Trulaske student finds new family, civic purpose through choir group
By Stephen Schmidt
The idea first took root in the back of a tour bus. Connor Lovelace was one of four freshmen taking part in the biennial international trip of the University of Missouri’s University Singers in the summer of 2018.
Lovelace was talking to two of the other three — Connor Cochran and Anthony Blatter, to be exact — about forming a different type of choral group as the group careened through the countryside of Sweden and Estonia.
It was the consensus of the trio that although they loved being part of University Singers, they missed the smaller, classical choral ensembles that they had experienced while in middle school and high school.
So when the three returned to Columbia, they formed Canticum Novum — with the blessing of R. Paul Crabb, the director of choral activities at Mizzou. Its name being Latin for “new song,” the ensemble consisted of three people on each of the four vocal parts: soprano, alto, bass and tenor.
"It makes you have to be super independent on your part,” Lovelace said of the music style. “You go in, and if you’re messing up, you can hear it. Singers have to be completely responsible for their own parts.”
When he graduates in December of 2022, he will have completed two undergraduate degrees: a BS BA from the Trulaske College of Business and a vocal music education degree from the School of Music within the College of Arts and Science. He was named one of 12 recipients of the Chang-Lin Tien Scholarships by University of Missouri System President Mun Choi in 2020.
Lovelace hopes to take both of his degrees to one day start nonprofit organizations throughout the U.S. whose sole focus is to educate the general public about classical music.
“He has his reason, and he knows exactly what he wants out of his degree,” said his academic advisor, Sijie Yao, who has worked with him since he decided to pursue a Trulaske degree.
‘Whatever is necessary’
When performing with Canticum Novum, Lovelace has sung mostly baritone — the middle ground between tenor and bass — or tenor.
“Currently, I'm singing whatever is necessary. I move around between the different voice parts,” he said. “I just like to be working wherever I am needed."
As coincidence would have it, Lovelace’s favorite modern-day composer of choral music is also a Connor: Connor Koppin.
"We did some pieces of his in high school that really started that sound in my ear,” Lovelace said. “I thought, 'I love this feeling.' The way that he writes embraces a warm togetherness in the choir."
Since 2018, Canticum Novum has usually — COVID-related shutdowns, notwithstanding — performed at the end of the fall and spring semesters at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Columbia.
Each show is free, but donations are encouraged. A few months after its founding, Canticum gained 501(c)(3) status as a nonprofit organization. As such, the group selects a cause to highlight for each show, donating the evening’s proceeds to that cause.
For example, in the spring of 2019, Canticum did a concert about suicide prevention. It commissioned a composer, Hans Bridger Heruth, to write a song for the event, “Pie Jesu.” The group then toured two other churches in the Kansas City area, with the proceeds going to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
The group recently expanded to 16 singers, with four people on each part.
“It allows us to perform more difficult music that takes more singers,” Lovelace said. “It also allows us to get younger people in who’ll take it over whenever we leave.”
Four of Canticum Novum’s members are dual majors in music and business. Joining Lovelace and Cochran in this distinction are Aubri Stewart and Samuel Varnon.
‘Family away from home’
As a fifth-grader in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, Lovelace first joined an after-school choir simply because his friends had done so. A year later, in middle school, though, he began to truly discover the communal power of choir music — with the guidance of a middle school music teacher.
Her name was Holly Dahn. Lovelace said that she played a critical role in the decision to pursue two degrees at Mizzou.
"I was going through a little bit of a tough time in middle school, and I made a lot of friends through choir,” Lovelace said. “[Mrs. Dahn] showed me what music can do for people. She was a really inspiring person. I thought, 'This is such a cool family away from home that you can have in a school or anywhere.'”
Through Canticum Novum, Lovelace has been able to recreate that sense of family — with Cochran playing the role of a brother. The connections they share go well beyond their first names. They are both pursuing degrees at Trulaske and the School of Music, with Cochran majoring in vocal performance. In addition, they co-founded the Interviews with Musicians podcast in 2019.
Lovelace will admit that they will often be mistaken for one another at first glance.
"It's kind of crazy and weird because most of our interests are exactly the same. People say that all the time. They're like, ‘Wait a second.’... [Cochran] has a degree in vocal performance, so he is a genuine performer,” said Lovelace, who added that his classmate recently was one of the leads in the recent on-campus Show-Me Opera. “That's basically our only difference."
In October 2021, Lovelace and Cochran also began Nodestar Financial, a consulting firm whose goal is to educate and empower individuals to adopt cryptocurrencies and use other blockchain technologies. Even though the two Connors love older forms of musical arrangements, they are fascinated by the ongoing growth of modern technologies such as Bitcoin and NFTs (non-fungible tokens).
"We feel like there’s a disparity between the people who are in the know and making tons of money, and the people who don't know — and they can't even bridge the gap by finding out how to get involved,” Lovelace said.
Looking back at his journey at Mizzou, Lovelace emphasized the importance of building a sense of community from day one as a freshman by striking up conversations with fellow students.
“Just find a good support structure, if you can,” he said. “Make an attempt to start creating that because that's also going to give you skills to network later.”