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After singing with Hege, Concert Choir looks forward to KMEA opener

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – After a recent concert with the Wichita Symphony Orchestra (WSO), the Bethel College Concert Choir has great expectations for the rest of the 2010-11 year.

The concert, which took place Oct. 16-17 at Century II Concert Hall in Wichita, featured a performance of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 in C minor, “Resurrection.” The Concert Choir joined the orchestra, the WSO Chorus and the Friends University Singing Quakers.

The concert was the first of the season under the direction of new WSO music director and conductor Daniel Hege, a 1987 Bethel graduate.

“It began with an invitation from the Wichita Symphony Orchestra,” said William Eash, Bethel professor of music and Concert Choir director. “They’ve worked with us before with the [2009] Christmas Pops concerts and understood we’d be well-prepared.

“Dan requested us, but the invitation came from the orchestra.”

Many of the choir members were glad to have the opportunity to sing under Hege’s baton.

“It was really cool to sing under him because in conducting class last year we met with him after one of the [WSO] rehearsals when he was guest conducting last fall,” said Concert Choir assistant conductor Rachel Voran, junior from Newton. “It was cool to talk with him as a Bethel grad and to just know that a conducting student from Bethel can leave here and do pretty big things.”

Hege was also a guest speaker in convocation Friday, Oct. 16.

“In convo, he talked about responsibility versus power in a conducting situation,” Voran said. “With conducting, some people turn it into ‘I’m in charge here.’ He turned it into ‘I’m responsible for helping you make music.’

“I sat in the second row center during [the concert], and I couldn’t take my eyes off what he was doing – he was so expressive.”

Andrew Voth, junior from Topeka and the other Concert Choir assistant conductor, was also impressed by Hege’s conducting.

“Probably the most impressive part of Dan’s conducting is that it’s all very intentional,” Voth said. “Every move has a very specific purpose – he never does more than he has to.

“He also has a really impressive mastery over the music itself – he knows where each theme comes from, and he’s really good at getting into the mind of Mahler and figuring out what his intent was.”

“His presence was very commanding, but at the same time very kind and personable – after the first concert, he stood outside and shook each person’s hand as they walked off the stage.”

As an aspiring conductor himself, Voth felt he learned a lot about conducting through paying attention to Hege’s conducting style.

“I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is that he wasn’t conducting the sound he wanted, he was conducting with a technique that would create the sound he wanted to hear,” Voth said. “For example, if people were supposed to be loud, he wouldn’t necessarily make giant movements – he just gave help when it was needed to make those transitions.”

Though the concerts took place over Bethel’s fall break, most choir members ended up being more than willing to give up part of their break for the experience.

“It was definitely worth our fall break,” Voran said. “And I think it started more interest in going to other Wichita Symphony concerts.”

The Concert Choir will return to the stage at Century II next semester to perform the opening concert of the Kansas Music Educators Association convention on Friday, Feb. 25, at 7:30 p.m. This is considered the main concert of the convention.

“On that Friday evening, all Kansas music educators and students come to the main auditorium at Century II,” Eash said. “We are normally asked to perform in the Mary Jane Teal Theater, which seats 600 – this one seats about 2,000.

“Usually it’s bigger schools like Kansas State, the University of Kansas or WSU that perform at this concert, and this year, the Concert Choir was invited,” Eash said. “It’s a great honor.”

The Concert Choir was chosen through a blind audition in which judges listen to unmarked CDs sent in by anyone interested in performing at KMEA.

Despite the large number of new members, Eash has been satisfied with the performance of this year’s choir thus far.

“I’ve been really pleased with this year’s choir,” he said. “I always hear it will be difficult to replace the seniors [from the previous year], but this year, the transition was almost seamless – the sound in September was just like we left it in May.

“I think this is because we are more disciplined as a choir – we’re doing more sectionals, more difficult and challenging music and more people are taking voice lessons, so we have a more mature sound.”

Voran and Voth are also optimistic about how the choir has responded to them as assistant conductors.

“You don’t realize how hard it is until you get up there,” Voran said. “It’s a job that’s really important and so hard. I’m hoping to continue to get more comfortable and gain the trust of the singers.”

“I think the choir’s been doing really well this year,” Voth said. “They’ve been very responsive and kind to me, which I appreciate.

“I can’t wait to see the progress we can make – I think by the end of the year we’re going to be pretty impressive.”

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2010-11 Forbes.com analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States and is in the first tier in its category in the U.S. News & World Report annual ranking of “America’s Top Colleges” for 2011. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.

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