Those familiar with the York College Concert Choir know the emotional highlight of the performance is typically when alumni join the choir for the traditional closing songs Lord, Make Me Thine Instrument and The Lord Bless You and Keep You.

Another emotional high point took precedence at their most recent concert, the final stop of the choir’s seven-state 2017 Winter Tour, as the choir performed the Nebraska debut of How Beautiful on the Mountains, composed by recent graduate Saia Lotulelei.

Lotulelei composed the piece last spring as a gift for his mentor, Dr. Clark Roush, Professor of Music and Endowed Chair for the Performing Arts, on the anniversary of his thirtieth year as conductor of the York College Concert Choir. The text of the rousing piece is taken from Isaiah 52.

Lotulelei was present for the performance. At the conclusion of his song, Roush invited him to the stage, where he received a standing ovation from the audience and choir, as well as a heartfelt embrace from Roush.

The young composer completed a degree in vocal music performance from York College in December 2016. As a student, he conducted and performed several original works, including hymn arrangements and songs in his native Tongan language. Lotulelei is building a career in music in conducting and composition and is looking into pursuing a master’s degree in theory and composition.

Roush recounted the story of the gift of this song during the concert. He told the audience that he found the piece on his desk last April, during one of the busiest months of the academic year. His immediate response to the honor was, “What an incredibly sweet thing for a student to do,” and after wiping away tears, he added the piece to his “later” file for further review. Roush came back to the piece a month later after the swirl of the semester was over and realized, “Whoa, this piece is not just good for a student, it’s just like… GOOD,” he said. He immediately called Lotulelei and asked permission to perform the piece with the choir.

Video of the entire concert including Lotulelei’s piece is available on the York College Youtube channel,