Mr. Babcock always tells us in choir that performances make us better, give us something to work for and will help us keep improving for our Brazil tour. The A Capella Choir was supposed to perform on March 22 in Stuart, Iowa, but that concert was cancelled for various reasons. So three weeks ago Professor Babcock contacted the pastor of First Lutheran Church in Newton and asked if we could sing. First Lutheran Church had not had a collegiate choir perform there in almost seven years, and they were thrilled to have us.
The congregation absolutely loved the concert. Pastor Bey of First Lutheran Church says he has received nothing but good comments about the concert. “They were very excited to host the choir. They were good people who made good music, and we would love to have them come back.”
The church was full of people. We perform better as a group when there is a big audience who absolutely loves to hear good music. There are a good number of Central College alumni in Newton.
“We have the most success in audience building when alumni are present, and they receive value from the institution after graduation,” Mr. Babcock says.
Pastor Bey and his wife are both past members of the A Capella Choir and Chamber Singers. Pastor Bey says that he has not heard the choir sing in almost 13 years and the sound that flowed through the building was amazing. It has been a tradition in the A Capella Choir for years that we end our concerts with our benediction entitled “The Lord Bless You.”
“Hearing the choir sing the benediction was the highlight of the concert for my wife and I. It was a moment of connection,” Pastor Bey says. “We are so glad that we live close to the choir and can hear them sing more often.”
When looking back on his time in the A Capella Choir, Pastor Bey reflects on an international tour to Romania—the cathedrals and singing spaces that they sang in while they were there. “We sang the Lord’s Prayer in Romanian and audience members after the concert told us that we sounded like native Romanians. That was a huge compliment for us.”
Newton is the hometown of director Mark Babcock and choir member Chloe Gearheart. “It’s always a joy to perform in Newton,” Gearhart says. “It’s especially cool for me now because the people who helped shape me as a musician get the opportunity to see how far I’ve come. I’m not just some crazy high school soprano with an outrageously loud voice and a decent ear. I’m a young woman now who has found some time to dedicate to an ensemble with a shared artistic vision. And I wouldn’t be where I am if those people hadn’t instilled the importance of fine arts in my life.”
Gearhart continues: “I can’t stress how important it is for a choir like ours to hold concerts in small towns like Newton. We lost Maytag Corporation some years ago, which affected both our economy and our community. In the time since, we’ve lost a lot of people, and unfortunately the music programs at our schools have suffered from it…In my opinion, choral arts are among the most accessible forms of art. When a suffering community begins to lose the arts, it loses that communal respite. People need music in their lives.”
For Mr. Babcock, who does not make it back to Newton that often, the concert was very rewarding. “All the people I knew were all in the same place, and I hadn’t seen them in a long time.”
Being in a choral ensemble is a very collaborative experience. We have to be able to work together as a team to create the art that we do, and on several occasions we extend an invitation to other ensembles to collaborate with us. This month, we extended an invitation to Pella Christian High School to do a joint concert with the A Cappella Choir on February 11.
Professor Mark Babcock feels that collaborative concerts are important. “College students should inspire future choral generations to keep singing and help them raise their artistic vision and aspire to be better,” he says.
This performance was not the first of its kind. During our spring tour, we invited the Fort Dodge High School choir to sing a piece with us, and we were able to do clinics with Oskaloosa and Ottumwa High School during out last fall tour. The A Capella Choir also performs a piece with the high school students who come to Central to participate in SingFest.
It seems like only yesterday that I was still in high school and the idea of singing in a collegiate choir was just a dream. When we do workshops and collaborative concerts with high school students, it is hard to believe that I was once in their shoes. In a sense, I would say that the high school students are lucky. Not every high school gets an opportunity like this to work with a collegiate ensemble.
Central sophomore Molly Ward says that the joint concert made her feel like she was doing a good deed for the community. “It made me realize how far I’ve come since I have been at college.”
