Luther College announces recipients of annual Homecoming Music Awards

This 2020 Homecoming season, Luther College continues the tradition of presenting the Weston Noble, Dr. Carlo A. Sperati, Presser Scholar and Hemp Prize awards. Student and alumni award winners are recognized each year during the annual Homecoming Concert, this year in a virtual format. To watch the concert from your own home, free of charge, head to the Luther College Music Department YouTube page

2020 Weston Noble Award

Eric Melear '95 is the recipient of the 2020 Weston Noble Award. Weston Noble served on the music faculty at Luther College from 1948 to 2005. During that time, the college grew in numbers, in national reputation and Noble became a leader in training trailblazers in the field of music education. Established in 2004, the Weston Noble Award recognizes music educators who honor and continue Noble's legacy. 

"Eric has risen to high level positions with opera companies because of his intellect, his diligence and his commitment to vocal music," said Andrew Last, director of choral activities and professor of music at Luther College. "He is a kind, gentle person who has a very special gift of presenting unique, well thought-out ideas in performing opera roles." 

Based in Vienna, Austria, Melear currently enjoys a career as both a conductor and pianist, regularly traveling the world with a variety of singers and companies. During his time at Luther, he was a vital member of the music department. He was a gifted pianist and singer, a tremendous conductor, a sought-after collaborative pianist and president of Nordic Choir. 

Melear reminisced about his memories of Luther saying, "What has remained with me through the years are the day-to-day rehearsals. Watching Weston build a piece musically and spiritually from the slow, bare bones of it to the performance-ready version was a constant life lesson in how to get the best of every single person in the room...Little did I know then, that he was cultivating skills in me that have served me well every day of my professional musical life."

Melear has accomplished an impressive collection of feats through his work. He has worked with orchestras around the world; he spent three seasons as the Houston Grand Opera's associate music director; he was a member of the Houston Grand Opera Studio and San Francisco Opera's Merola Program; he completed graduate work with esteemed pianist Martin Katz; he has conducted at the Seiji Ozawa Matsumoto Festival and has served as a guest coach for programs and universities in the U.K., Italy and the U.S.

Since returning to the Vienna State Opera full-time in 2015, Melear has assisted world-renowned conductors Zubin Mehta, Peter Schneider and Simone Young. He shares in the duties of preparing the 45-50 operas a season, he conducts the full-time stage orchestra, regularly coaches the ensemble of singers and can be seen in countless recitals.

2020 Dr. Carlo A. Sperati Award

Dan Mollick '00 is the 2020 recipient of the Dr. Carlo A. Sperati Award. Dr. Carlo A. Sperati, a pillar of Luther College and the Lutheran music tradition, was the conductor of the Luther College Concert Band for 38 years until his retirement in 1943. His work ethic, demand for perfection and patience when working with music students are part of the identity of the Luther College Music Department to this day. This award recognizes those traits in music educators as they follow in Sperati's footsteps.

"To receive an award named in honor of the great music educator, Carlo A. Sperati, is quite humbling," said Mollick. "I am reminded that a teacher can make a huge impact in this world and that impact can continue into future generations. That is why I entered the teaching profession when I graduated from Luther and continue to be a music educator today. Guided by the inspiration of my past teachers, I hope to make positive contributions to the world by holding myself and my students to the highest standards of musical excellence, personal growth, kindness and generosity."

Mollick received his Bachelors of Arts degree in music at Luther and continued on to get his master's degree in music education from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He has shown faithful service to the field of music education through his energy, positivity and student-centered teaching philosophy, teaching students of all backgrounds, ages and skill levels in his twenty plus years as a music educator. He has taught in many public school districts including Minneapolis, Minnesota; Bloomington, Minnesota; Manhattan Beach, Los Angeles; Minnetonka, Minnesota; and currently teaches orchestra at Valley View Middle School in Edina, Minnesota.

During his seven seasons of conducting the Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphony's Concertino West Orchestra, Mollick has had the opportunity to collaborate with the Hmong Community Center in St. Paul, the Somali Museum of Minnesota Dance Troupe and Mariachi Mi Tierra, both out of Minneapolis. He has also had the opportunity to present at the Minnesota String Teachers Association Summer Workshop and the Minnesota Music Educators Midwinter Clinic.

