Schola Cantorum Premieres New Major Work About Children Born With Congenital Heart Defects

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The music starts with the faint repeating strike of a single note on a marimba, a sound very much like that of a persistantly beeping heart monitor. From there, a musical world unfolds that takes the listener inside a CVICU along side families struggling to maintain hope as tiny infants fight for thier lives.

Schola Cantorum will premiere this new work, Pre-Existing Condition, at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 15 at the Jim and Joyce Faulkner Performing Arts Center

"Pre-Existing Condition" was composed over the last year by Stephen Caldwell, assistant professor of music and director of the university's choral studies program.

For him, the story is all too real. His son, William, was born with a complicated set of congential heart defects: Tetralogy of Fallot, with conalseptal hypoplasia, right-sided aortic arch, left-ventricular systolic dysfuction, and left-branch pulmonary stenosis. 

"He's a tough kid, my son," Caldwell said. "He's had nine surgeries, two of them open-heart, and spent months at Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock. He surprised the doctors more than once with his resiliance, and at 19 months old continues to get stronger."

With support from a Fulbright College Summer Faculty Research Award, Caldwell was able to take his family's experience and turn it into music, with the hopes that it might bring comfort and understanding to other families in similar situations.

The choir tells the story through carefully chosen texts that chronicle the journey from the pre-natal diagnosis, through birth, emergency helicopter rides, endless time in the CVICU, and the scars that ravage a baby's tiny body. The instruments each represent a different ICU machine or alarm. The marimba is the heart monitor and pulse/ox machine, the flute is the enteral pump, etc. It all combines to create the stressful sounds of a CVICU, and fights to make them musical for the children.

Clara Tiggelaar, a senior singer majoring in apparel merchandising and product development, said, "Pre-Existing Condition differs from other things that Schola usually sings because it is about a very serious topic that is personal to our director; therefore, personal to us as well. By having such a deep connection to the piece, it brings the group even closer together and helps us form an even greater bond than we already have."

Edrei Cerda, senior singer and a strings music education student, added, "Even though Schola sings a lot of personal pieces by specific composers through many time periods, this is one of the first pieces that has hit me so close to home. It is an involvement of both music interpretation and emotional representation of what is happening in the lives of someone very near and dear to us all."

The world premiere performance of Pre-Existing Condition will be at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 15, at the Jim and Joyce Faulkner Performing Arts Center on campus. Tickets may be reserved at


Stephen E. Caldwell, assistant professor
Department of Music


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