The students of Pella Christian had many positive things to say about the collaborative concert, too:
- “I enjoyed singing with Central. It was an experience I have never had before. I got into the music more because I felt more comfortable. They really get into it and sound amazing.” – Kara Jansen
- “I had a great time singing with the Central College choir. Combining to make an even better choir was really fun. It was a great experience that I would love to do again.” -Adam Howerzyl
- “I really liked this experience. It was so amazing to sing with such a great choir and be able to sing out and not feel out of place. It’s also always nice to hear music from multiple directors’ perspectives. I would do it again in a heartbeat.” – Spencer Fynaardt
Mr. Tim Van Voorst, director of the Pella Christian Concert Choir, also had good things to say about the concert.
“Singing with more mature singers allows the students to hear and become a part of the next level of choral singing. This experience has helped my students feel more comfortable expressing themselves physically while singing and engaging their whole being while performing. I hope this experience will cause my students to more seriously consider singing in choir in college and beyond.”
“Hey, lace-maker woman!” These may seem like peculiar song lyrics, but when you have four voice parts and rhythmic melodic lines, a work of art is created that makes you dance on the inside. In honor of our upcoming Brazil tour in May, the A Capella Choir is performing two native Brazilian pieces.
“Singing music in the native tongue of our audiences makes us good guests and shows that we are reaching out to connect with the people we are singing to,” says director Mark Babcock.
Preparations for the tour are coming together. On Jan. 28, the choir had a group dinner, where we discussed travel details, went over the itinerary for the trip and viewed photos of places where we would be singing at or staying. Professor Babcock says that Brazil was chosen for this international tour because “Brazil is an emerging world market. The choir has never been before, and the people have rich cultural, musical and choral traditions.”
Our first stop in Brazil will be in Sao Paulo, then we will visit Iguazu Falls, and our final stop will be Rio de Janeiro. It will be two weeks packed with beautiful scenery, beautiful music and some time for the choir members to do sightseeing and bond with each other. The choir members are very excited for the tour. For some it will be their first time out of the country, and for others it will be another stamp on their passport. For me, this tour will be my first time in South America.
First-year student John-William Bowling says, “This being my first choir tour, I am super excited to go and don’t really know what is in store aside from sightseeing and singing. Travelling to other countries is one of my favorite things in life.”
The choir will also be involved in a service project during the tour. The Brazilian Rotary Club runs a shoe donation charity, and since the Rotary Club will be one of our performance venues, each choir member is asked to bring a pair of shoes to donate.
For senior Dani Law, the Brazil tour will cap off her last semester of choir and her college career as a whole. “Thinking about what the end of this year will entail is truly a little scary, but very exciting,” she says. “I cannot imagine a better group to be with on my last undergrad adventure. I am hoping that the magnitude of this trip will help me to keep the memories of those moments clear well beyond my college days. At the very end of every spring choir tour, we always have some time where the graduating seniors have to say tearful goodbyes after their last concert as a Central College A Cappella Choir singer. I consider myself extremely blessed to have been able to work with so many wonderful musicians and people and am thrilled to get to travel with them!”
On Monday, January 14, the A Capella Choir held its first rehearsal of the spring semester—and just like fall semester’s first rehearsal, there was a mix of old and new faces.
The sound that we start off with in rehearsal is a brand new sound. For most of us, it is an adjustment because we have not sung over Christmas break. It may take some time during rehearsal to get the kinks out, but the music that we produce still brings a smile to the members’ faces. I remember talking to friends before rehearsal, and several of them said that they were excited for rehearsal afternoon. That just goes to show that what we do in choir means a lot to our members and that as a group we are passionate about what we do.
