John Christian Rommereim
Professor of Music
Blanche Johnson Professor of Music
The professorship was established in 1997 by Harold B. Johnson Jr. in memory of his aunt, Blanche Johnson, who was a small town piano teacher, educated at the Chicago Conservatory of Music. It was previously held by Jonathan Chenette.
Professor Rommereim came to Grinnell College to direct the choral programs in 1988, as an assistant professor. He received tenure in 1994 and was promoted to full professor in 2006. His M. Mus. is in composition, while his D.M.A. is in choral conducting, and although the core of his work at Grinnell has long been the latter, recently he has returned to composition with considerable success. His scholarship consists of a mixture of research, performance, and composition, following a pattern of versatility not uncommon among fine arts faculty at Grinnell.
His performance includes individual vocal recitals and appearances as a baritone soloist, as well as directing the College’s two choral ensembles, the Grinnell Oratorio Society (the name is a revival of an earlier ensemble; this town-gown ensemble was more recently known as the Community Chorus) and the Grinnell Singers. The Singers tour extensively, not only in the Midwest but nationally (including a concert in New York’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine) and internationally. The Singers have given a number of American or world premieres, in some cases of works by Professor Rommereim himself, in others music by colleagues in the music department, and still others of works by outside composers specially commissioned. This gives students the opportunity to participate directly in the production of a new work of art, and the challenges of the encounter are more than compensated for by the richness and depth of musical insight and experience gained. The Singers have recorded their performance of Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil and a collection of Russian sacred music, Na zemli mir, giving them experience with the exacting standards of recorded music. His results with his choruses are passionate, engaged, and unfailingly musical.
Professor Rommereim’s research before coming to Grinnell College and during his first years here focused on choral performance practice, particularly in the Russian sacred repertoire. His translation and study of an important treatise by the Russian church composer Pavel Chesnokov has been published as The Choir and How to Direct It (2010). In recent years he has returned to his earlier work in composition; several of his choral compositions have been published. His compositions are beginning to be performed around the country, receiving praise for the craftsmanship of his work and the immediate communication of his musical language.
Professor Rommereim has served three terms as chair of the music department, and two as chair of the Russian, Central and Eastern European Studies concentration. He has also served on a range of standing faculty committees. Outside the College (in addition to the good-will generated by his extensive performance schedule with the Grinnell Singers), he has served on the Grinnell Arts Council, as an adjudicator at the Des Moines Children’s Choir Festival, and as organist and choirmaster at the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Grinnell, as well as guest conducting other choruses and ensembles and spending 2008-2009 as composer in residence with The Rose Ensemble.