Choir hit the high notes

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Choir pic

Allison Baird and Marques Higgins perform during the Doane Vocal Festival.

Over 200 high school singers gathered from across Nebraska and Iowa to form the 2020 Doane Vocal Festival Chorus and performed on the Heckman Auditorium stage on Jan. 6.  

Around 700 high school students apply each year, based on their choir director’s nomination and 230 to 250 are invited by Doane’s music department to learn pieces and perform as a group. This year, around 80 high schools were represented on stage during the final concert. 

Doane students and music education majors Riley Herringer, Matt Wilkinson, Ryan Jansen and Alexa Thompson coordinated and organized the event. Together, they organized everything from the seating chart for 230 students to helping choose students for a second round of solo auditions.  

Kurt Runestad, professor of music and director for Doane Choir, directed the choirs. William Carpenter, pianist and teacher from Lincoln and Lisa Ulmer, pianist and teacher in Southeast Nebraska, accompanied the festival chorus on the piano. 

This year’s festival incorporated a unique aspect that was brought back from Doane Choir’s trip to South Africa in 2018.

Runestad taught the choir a piece, “Somlandela,” by “rote”, which means the choir didn’t have any printed music, but instead learned it by listening and modeling, which approximates the process that the Soweto Gospel Choir uses. 

The festival chorus performed four pieces of music during the final concert including “Somlandela” and “Balm in Gilead” by the Soweto Gospel Choir. 

Crete choir teacher Lacey Franzen has taken students to the festival for many years. 

“I get the opportunity to watch Dr. Runestad work and help develop the singers into more than they were before,” Franzen said. “Many things I teach are reinforced at festivals and honor choirs like this.”

This festival was senior Herringer’s third and final year as a coordinator. With preparation starting in October, seeing the final product of a stage full of high school students come together was a special experience. 

“It’s a great reminder to everyone that the music we can make is so much better than any one of us individually,” Herringer said. “I think we need more reminders of what art can do to bring people together.”

Around one-third of the Doane Choir and Collegiate Choir came to the Doane Vocal Festival when they were in high school. This event is important in the recruiting efforts of the department, Runestad said.

“Participating in the Doane Vocal Festival meant a lot to me,” Crete senior Alvan Tran said. “The learning experiences I had with Dr. Runestad is something that I will remember and carry on with me when singing in choirs at school.”