Fall has arrived, which means I’m gearing up for the Calvin Alumni Choir’s fall concert, which (shameless plug alert) takes place on Sunday, November 10, at 3 p.m. in the Calvin CFAC auditorium. Tickets are $15 ($5 student). Go.
Preparing for and performing in twice-annual choir concerts is nothing new for me. This year is my 15th consecutive season of organized choral singing (4th with the Alumni Choir), and 14th consecutive year of voluntary participation in organized choral singing (6th grade choir was mandatory). So as you can imagine, I’m normally pretty used to the routine of getting myself ready for concert week.
But this year the feeling is very different, for better and for worse.
First, the good: the concert program itself is excellent. Alumni Choir is teaming up with the thoroughly fabulous Calvin Women’s Chorale (both groups conducted by Dr. Pearl Shangkuan) to perform a full concert of works by Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo, who is flying in to personally accompany the choirs as well as play solo piano. Gjeilo was already one of my favorite living composers; a self-described “populist” composer, his lush, film-score-inspired works appeal to choir snobs and casual audiences alike—no small feat. Being able to perform with him on stage is a true pleasure for choir and audience, and an event only possible with a choir strongly supported by its community and a music director as committed as Dr. Shangkuan.
But there’s a heaviness that weighs over me as I prepare, the same heaviness that weighs over almost anyone still directly involved with Calvin College. With Calvin’s well publicized budget shortfall already affecting the community (staff members being reduced, faculty not being replaced, etc.) and more cuts on the horizon, there’s an uncertainty about what the school’s future holds, and what certain programs will look like even two or three years down the road, assuming they exist at all.
So while I’m excited about this rare opportunity and going through the normal routine of rehearsing, reviewing my scores, plunking out tricky lines on the piano, singing along to YouTube and the like, the questions of how much longer I’ll be able to do this with this group of people, or if we’ll ever have another opportunity to pull off a concert like this with a world-renowned guest artist, are never far from my mind.
This blog post should not be read as my plea on behalf of the Alumni Choir to those who make the decisions at Calvin. Though I have plenty of thoughts on the matter, this is not the appropriate forum, nor I the appropriate messenger, to make that case. My comments are strictly personal, my own thoughts and feelings as I look into an uncertain future for a music ensemble, and a group of people, that have become a major part of my life.
Alumni Choir has meant a lot to me. It’s been a source of comfort and joy during difficult times. A relief from stress during busy weeks. A chance to spread joy and peace to others—you never know when somebody in the audience will be uniquely touched or inspired by the words or music you sing. A chance to sing with my father, an Alumni Choir member since 1986. And in many ways, a big part of the ongoing healing process for me after I left my days as a Calvin student with more than a little anger toward a (now former) college president and administration that I believed (and still believe) had misled the college in a number of critical areas and damaged the trust of the community.
I don’t know what the future holds, and I don’t have any neat conclusions to this piece either. As with every other department at Calvin right now, the decisions about what the college is able to support and where it must make cuts remain in discussion. I have a lot of faith in the current administration to do what’s best for the college as a whole, though the transition certainly has already been painful, and more pain will be coming.
All I can really do is prepare like I always have, for a concert that is shaping up to be one of the major highlights of my choral career so far. Calvin really does have a tremendous group here, and I’m not just saying that because I’m a part of it—college alumni choirs are very rare things, and ones with the tradition and reputation of Calvin’s are pretty much unheard of. It says a lot about this community that we’ve been able to keep a program like this thriving for 37 years and counting. That community support will be crucial if it is to continue to thrive in the years ahead.
Stephen Mulder (’10) is a copywriter, editor, account manager, husband, and member of two semi-professional choirs in West Michigan. He spent the majority of his college days inside the Chimes office, eventually serving as editor, web manager, and delivery-boy-in-chief in 2009–2010. He graduated with a degree in history.