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Bethel singers, Kansas Mennonite Men’s Chorus to give joint concert

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – The Bethel College Men’s Ensemble has been given a unique opportunity for its spring concert – to team up with several hundred other male singers.

The Kansas Mennonite Men’s Chorus and the Bethel Men’s Ensemble will perform a concert of sacred music Sunday, April 26, at 7 p.m. in Bethel’s Memorial Hall. The concert is open to the public with no admission charge, with donations accepted for the work of Mennonite Central Committee.

KMCC performs two concerts each spring soon after the Kansas Mennonite Relief Sale in Hutchinson, for which all proceeds go to MCC as well. Bethel College Professor of Music William Eash, who directs the Men’s Ensemble, decided to accept KMMC’s invitation to make the spring performances into a joint venture.

“In this particular situation, we have 250-300 men,” said Eash. “To have my college singers sing with this group of men has the potential to be really dynamic for them.”

He went on to explain “the dramatic affect” an intergenerational choir can have – for one thing, it means his students will sing “shoulder-to-shoulder with men who may have sung for lifetime.”

“In many ways, it starts a journey for [my students], or at least has the potential for a journey, that would involve music or singing for the rest of their lives,” said Eash.

While the men composing the KMMC make a diverse demographic – from farmers to pastors to doctors to engineers, ranging in age from teenagers to men in their 90s – they share at least one thing in common.

“They are unapologetic about their faith and their position in the world,” said Eash. “If you were to ask most of them, they would say they are people who are dedicated to following Christ. It is a part of their mission that the music will reflect that.”

Eash is eager to see how connections made with KMMC may open the “depth and breadth” of his students’ communities of music and faith – although for some students, introductions won’t be necessary.

“There’ll be some men in the Men’s Ensemble who will be singing with their grandfathers,” said Eash. “That’s dynamic as well.”

Personnel for the Bethel College Men’s Ensemble include freshmen Michael Bowman, Syracuse, Greg Buller, Henderson, Neb., Nathan Knight, Moundridge, Kevin Leary, North Newton, Camden Pankratz, North Newton, Tyrie Prince, Cibolo, Texas, Trey Ronnebaum, Wichita, Brian Skinner, Clay Center, Jeremy Smith, Bethany, Okla., Duane Unruh, Peabody, and Andrew Voth, Topeka; sophomores Dalen Dickerson, Moundridge, Clint Harris, Manhattan, Caleb Stephens, Lawrence, Joe Walton, Newton, and Ben Claassen, Davis, Calif.; and seniors Sam Gaeddert, Hutchinson, Dusty Gudde, Parsons, Will Peterson, Bonner Springs, Jordan Thompson, Wichita, Andy Toews, North Newton, and Jeremy Voth, Hillsboro.

The Kansas Mennonite Men’s Chorus consists of around 300 singers from some 50 different Mennonite congregations in south central Kansas, representing eight different Mennonite denominations, along with several other Christian denominations. The director is Greg Bontrager, North Newton, director of vocal music at Goessel High School.

Among the pieces the choirs will perform for their Memorial Hall concert are W.J. Kirkpatrick’s “Praise the Lord, sing hallelujah” (arr. J. Harold Moyer); the traditional tune “Hark, I hear the harps eternal” (arr. Alice Parker); “He never failed me yet” by Robert Ray; and “Prayer of the Children” by Kurt Bestor.

The program also includes the 4th-century text “Holy God, we praise thy name” from the Katholisches Gesangbuch; Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Praise ye the Lord”; Will James’ “Blow, trumpets, blow!”; Mary McDonald’s “For the living of these days”; a Jonah C. Kliewer arrangement of Clarence Hiebert’s “Redeemed of God” (dedicated in 1985 to the Kansas Mennonite Men’s Chorus); Mark Wilberg’s arrangement of Henry Baker’s Irish tune “The king of love my shepherd is”; “The New 23rd” and “When I think of the cross” by Ralph Carmichael; Marshall Bartholomew’s arrangement of “De animals a-comin’”; Hawley Ade’s arrangement of Sy Miller and Jill Jackson’s “Let there be peace on earth”; and Norman Ramsey’s “The Blessing of Aaron.”

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 only Kansas private college to be ranked in Forbes.com’s listing of “America’s Best Colleges” for 2008 and one of only two Kansas colleges listed in Colleges of Distinction 2008-09. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at www.bethelks.edu

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