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Lincoln Middle School student Anna Durall meets with composer Mary Ellen Haupert last week at the La Crosse Public Library. Haupert selected Durall's poem "We Should Live" to set to music for this year's La Crosse Chamber Chorale Words to Music program.

Nathan Hansen, La Crosse Tribune

Compassion. It’s a complex word with complex meanings. In its Latin roots, it means empathy for those enduring suffering, but today that word means different things for different people.

And four La Crosse schools, students have been honored for their message of compassion in this year’s Words to Music, program sponsored by the La Crosse Chamber Chorale. Last week, those students got to meet the composers who turned their poems into songs for the first time and hear the music that was created from their messages.

“It’s really cool,” said Lincoln Middle School seventh-grader Anna Durall after meeting composer Mary Ellen Haupert. “I feel really good. I always had a dream that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up.”

While not an annual event, this is the ninth season for the Words to Music program. An outgrowth of last year’s Compassion Project, where more than 6,000 La Crosse district students expressed the idea of compassion through artwork, this year’s Words to Music was sponsored in part by a La Crosse Public Education Foundation grant.

“The Compassion Project really touched and moved people’s hearts,” said foundation executive director David Stoeffler. “This ideas of what compassion is and how do we show it in our everyday lives.”

Haupert, who is also a music professor at Viterbo University, said turning Durall’s poem “We Should Live” was a fun experience. Each composer chose the poem they would put to music out of more than 200 submissions, and Haupert said she was particularly moved by the maturity of Durall’s prose and her understanding of the theme of compassion.

“I felt like she was one of the few who really knew was compassion was,” Haupert said. “Compassion is a tricky word and a tricky subject.”

The Chamber Chorale will perform the music in concert in November, and Durall said she is looking forward to being at the public performance.

“I’m excited to hear what it sounds like,” she said. “And I hope people like it.”

“It’s really cool. I feel really good. I always had a dream that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up.” Anna Durall, Lincoln Middle School seventh-grader
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