The time requirement has increased this semester for Augustana’s choral ensembles.
The Augustana Choir, Collegiate Chorale and Angelus all committed to more performances than previous semesters, including participation in the 60th anniversary of Viking Varieties in addition to an all-choir fall concert and the Christmas program, Vespers.
Along with a busy concert season, Collegiate Chorale and Angelus added a fourth day of rehearsal this fall to their tri-weekly class schedule.
Following the Oct. 19 performance of Viking Varieties, the choirs participated in a Nov. 3 concert along with Washington High School. The Augustana Choir then performed Nov. 17 for the anniversary concert of the chapel organ, before all three choirs began Sunday Vespers rehearsals the same evening.
These out of class time rehearsals for Vespers are in addition to regular weekly rehearsals, adding to the existing 200 (Collegiate, Angelus) or 300 (Augie) minutes of weekly rehearsal.
In addition to these commitments, all three choirs sometimes sing during chapel hour.
“The general rule of thumb with performing ensembles is that for every minute of music that you’re going to perform, you need an hour of rehearsal,” Russell Svenningsen, director of tbe Collegiate Chorale, said.
Svenningsen described what is done in the limited class rehearsals as the bare minimum for performance.
Senior Courtney Williams has been a member of Augie Choir for four years and said this is the busiest she’s known the choirs to be.
“Augie Choir always had singing in chapel and homecoming things and Vespers, but in the last two years it’s really seemed like there is so much going on,” Williams said.
The higher level of engagement was not lost on the faculty.
“When we were putting the schedule together, we thought, ‘holy buckets, this is daunting,’ and we did have a few students come to us and say, ‘this is too much, I can’t commit to that this semester,’” Svenningsen said.
The choral faculty has taken some steps to relax the schedule, such as reducing the number of chapel appearances. Paul Nesheim, director of the Augie Choir, also said that songs appearing in Vespers were used in the organ anniversary concert and will be used again for tour.
“Augie Choir and I have talked together about the fact that it is a heavy semester and there has been a lot on the calendar,” Nesheim said.
Strain on schedules
Augie Choir president and senior Scot Missling said it’s good that the choirs have been so visible in the community through performances, but recognized the strain on schedules.
“We’re just like any other college student,” Missling said. “We’re busy.”
Williams, who quit the dance team because it was conflicting with choir, said Augie Choir has had some commitment almost every weekend this semester.
“It gets a little bit overwhelming, especially for those of us that are involved in other things on campus,” Williams said.
However, she doesn’t see the rehearsals as too much for the busy schedule.
“I think we need it, and [the extra rehearsals] are very beneficial for all three choirs,” she said.
Svenningsen said such a full schedule is unlikely to reoccur.
“The students have handled themselves with great aplomb,” Svenningsen said. “Do I want us to be this busy in the future? No, this was a onetime deal.”
Brad Heegel, administrative director of performing and visual arts, said that with the new opportunities and old traditions, the schedule became heavy. He said that in hindsight, he’s sure the choral directors would have planned the season differently.
“The full fall choral concert we were scrambling, and we’re scrambling now for Vespers,” Svenningsen said. “Scrambling creates stress and we don’t want to ratchet that up. Everyone’s busy as it is.”
Four days of rehearsal
As the Augustana Choir is the college’s premier choral ensemble, Collegiate Chorale and Angelus have often been viewed as alternatives with less engagements and lighter commitment. Collegiate and Angelus only rehearse for 50 minutes compared to Augie Choir’s 75 minutes
Previously, only Augie Choir rehearsed four days a week. But starting this semester, all choir members only have one weekday without rehearsal.
Svenningsen says the change marks a philosophical change in the choirs.
“They’re not just feeder choirs,” Svenningsen said. “They can stand alone as their own groups.”
Jesse Nelson, a tenor in Collegiate, said, “I think it gives us a lot more opportunities to improve the choir.”
The change was proposed by the three choir directors to improve the overall program quality.
“We’ve all come from situations where there has been a little more rehearsal time,” said Nesheim.
According to Svenningsen, more rehearsal time than even Augie Choir has is typical for sister institutions such as St. Olaf or Concordia.
Student reaction to the change has been mixed.
The change makes Collegiate and Angelus feel less like a lighter commitment than Augie Choir.
“The feedback I heard early in the year,” Svenningsen said, “is that the students would like to have known it was coming.”
Class scheduling conflicts
Many students discovered the change when looking at course schedules for the fall, and students were not asked for their opinion on the change.
For Jesse Fonkert, a senior who was in Collegiate his previous three years at Augustana, the change factored into his choice not to join choir this year.
“I love choir,” Fonkert said. “But that one credit class was costing too much time.”
For some, the change has created a direct conflict between academics and rehearsals.
Because Collegiate and Angelus were Monday, Wednesday, Friday courses in the past, the addition of rehearsals at the same time on Tuesday has overlapped classes. This causes some students, like Angelus member and senior Emily Grandprey, to miss the Tuesday rehearsals entirely, while others join in several minutes late.
“Overall for [Angelus] I think we’ve gotten more done,” Grandprey said, despite being unable to partake in the extra rehearsal.
Scott Johnson, head of the music department, said he has yet to hear student opinion on the change, but would love to hear feedback as the rehearsal model is evaluated for next year.
“It was sort of an experiment this year,” Nesheim said. “But I think that just in terms of the quality of the music that they’re able to make with the extra rehearsal, I think it’s definitely a positive.”