This semester, we have 10 students who are returning from study abroad or Chicago semester experiences. Junior Meghan Nelson, who finished a study abroad experience in Leiden, the Netherlands, said, “Coming back to choir after my semester abroad has filled a gap for me. Last semester I did not have the opportunity to sing while I was abroad, and that was really hard for me. I didn’t realize how important my 1-2 hours of choir each day was to me until I didn’t have it any longer. I have to say the sense of community and belonging felt great to have again. I was warmly welcomed back. Even though there were a lot of new faces, the group gave off a vibe that assured me it was going to be another great semester. I’m really looking forward to what we can accomplish as a group, and I am excited to make new friends and memories with this fantastic group of people.”
For seniors, the first rehearsal is bittersweet because they are starting their last semester in the A Capella Choir. Senior Ian Michael says, “It is sad, but I am excited for the upcoming semester. I can’t wait to send a musical message to the campus body, and I hope that I can be a vocal model for the younger students. The greatest friends I have met on campus are the ones I have met while participating in the A Capella Choir, and I feel that we are a family.”
The A Capella Choir has many exciting events coming up this semester. Our first concert will be February 11. This particular concert will be in collaboration with Pella Christian High School, and we will be performing with high school students again on February 14 when the vocal music department puts on its annual Singfest honor choir.
Collaboration with high school students is a good chance for the A Capella Choir to spread the name of Central College and to show high school students that they can continue to participate in music at the collegiate level. We are also continuing preparations for our upcoming Brazil tour.
The A Capella Choir is spoiled every year—in the sense that we start diving into the Christmas Spirit in the month of October. Our biggest performance of the fall semester is our annual Christmas Candlelight Concert. It is a highlight for the choir members, students, faculty and alumni.
Senior Kevin Templeton says, “The Christmas Candlelight concert has always been my favorite concert of the year. The music is always beautiful, and it comes at the most magical time of the year: Christmastime! If you only ever attend one concert at Central College, make it a Christmas Candlelight concert.”
Phone calls for ticket reservations have been pouring in since October. The phone has been constantly ringing in the Cox-Snow office requesting tickets for the concert. The concerts fall on the first week of December every year. For years there were only two concerts held on Friday and Saturday. Last year, however, was the first that a Thursday night concert was added at Central Presbyterian Church in Des Moines because of Central College’s large alumni base in the metro area. Central Presbyterian has always been very gracious to the A Capella Choir and has invited us to perform for their service during our Fall Mini-Tour weekend.
Our repertoire will include some traditional classics and new favorites. The mood is set every year when the lights are brought down and the candles are lit while the orchestra begins to play our yearly processional, “O Come All Ye Faithful.” That is just one of many traditional carols arranged by choral conductor/composer, John Rutter. This year we will sing a Christmas cantata composed by K. Lee Scott, Eric Whitacre’s “Lux Arumque,” “How far is it to Bethlehem?” by Stephan Paulus, among others. It is a powerful feeling when you are processing into a candlelit auditorium that is practically filled and are accompanied by a full orchestra. One feels the Christmas spirit come alive in this moment. These concerts serve as our most solemn event of the year.
This year a new phase was added once again to the Candlelight Concert weekend, and that was the pre-concert catered dinner hosted by choir members, who will also be providing background entertainment. Please come joins us as we kickoff the Holiday season with beautiful music on December 6, 7 and 8.
For this week’s blog entry, I would like to talk about a little tradition in the A Cappella Choir that was started last semester: “This I Believe” Wednesdays. Professor Babcock got the inspiration for this event after something he heard on NPR.
He says: “I instituted ‘This I Believe’ Wednesdays last year to help choir members know each other better and to place the collegiate choir experience in a liberal arts context. The choral art is a group experience requiring purposeful teamwork. This collaborative spirit is nurtured well when choir members get to know each other more deeply. Human beings are relational. The choral art draws upon that intrinsic desire to collaborate, to be part of something larger than oneself.”
What happens during “This I Believe” Wednesdays is simple. A choir member will stand up in front of the group at the end of rehearsal and state what he/she believes in or is passionate about. When Mr. Babcock started this, his intention was for students to do more than stand up and recite the “Apostle’s Creed,” but rather go deeper.
