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Small vocal ensembles’ fall concerts to include variety, perhaps comedy

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Bethel College vocalists will fill the Administration Building chapel with music this Sunday afternoon.

The Men’s Ensemble performs at 2 p.m. and the Women’s Chorus at 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 6. Both events are free and open to the public.

These concerts will feature more than just singing, said William Eash, professor of music, who directs both groups. They will feature everything from solos to duets to poetry reading to (possibly) some improvisation.

“I believe these concerts will be really dynamic, for the students as well as for the broader community,” Eash said. “The thing that will be really nifty about it is that it will celebrate the gifts of the ensemble – not only the choral pieces, but [with] a lot people who will get the chance to do solo pieces or little duets. And I think [listeners] will find that intriguing.”

Rumor has it the concert will include Bethel College’s comedy improv group, Snarky Underbelly. However, details have been kept on the down-low.

“I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but there has been talk of a quick skit in the middle of a song,” said Casey Schunn, sophomore from Whitewater and a member of both Snarky Underbelly and the Men’s Ensemble. “I cannot say much about it, but it should be quite interesting. And giggle-worthy.”

With both men’s and women’s groups this year larger than in the recent past, Eash said he sees lots of potential.

“I think it’s the best Women’s Chorus since I’ve been here, which has been quite a few years,” he said. “They’re really great – talented and dedicated. It’s going to be a super concert.”

The larger size of the Men’s Ensemble equals a bigger, richer sound. One of its numbers, which the group presented in a recent chapel, is “Wana Baraka,” a Kenyan folk song arranged by Thomas Hohmann. Schunn called it “my favorite piece by far. Everyone gets really into it and it shows off the strength of the group.”

Eash said the Nov. 6 concerts will showcase many talents through different performances – such as from Schunn; Miranda Weaver, senior from Hesston; Joshua Powell, 2011 graduate from Basehor; Cody Claassen, sophomore from Whitewater; Marissa Bontrager, sophomore from Newton; April Harpe, sophomore from Memphis, Tenn.; Julie Wedel, sophomore from Peabody; and Riley King, freshman from Lawrence.

“I am always intrigued by the diversity I have in the ensembles, and the fact that there are so many people [at Bethel] interested in singing,” Eash said. “I see roughly a 121 people – between a fourth and a third of the campus – singing. I find it always stimulating to work especially with young singers, who continue to bring a lot of diversity.”

“I am seeing a lot of potential for our group,” said Schunn, who is in his second year with the Men’s Ensemble. “We have a huge range in musical experience, from doing choir all through middle school and participating in upper level singing groups to only singing in the shower. It has been fun to learn together and to see the new singers excel so quickly. We have developed a lot during this first semester.”

Eash also noted his excitement about the upcoming Worship and the Arts Symposium, in which all Bethel choral groups will participate.

“We will be combining all the singers for ‘Think, Celebrate, Sing’ on Nov. 19,” Eash said. “We are going to do a hymn festival for the evening service. It will be all our singers combining with [musicians from] seven or eight local churches. So we will have over 200 singers plus an orchestra of 35-45 and hopefully a huge congregation as part of the festival worship service.”

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2011-12 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 2011-12. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.

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