NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Having three of its musical groups selected to perform for the statewide Kansas Music Educators Association meeting this year points to the success of Bethel College instrumental and vocal groups. A closer look at some of the individuals who constitute those groups may give some clues to that success.
Siblings Caley and Lindsey Ortman, senior Bible and religion major and sophomore social work major, respectively, from Marion, S.D., were both influenced musically by their family.
“Mom said she remembered when I just suddenly broke into song one day and my pitch was dead on. I haven’t stopped singing since,” says Caley. He joined his first concert choir in fourth grade. He continued to sing in ensembles and musical productions throughout his school days at Freeman Academy. At Bethel, he has sung in the Concert Choir and the men’s a cappella ensemble Open Road and is a member of the student bluegrass band Radar Ray and the Creekbusters. Caley also sang in Bethel’s joint production with Hesston College of the musical Brigadoon in 2007 and is in the upcoming production of Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute on campus in early March.
Lindsey also recalls her early musical exposure. “I was five when my mom tried to teach me, but [it was not until] I was seven when my grandma [Mavis Ortman] taught me piano and had a little more success.” Lindsey continued her musical education with flute lessons in fifth grade and voice lessons in her junior year of high school (which her parents “dished out the money” for). As a freshman, she participated in the Bethel College Women’s Chorus and is currently a member of Bethel’s Concert Choir.
While both Ortmans were exposed to the same variety of music in their childhood – from ABBA to Peter, Paul & Mary to extended family renditions of “606” (“Praise God from whom all blessings flow”) – their tastes have evolved and individualized since then. Lindsey prefers recordings over live performances because “a lot of time live musicians are too loud or they [stink].” Besides the many bands she listens to, Lindsey also enjoys playing piano pieces composed by Debussy, Rachmaninoff and Khachaturian.
Caley, on the other hand, “love[s] live concerts” in genres ranging from bluegrass to techno. Some of his favorite bands include Kutless, Skillet, Within Temptation and Revis.
Perhaps most crucial, however, is why music has become important to these siblings. “It’s an expression,” says Lindsey. “There’s a song for everything.” Caley adds, “Music is the language of the soul. Music is there when everything else fails. I live and breathe music. It is a mode through which I find God. I will be involved in music in as many ways as I can for the rest of my life.”
Caley and Lindsey will sing with the Concert Choir for the KMEA event.
Heather Robertsen, a sophomore from rural Newton and a music major with education licensure, began performing in a children’s show choir in second grade and has been busy making music ever since. Heather began studying flute in fifth grade. At Hesston High School, she played bassoon and participated in band, jazz band, pep band, Concert Choir, an elite singers group and a women’s ensemble, with musical theater on the side
Only in her second year at Bethel, Heather has already been in the musical Brigadoon and served as a counselor for both Bethel Music Camp and Broadway at Bethel. She is currently involved in the Bethel College Wind Ensemble, playing bassoon, and is the sole female in Jazz Ensemble I, on saxophone. She sings in the Concert Choir and is playing in the pit orchestra for Bethel’s production of The Magic Flute in early March. Heather also directs the adult choir and is a leader for congregational singing at First Mennonite Church of Christian in Moundridge.
Along with Music Camp, Heather’s favorite musical experience at Bethel has been the Wind Ensemble. That’s because, she says, Richard Tirk, assistant professor of music and ensemble director, is “very professional, but still takes students into account. He also uses humor while he teaches, and it makes class more interesting. Tirk has really pushed me to be better. This semester, he has put me to the challenge of playing flute [again].”
Along with Tirk, Heather gives credit to her teachers Travis Hale in middle school and Steve Miller in high school. “Both of them encouraged me to be active in music and do my best.” She adds, “[Music] never holds restrictions. There is always going to be another challenge. There is always a way you can improve a performance.”
At the KMEA meetings, Heather will sing with the Concert Choir and two days later play with Jazz Ensemble I.
Kristin Wedel, senior social work major from Hutchinson, has sung all four years in Concert Choir at Bethel as well as appearing in the musicals The Fantasticks and Brigadoon and Bethel’s production of Gounod’s opera Faust. Her participation in musical theater at Bethel makes sense, she says, since she greatly enjoys the genre, whether listening to recordings or attending live performances. “I love how fundamental the music is to the story and vice versa.”
Kristin began taking piano lessons when she was eight years old. She became involved in choir in eighth grade and continued throughout high school.
One of her greatest formative influences, she says, was Bethel voice instructor Kathryn Kasper, who retired in 2006. “She had an amazing passion for teaching voice,” Kristin says. “She believed wholeheartedly in the potential of each of her students and did what she could to help them reach that potential.”
Kristin’s family “[has] always enjoyed music together,” which has contributed to the integration of music into her life. “I think that it’s difficult for anyone to avoid music nowadays,” she says. “I never made a decision to make music a part of my life. Music has just always been a constant throughout the years.”
