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John and Anita Nelson Center for Sacred Music

To Significantly Impact Sacred Choral Music Worldwide

Alma De Christo Score

Mission and Purpose of the Nelson Center


The Nelson Center champions the creation of new sacred choral music that is based on biblical text, commissioning new works, producing concerts, offering educational and performance opportunities for students, and other activities on the Wheaton College campus and around the world. This Center endeavors to enhance and sustain the special synergy that exists in connecting the academy, the church, and the concert hall.


The Wheaton College John and Anita Nelson Center for Sacred Music aims to serve Jesus Christ and advance His Kingdom through excellence in commissioning new sacred music compositions, performances, and education that contributes to the strengthening of the church and society worldwide.

The ongoing work of the Nelson Center is accomplished through:

New Works:

The first priority of the Nelson Center is the commissioning of composers, through invitation or competition, in creating new sacred music compositions. 50% of the endowment earnings are devoted to the expenses of these commissions and their presentation. Wheaton College ensembles will have high priority in premiering new works.

Educational Activities:

The Nelson Center sponsors educational activities in conducting, performance, and composition for undergraduate, graduate, and visiting students. Other Wheaton College centers and designated funds are occasionally invited to support the educational and performance projects of the Center.

Armerding Center with Fountain
$2,000,000 Matching Pledge

Anonymous donors have offered a stunning $2,000,000 pledge as matching funds for all contributions to the John and Anita Nelson Center for Sacred Music. With this gift, every donation will be doubled through December 31, 2023.

Structure and Impact

The Nelson Center is sustained through a dedicated endowed fund that supports the Nelson Center’s commissioning projects, administration, program planning, promotion, and fund-raising activities. 

Armerding Center Exterior

Center Leadership and Management

Leadership and management of the Nelson Center are accomplished through two part-time positions – the Artistic Director and the General Manager. Artistic vision and leadership is provided by the Artistic Director. Managerial oversight, including fund-raising and coordination of institutional partnerships of the Center, is provided by the General Manager. The Artistic Director is charged with overall fiscal and planning authority for the Center and is supervised by the Conservatory of Music Dean.

Armerding Bespoke Organ

Artistic Advisory Council

An Artistic Advisory Council serves the purposes of the Nelson Center, with its members offering counsel to and support of those leading this initiative. The council consists of people from four major historical traditions within the Christian Church: 

  • Protestants
  • Catholics
  • Anglicans
  • Orthodox
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Student Impact

"This center promises to foster the creation and performance of new musical works, as it champions biblical truth and artistic creativity. Students, faculty, and so many others will be witness to the transformative process of music composition, performance, and ministry that are paramount in this work. Just imagine the generations of choirs, soloists, and instrumentalists, as they premier large-scale works, hymns, and songs while offering countless performances, all offered in worship of the Lord.” - Michael Wilder, Dean

Significance of the Name

This endowed center seeks to honor the legacy of John and Anita Nelson, as they have espoused the enduring core purposes of sacred music at the highest levels throughout the world in church and society. A 1963 Wheaton College graduate, Maestro Nelson has conducted virtually all the major orchestras in the United States and Canada including those of New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, as well as leading choirs and orchestras in the finest concert halls of Canada, Europe, Central America, and Asia. He and Anita have championed the cause of Christ, embracing and encouraging musicians of all persuasions around the globe, while providing exemplary artistic leadership.

Anita Johnsen Nelson graduated from Wheaton College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1964. Together, arm in arm, they were presented Wheaton College’s 1998 Distinguished Service to Society Award. To name the Nelson Center in honor of John and Anita celebrates a vision and ethos that has pervaded their work and accomplishment. The Nelson name will also encourage the support of people who admire them and share their vision. The legacy of John and Anita Nelson should be noted, where appropriate, in future programs, performances, and promotional materials, as their lives, values, and accomplishments are celebrated through this endowment.

John Nelson