NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Local Bethel College alumni who loved singing together as students have found a way to keep doing it post-college.
An alumni choir organized last fall and gave its first concert before Christmas. The second one will be Feb. 22 at 3 p.m. at Trinity Heights United Methodist Church.
Several recent graduates who share a house and a history with the Bethel College Concert Choir began talking last year about what it would take to form a choir, says Jocelyn Wilkinson, who is now the Bethel College Alumni Choir manager.
“We were discussing this and began to figure out it would really be possible,” she says. She, Andrew Voth, a music teacher in the Goessel public schools, and Bethel College professor William Eash, Concert Choir conductor and director of choral studies, were the main organizers.
“Andrew and Bill would talk about the possibilities,” Wilkinson says, “and bounce them off me. We had an initial meeting [for interested singers] at Bill’s house. We decided we wanted a group that would sound good but would be fun and require a low time commitment [for rehearsals].”
The alumni choir is open to any Bethel alumnus who was part of any choral ensemble while at Bethel. Rehearsals occur once a month except in the week leading up to a concert, when several additional ones are scheduled.
“Because of our time constraints, we ask that people be able to read music and have that experience in choral ensembles,” Wilkinson says. “We are going with a lot of past Concert Choir repertoire while we get our feet under us.”
The group’s first concert, in early December, featured many Christmas-themed numbers. Between 80 and 100 people came to hear them, which Wilkinson calls “a pleasant surprise.”
The Trinity Heights space is a good one, she adds. The sanctuary is the right size “to keep us from feeling swallowed up. It has good sound quality as well as feeling more fun and informal.”
The choir made the connection to the church through Trinity Heights members Allen Wedel, Bethel vice president for business affairs, and Andrew Walker, who sings in the alumni choir.
The Feb. 22 concert will have more secular music, including love songs and folk songs, on the program, says Eash.
Among the songs on the program are “Loch Lomond” (traditional Scottish); “Light of a Clear Blue Morning” (Dolly Parton), featuring soloist Monica Schmidt; “Northern Lights” (Ola Gjeilo with text from the biblical “Song of Solomon”); and “A Boy and A Girl” (Eric Whitacre).
Voth is the choir’s director, while Eash is one of the singers. Wilkinson’s position as “manager” puts her in charge of communicating to other singers when and where rehearsals are, organizing volunteers to take care of things like set-up and refreshments on concert day, and doing publicity.
“That lets Andrew focus on his conducting,” she notes.
Wilkinson also developed a Bethel College Alumni Choir Facebook page, which is how much of the communication takes place.
“We created a Facebook group and added as many area alumni as we could think of, then asked them to invite others, and it built like that,” she says.
Interested alumni are welcome to join at any time, she adds.
Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2014-15 Forbes.com analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States, and is the highest-ranked Kansas college in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2014-15. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.