“This I Believe” Wednesdays grew in popularity, and since its creation someone has presented every week, from freshman through seniors. One of the beauties of attending a liberal arts institution is that you get to know people outside your own discipline. The A Cappella Choir has a wide variety of majors. Since it is a smaller ensemble, it is really easy to make friends and get to know your peers better.
Sophomore Makaye Smith feels that the speeches help “the person figure out what they really believe in the most. A lot of young men and women our age are maybe still relying on the beliefs our families taught us and are trying to figure out our own.”
I have presented two “This I Believe” speeches since the start of the tradition last spring. This past fall, when I was working on my second speech, I found myself thinking deeper about what I believe and what I am passionate about that I did as a freshman.
Presenting a “This I Believe” speech can be a nerve-wracking experience. You feel like you are being judged and are afraid that people will not take what you say seriously.
Junior Mackenzie Uhlenhopp says, “At first I was really hesitant about the success of ‘This I Believe’ Wednesdays. Stating your beliefs in front of a group of 60 people whom you may or may not know is nerve-wracking and requires a certain vulnerability that many people are uncomfortable experiencing. I was one of those aforementioned people; I tend to keep my thoughts and feelings to myself for fear of judgment from others…Despite my original misgivings, I am ultimately very grateful for the fellowship ‘This I Believe’ Wednesdays elicits amongst our choir personnel, and I am convinced that it will continue to thrive and eventually become a new tradition for the A Cappella Choir—a tradition of service, connection and enlightenment.”
This is one of the many ways that we bond as an ensemble in the A Cappella Choir.
If you ask Professor Babcock why the A Capella choir goes on a mini-tour every fall, he will tell you that the tour encourages artistic, musical and vocal growth, the choir members meet new people and develop relationships and it raises the profile of the A Capella Choir.
The choir’s annual fall mini-tour took place October 19-21. We began by giving a concert and a vocal clinic to the choir members of Oskaloosa High School and then Ottumwa High School. Tim Gibson, a second-year music and theatre major and an alumnus of Oskaloosa High school says that singing with high school students “… doesn’t just give us a performing experience but a teaching experience…” The students there really enjoyed singing with us; the Q&A sessions were very full of discussion about our experiences at Central College and in the A Cappella Choir.
That evening we performed at First Presbyterian Church in Ottumwa, which was the home church of one of our members. On most tours, for overnight lodging, we do homestays and the members of the church were more than generous and opened up their homes to us. Homestays give the choir members an opportunity to get to know our audiences on a more personal level.
Choir tour is also a time for community building and making friends. Ellen Murphey, a first-year linguistics major from Williamsburg, Iowa, said “Mini tour was really fun. It was nice to be able to stand by different people and to have time outside of choir to get to know everyone better. It was a lot more tiring than I thought it would be! Overall I liked it a lot and can’t wait to do it again next year.”
The next morning we departed for Des Moines and had an evening concert at St. Ambrose Cathedral and then Central Presbyterian on Sunday. Central Presbyterian is very generous to the A Cappella Choir and is also the sight for our Thursday evening Christmas Candlelight Concert.
After tour was over, Mr. Babcock was flooded with emails full of kind words and compliments, including one from the mayor of Des Moines.
Morgan Remmick a senior choir member says that fall tour “…is not only an opportunity to showcase our efforts thus far in the fall semester, but it also provides an opportunity for returning and new members of the ensemble to become closer. In a musical ensemble like A Cappella Choir, it is vital that the members know and respect one another. I believe that Fall Mini Tour is an effective way of making the A Cappella Choir a closer-knit group.”
The A Capella Choir is now preparing for our annual Christmas Candlelight Concerts, which will be December 6 in Des Moines and the Dec. 7-8 in Douwstra Auditorium. Tickets are now on sale at the Cox-Snow ticket office. Stay tuned.