2020 Presser Scholar Award

Zachariah Mayer is the 2020 recipient of the Presser Scholar Award. The Presser Scholar Award was established in 1939 by the Presser Foundation in honor of Theodore Presser, the publisher of The Etude, a magazine dedicated to music, and founder of the music publishing firm bearing his name. The award, funded by a monetary gift from the Presser Foundation of Haverford, Pennsylvania is presented annually to a current Luther music major chosen by a music faculty vote by consideration of excellence and merit.

Mayer, a senior from La Crosse, Wisconsin, will graduate from Luther in 2021 with a degree in music education. After finishing his studies in January, he will continue to prepare for a career as an orchestra teacher with a semester of student teaching. His instrument of choice is the double bass.

"In the bass studio, Zach has been a mentor and friend to other players, is always ready to help no matter what the question, is an enthusiastic collaborator in contemplating research and performance questions, and has shared his wicked sense of humor with us. Working with Zach has made me a better teacher and a better bass player," said Andi Beckendorf, double bass instructor and professor of library and information studies.

Mayer already has a collection of achievements. Before his time at Luther, he spent six years with the La Crosse Area Youth Symphony Orchestra, he played with the Wisconsin All State Honors Orchestra for six years and he played in the La Crosse Symphony for two years. 

At Luther, Mayer has served as principal double bass for both the Symphony and Chamber Orchestras and he was a member of the Jazz Orchestra in his first year. Mayer's teaching experience already includes working as a section coach for the La Crosse Area Youth Symphony Orchestra, teaching at the Luther College Community Music School, coaching symphony sectionals, tutoring peers in theory and ear training, and teaching private double bass and electric bass lessons.

2020 Hemp Prize

Isabella (Belle) Searcy is the 2020 recipient of the Hemp Prize. The Richard C. and Joann M. Hemp Family Prize for Orchestra Performance is given annually to a senior member of the Luther College Symphony Orchestra. The $7,500 scholarship is funded through an endowment established from Richard '64 and Joann (Harr) Hemp '65. Richard Hemp is a regent emeritus, former chair of the Luther College Board of Regents and former interim president of Luther College. The auditioned prize awards students of exceptional performance, talent, musicianship and leadership.

A senior majoring in music, Searcy is from Buffalo, Minnesota. She began studying violin in sixth grade and has never looked back. After graduating from Luther, she plans to pursue her master's degree in violin performance, with the goal of being a studio musician for orchestral film scores and violin accompaniment for singers.

"I remember Belle's scholarship audition at Luther about 3 years ago. She was nervous, but played passionately, and she received one of our highest scholarships," said Igor Kalnin, assistant professor of music. "In one of her messages to me before coming to Luther she wrote, 'I can assure you I am one of the hardest workers you will meet and will give 100% when it comes to school and orchestra.' Now, three years later, I can assure you that she kept her word. Belle has worked very hard. She was passionate and patient. She was always open to suggestions and changed the areas of her technique which needed to be changed."

At Luther, Searcy spent one year as principal second violin in the Luther College Symphony Orchestra and is currently serving in her second year as concertmaster. She also took part in the Symphony Orchestra Vienna Residency and in the International Music Festival of the Adriatic. Before coming to Luther, Searcy had the opportunity to play in multiple orchestras including the Buffalo High School Orchestra, the Minnesota Youth Honors Orchestra, the Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphony, the Buffalo Community Orchestra, the Monticello Community Orchestra, the Concordia Honors String Orchestra and in several pit orchestras.

Luther is home to one of the largest collegiate music programs in the nation, with five choirs, three orchestras, three bands, two jazz bands and more than 800 student musicians. Luther students participate in large ensembles, faculty-coached chamber groups, private lessons and master classes. Nearly 275 music majors study music theory, ear training, history, education, composition, jazz, church music and performance.

Eric Melear '95
Dan Mollick '00
Zachariah Mayer
Isabella Searcy