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Alumni Choir rehearsal

A noteworthy invitation

Alumni choir to perform at national convention—again

Winter 2010

Pearl Shangkuan received a large envelope. The Calvin music professor and choral director had a hunch it was an invitation from the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA). A small envelope would have contained a rejection letter.

“The audition process is very rigorous, very scary,” said Shangkuan, describing the ACDA choral judging. “Each choir submits one piece per year over a three-year period. There are hundreds of choirs submitting recordings. A team of judges from across the country are flown in and over a week’s time listen to the choirs without knowing to whom they are listening.”

Only 30 choirs are asked to sing at the organization’s national convention. The Calvin College Alumni Choir will be one of those select groups—for the third time in the ensemble’s history. The choir has also performed twice for regional ACDA conventions and twice for the state convention.

The 2011 ACDA national convention is March 9-12, 2011, in Chicago. The alumni choir will be a featured ensemble.

What is also striking about the Calvin College Alumni Choir performing at this level of musicianship is that the group rehearses just once a week. The choir is competing against musical ensembles that meet almost every day and do constant touring. Large music programs and conservatories are typical of the highlighted groups.

“Other choral directors often ask me how we do it,” Shangkuan said. “They are amazed that these singers perform so excellently with such short times of rehearsal throughout the year. I simply credit the training these alumni received at Calvin while students, a deep-felt love of choral music, hard work in the time we do have together and a desire to sing as a response to God.”

In addition to the ACDA invitation, the choir was honored through a new national arts award program called The American Prize. The juried competition rewards the best recorded performances of music by individuals and ensembles in the United States. Groups send in samples of their work and noted judges from coast to coast review the materials and decide on placement within various categories.

The alumni choir placed third nationally under the Community Choir category.

“Once again, our choir was competing against ensembles that draw from major metropolitan areas and that rehearse many, many more hours than we do,” said Shangkuan. “So our third-place assignment is a significant achievement.”

Founded in 1977 by Helen Hoekema Van Wyck ’75, the Calvin College Alumni Choir is a highly regarded musical group with 13 recordings to its credit. Former conductors have been St. Olaf College professor of music Anton Armstrong and Michigan State University professor Charles Smith.

Shangkuan, in her 12th season as the conductor of the ensemble, is well known in international choral circles herself. She is ably assisted by longtime accompanist Kenneth Bos ’75, assistant conductor Randy Van Wingerden ’77 and choir manager Vicki Van Wingerden ’81.

The choir presents a worship service for churches each fall and sponsors a choral retreat during Homecoming weekend each year. The choir’s winter and spring concerts are highly anticipated musical events in the local arts calendar.

“Think of this group as ‘a little engine that could’ in terms of what it has accomplished,” Shangkuan said. “It is about the shared Calvin alumni friendships and the choral experience, but at the same time we put ourselves out there in national competition because we have that standard.

“And,” she said with an infectious smile, “when we compete, we find ourselves standing alongside the best.”

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