After a summer vacation, the Central College A Cappella Choir returned with 62 members, including 19 new members and students returning from study abroad experiences. As a second-year student, the first rehearsal was a little strange because you see familiar faces as well as brand new faces. Despite the fact that the choir members do not all know each other quite yet, we still begin to come together to make beautiful music and be a part of something that is bigger than ourselves.
Our ensemble is truly a melting pot of the campus community. The number of non-music majors greatly outnumbers the music majors in the choir, but yet we still bond and create lasting friendships.
The first half of the semester has been a productive one for the choir. On September 30, we performed a Homecoming weekend concert in partnership with the Symphonic Wind Ensemble. We performed seven songs from different periods in music history. Our opening selection was entitled “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty,” a popular hymn from the Protestant choral tradition, followed by a selection from the Renaissance time period, “Sicut Cervus Desiderat.” The program also included a piece from the Baroque music period, two contemporary choral selections, a Brazilian piece in honor of our upcoming international tour and an American hymn tune. As always, we ended our portion of the concert with our signature choral benediction, “The Lord Bless You.” This song always has an impact on the audience and the choir members.
At our Homecoming weekend concerts, there are many alumni in the audience, and they are always invited to join us in the singing of our benediction. No matter how few or how many years they have been away from Central College, they still remember the words to this song and the look on their faces always brings a smile to my face. It is a reminder that what we do in the A Cappella Choir matters and that we are touching people’s lives.
The weekend after fall break we will begin our fall mini tour, where we will perform at two high schools, the church of one of our members in Ottumwa, Iowa, as well as St. Ambrose Cathedral and Central Presbyterian church in Des Moines.
I’m done. I may very well never again perform on the stage in Cox-Snow Recital Hall. And now, less than 24 hours later, I wish I wasn’t. I am going to miss searching for new music, surprising the band with song choices, practicing with backup singers, full rehearsals and sound checks, testing microphones and carrying drums and, of course, performing to a full house. As Kylie Sampson and Spencer Meyer both mentioned last night, there are so many memories that we have now left behind to fill the amplified space in that room.
Combos has been an immense part of my experience at Central College. It’s the reason I chose to attend this college over all the others, and its part of the reason I stayed. I’m not sure where I go from here. I’ve had a guaranteed chance to perform five times a year for the last four years with other talented musicians, and now I’m once again on my own. Needless to say I’m going to miss it.
I was going through all of my combos videos from every performance and I was amazed at the transformation that I’ve gone through over the last four years. I started as a timid 18-year-old trying to figure out where I fit within the college and the group, and last night I looked confident and ready to take on the world. I’ve seen the change in the other seniors as well. It’s incredible to know that I was there to watch them “grow up” too.
Last night’s concert was a blast. We all had so much energy! My final two song choices were both country, of course. I took a little bit of sass and inspiration from the artists whose songs I sang. I sang Miranda Lambert’s “Mama’s Broken Heart” and Martina McBride’s “Ride.” Both of them were high energy with a solid groove to them…just the way I prefer. It was no easy feat picking this concert’s music either, but at the last minute it all fell into place.
There were so many great things about last night’s concert. Gab [Gabriel] was full of wit and humor, the newest members changed our opinions of songs we’ve heard countless times, V.J. Mende made me jealous by inviting two of his friends to pay violin during his performance of a Kansas song, the band was on fire and I think they had more fun than I’ve ever seen them have (and I’ve thought that during every concert this year). Spencer and Kylie ended our senior concert by bringing back some of their favorite songs from the past few years.
It was the perfect, final senior concert. Luckily there are still a few SWAT combo performances left (including one this Saturday, April 21 at the Lamppost Lounge starting at 8 p.m.) but this really is the end. Graduation is a few short weeks away, and then combos will take over another person’s college career. I’m left with some great videos, pictures of the crazy faces we make when we sing and memories that I will cherish forever.
Hurry, someone get me a record deal so this doesn’t have to end!!
Pics from last night: