and were very excited," Wise said. "They called the project 'most excellent.'"

The news about Heimermann's composition has come in the middle of other excitement.

Heimermann has been nominated in Nashville for a composer of the year award, and his producer is currently seeking support so that Mass of the Angels can go on tour. Also Heimermann was married on April 1.

Jeanette Lipford, assistant professor emerita of voice, has stayed informed about these events in Heimermann's life. She and her husband Harold Lipford have been in touch with Heimermann since he left Abilene. The Lipfords were invited hear the mass performed in Rome, and they plan to attend.

But once they're there, they may have to face a new dilemma: is it still proper to call their friend 'Charlie?'

"That's what I called him while he was here in school, so that's what I've continued to call him," Lipford said. "I may have to change that if he's going to get famous."

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Last update: April 25, 2000
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