Choir removed from Christmas concert for ‘artistic’ reasons
The restructuring of the choral programs within the School of Music has led Angelus to not be involved in the Christmas Vespers concert this year, and the announcement has left many students upset.
“Artistic decisions” were the main reasons for the changes to Vespers this year, according to Russell Svenningsen, director of vocal studies, and Peter Folliard, the dean of the Augustana School of Music. New space constraints in Gloria Dei Lutheran Church and creating the intended emotional impact were also part of the decision, according to Folliard.
“As we embark to establish the identity of the Augustana University School of Music, high-level artistic decisions are going to dictate how we are involving the various entities inside the School of Music and to what extent,” Svenningsen said.
Folliard said he wanted to get away from the idea of the Augustana Choir being the premiere choir and other choirs being subsidiary and that he wanted to uplift Angelus and give it its own identity.
Both Folliard and Svenningsen said that, as a result of this new identity, they also want the group to have its own performance.
“Historically, Angelus has not had a strong identity of its own, and that’s something I really want to change,” Svenningsen said. “I want to see Angelus flourish. I want to see it grow. I want to see that group establish itself creatively and musically.”
Many students in Angelus have said they don’t feel they received a valid explanation as to why Angelus would not be involved in Vespers and are upset over both their lack of involvement in the concert and how students learned of their exclusion.
Students found out about the changes to Vespers on their first day of rehearsal on Sept. 6 when the decision was announced by Paul Nesheim, the director of Angelus. Nesheim declined to comment on this story.
Jessica Kratz, the vice president of Angelus, said there were mixed reactions to the announcement. While freshmen were confused, many upperclassmen were visibly upset, with some even leaving the room crying, she said.
The group planning the Vespers concert, a combination of people in music leadership and campus ministry, decided which music ensembles would be involved in early August. Some students said they should have been notified earlier, particularly before auditions.
“It feels like we are always in the dark with the School of Music,” Isabelle Thorson, the treasurer of Angelus, said. “They don’t talk to the students. They talk among boards, [and] they talk among faculty, but it doesn’t feel like they communicate with the people who are the sole reason the school is up and running and [are] why the school is here.”
Some students were also unsatisfied with “artistic decisions” being the main reason behind Angelus’ exclusion from the concert.
“When I hear ‘artistic decision,’ I think, ‘Oh, you’re just not as good. You guys are the lesser choir and we only want the best for this,’” Kratz said.
Gracie Onstad, the president of Angelus, said being excluded from Vespers was a huge loss for the members of the choir. She also said students deserved a better explanation as to why Angelus was excluded this year.
“It’s a very big thing that’s being taken away from us, and to just kind of get an ‘artistic decision’ kind of stings,” Onstad said.
Kratz also said she felt as though Angelus was being pushed aside in favor of the Augustana Choir.
“To me, it only seems like they care about their top performers, and it’s a bit frustrating as someone who is not one of their top performers to feel like I am not welcome here and I am not cared for by the School of Music,” Kratz said.
Onstad said frustration towards the exclusion extended beyond just the students.
“My family is disappointed,” Onstad said. “They’re not just disappointing students. They are disappointing the families of everyone involved that are always so excited to watch.”
Folliard and Svenningsen both said that large concerts like Vespers often change and that revision was a part of growth for the School of Music.
“This is the nature of large events,” Svenningsen said. “They’re not often set in stone. Fluidity is necessary. It can often be uncomfortable, but that’s part of growth.”
Students, though, said they felt as though upperclassmen were being forgotten for the sake of progress.
“What they’re forgetting is they’re leaving people behind as they are moving forward, and it feels as though they’re okay with that,” Thorson said.
For Thorson, Angelus being removed from Vespers reflects a larger pattern of the School of Music trying to reinvent itself without sufficiently considering students. Thorson referenced new scholarships available to incoming students and not upperclassmen, a greater focus on equipment and production rather than music, and a change in the atmosphere of ensembles.
“For me, it felt like the School of Music had a total disregard for student feeling,” Thornson said.
Folliard and Svenningsen said finding a new concert for Angelus was up to the ensemble’s director, Paul Nesheim. Angelus members said they would be performing a Christmas worship service at First Lutheran Church on Dec. 7.
“It’s not Vespers, but it’s something I am equally excited about,” Onstad said.
Onstad, Kratz and Thornson said they initially wanted to fight for Angelus’ place in Vespers but now have no desire to participate in the concert.
“If we are not wanted, then we don’t want to be a part of it either,” Kratz said.
Onstad said part of the responsibility she felt as a senior was making this year a good experience for younger choir members even without the Vespers concert.
“We’re definitely trying to revamp our own program while they try to revamp their program, which then means excluding us,” Onstad said. “Fine. We’re going to go do our own thing.”
In addition to performing at First Lutheran Church, Onstad said Angelus will also be participating in the Vikings Day parade for the first time and that they’re having more team bonding events and activities.
Included in the Vespers concert as of Sept. 29 are the Augustana Choir, Augustana Orchestra, Augustana Band, a solo organist, a solo pianist, the percussion ensemble and Northlanders Jazz Band, according to Folliard.