Part of the appeal of music for Kristin is that “music is. . . a unique form of expression that can speak to large audiences.” Specifically, the artists that “speak to” Kristin include pianists Regina Spektor and Ben Folds.
Although Kristin is not majoring or minoring in music, she believes that “music will always be a part of my life, whether singing hymns in church or singing along to my iPod.”
Kristin will sing with the Concert Choir for the KMEA event.
Music is primary for brothers Aaron and Joel Linscheid from North Newton. They are both music performance majors – Aaron in trumpet, Joel in saxophone – who are getting K-12 education licensure, meaning it takes five years to finish. Aaron is currently in his fifth year at Bethel and just began student teaching at Coleman Middle School and East High in Wichita, while Joel is in his fourth year.
At ages 6 and 5, the Linscheid brothers began taking piano lessons from Eleanor Kaufman, a member (and one of the organists) of their congregation, Bethel College Mennonite Church. They both began performing vocal music in the church’s Cherub Choir, directed by Norma Preheim, who was also founding director of the Newton Community Children’s Choir. “Oh, she was great!” says Aaron. Their appreciation for their church choir director naturally led both Linscheids into the NCCC.
Instrumental music beyond piano began in middle school at Chisholm. “Our family owned a trumpet and we both thought it was pretty cool,” Aaron says. “Joel actually had more natural talent with it than I did. But I got to play it because I got to it first.” When he was in fifth grade and could start band, Joel picked the saxophone. “I’m glad we didn’t choose the same instrument,” he says. “Besides, I ended up having braces in high school, and that would have been hard with brass – it was easier with woodwinds.”
When the Linscheids were younger, their mother, Cynthia, taught English at Newton High School. “She would consistently take us to Jazz I concerts,” Aaron says. “Our parents took us to every Newton Mid-Kansas Symphony Orchestra concert, Hesston-Bethel Performing Arts concerts, Bethel College concerts. We both thought Jazz I was pretty cool, so we both picked instruments you could play in both band and jazz.
“We both auditioned for Jazz I as 8th-graders,” Aaron continues, “but neither one of us made it in for our freshman year. For me, that was good. I think I’m as good at the trumpet as I am now because of that. I was the soloist for Jazz II. I took every improv solo there was.” Joel adds, “In Jazz II, we were in the spotlight and that made us work.”
Both got into Jazz I at Newton High School as sophomores, where they began playing with Brett Jackson (saxophone) and Andy Toews (trombone), also from North Newton and Bethel College Mennonite Church, also in their fourth year at Bethel, also four-year members of Bethel jazz ensembles.
At Bethel, both Aaron and Joel started in Concert Choir and chamber orchestra their freshman fall. Joel also began playing in Bethel jazz ensembles as a freshman but Aaron is now in his seventh year, since he began playing in college groups as a high school junior. Another difference in Aaron’s path has been his four years of participation in Open Road, the a cappella men’s ensemble at Bethel. As a fifth-year senior, he is only in jazz this year.
For both, Concert Choir has been one of their favorite college experiences. “I enjoy singing,” Joel says. “To be able to hear the music in your ears is good. A lot of my friends are in the choir, and musically, it’s a good group.” Aaron adds, “Concert Choir is a huge social force on campus.” (As it happens, he married another four-year choir member, Caitlin Welch, last summer.)
Concert Choir also gave the Linscheids, who took the conducting class at Bethel, “the opportunity to conduct in an easier setting, beginning with essentially four parts rather than almost as many parts as players in an orchestra,” Joel says. “It has been good, basic conducting experience.”
Both Linscheids intend to go to graduate school immediately or soon after graduation from Bethel, working for a master’s degree in music with focus on jazz studies. “I don’t know if I’ll [keep on] in education – teaching in the public schools or at college level,” Aaron says. “I know what I enjoy and I assume it will affect what I choose – that is, working with students and getting really good at the trumpet, to professional level in my playing.”
“I probably will end up teaching,” Joel says. “I agree it’s important to be at a professional level. All of my teachers have been that.”
“I think our parallel tracks have had more to do with having the same teachers than that we’re brothers,” Aaron says. “Our teachers have told us, ‘If you want [a degree] “someday,” get it now.’ Both Richard [Tirk, director of Bethel's chamber orchestra and wind ensemble] and Jim [Pisano, who directs jazz studies at Bethel] went straight through after college, and I want to play like them.”
Neither one will be performing for the Kansas Music Educators Association for the first time – they played for KMEA as Newton High School students in both band and Jazz I. On March 1, they will play with Bethel College’s Jazz Ensemble I and Jazz Combo. In addition, Joel will sing Feb. 28 with the Concert Choir and conduct one of the numbers.
Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and was the highest ranked Kansas college in the national liberal arts category of U.S. News & World Report’s listing of “America’s Best Colleges” for 2008. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at www.bethelks.edu.