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Music becomes tie that binds two choirs, constituencies

March 6th, 2019

Singers from Concert Choir and Bel Canto

Russell Adrian came to Bethel College from southern Minnesota in the early 2000s, thinking he would study engineering.

Today, he holds a doctorate in music, and chairs the music department and leads the choral music program at Hesston College.

On Feb. 17, Adrian and his former professor and choir director, now colleague, William Eash, D.M.A., collaborated on a performance with their two college choirs, the Bel Canto Singers and the Bethel College Concert Choir.

“As soon as Russ came to Hesston [in 2015], he started talking about having a joint concert,” says Eash, who is chair of the music department at Bethel. The biggest obstacle was almost opposite schedules in terms of major performances during the school year.

“I have wanted to figure out ways our colleges can do more together,” Adrian says, “and music is a natural [avenue].”

About a year ago, the two sat down with their calendars and decided that mid- to late February would be a good time, when both groups would have made progress on their spring break (Bethel) and post-commencement (Hesston) tour programs.

A “neutral” location seemed to be a good plan, so Adrian began looking for a church big enough to host two choirs and their audience, and willing to feed the singers beforehand. “The fellowship [around the table] is an important part of this,” he says.

Tabor Mennonite Church, in a rural location between Newton and Goessel, and not far from Hesston, extended the invitation.

“There’s quite a bit of support for both colleges there,” says Adrian, who also attends the church with his family.

“The congregation was really invested in this,” he adds. “There was a lot of energy and excitement, and they did a lot of work – putting up risers, setting up chairs, doing publicity,” in addition to preparing a meal for around 80 people.

And, incidentally, getting the church’s still-unfinished fellowship hall cleaned up and fit to host a capacity crowd.

So when it came time to decide where the concert’s freewill offering would go, the answer was to Tabor’s campaign to fund their new addition.

“I’m in my fourth year at Hesston, and I don’t know when I’ve gotten so many compliments on a concert,” Adrian says.

In addition to their own programs, the choirs learned three songs to sing together (the third one with the Tabor church choir joining as well).

“It took [Bel Canto and the Concert Choir] about 10 seconds to get into singing together,” Adrian says. “It was a good precedent for what our students can do together when they’re given a chance.”  --Melanie Zuercher

About Bethel

As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.