Capella alumni make a joyful sound

Largest affinity reunion ever at Calvin


Spring 2011

In recognition of the 75th anniversary of the Calvin College Capella, current conductor Joel Navarro had a dream: He envisioned generations of Capella alumni joining their voices on the newly remodeled Covenant Fine Arts Center stage.

On the evening of Nov. 20, Navarro—along with former Capella conductors Howard Slenk and Merle Mustert—had a dream fulfilled as more than 300 alumni, from the 1940s to the current ensemble, filled the auditorium with beautiful music.

The music department’s Heather Rodgers and the alumni office staff worked with Navarro to plan the details of what a singing group reunion might look like. Conductors Slenk, Mustert and Navarro signed invitation letters for alumni from their eras of conducting, and Slenk also invited Capella alumni from the Seymour Swets era. The late Swets was the founding conductor of the ensemble.

When alumni arrived on Nov. 20, they were organized by the conductors and rehearsed through the morning (with alumni choir associate conductor Randy Van Wingerden working with the Swets-era singers), supplemented by special tours of the renovated facility. After a luncheon at which the three conductors addressed the full alumni reunion group, it was back to the building for more preparations. Just as in the days they sang on the Calvin stage, getting ready for a Capella concert was enjoyable, yes, but very hard work!

Throughout the day, beautiful sounds were heard from every corner of the Covenant Fine Arts Center. In addition, story after story of Capella tours, concerts and rehearsals were being told.

Choral friendships were renewed in each rehearsal room. For some this day brought generations of families and relatives together. One such family was the Westmaas clan, which was represented by three generations and eight singers.

“The experience of the Capella reunion has caused me to reflect on the influence of choral singing (and especially the Calvin choral tradition) on my own life,” said Joel Westmaas ’78. “In talking with others during the event, it seems that everyone had a feeling of gratitude and joy connected with their Capella experience, and I think that is what my family members have experienced, too.”

It was a thrill for Joel to be on the stage with father, Rich ’54, and daughter Emily ’13.

The reunion concert that evening to a very appreciative audience followed the history of the Capella backward, from the current ensemble and recent alumni under Navarro, followed by Mustert, Slenk and finally Slenk conducting Capella alums from the Swets days.

The finale had the more than 300 amazing voices blended into one, with the auditorium filled with choral excellence.

Navarro called the event “quite possibly, the most memorable music event I have ever had at Calvin College” and noted how excellent the voices of the alumni singers sounded.

Kudos poured in from Capella participants, such as this note from an alumnus: “It was a wonderful day that surpassed my expectations in every way! It was great to see what is happening on campus, renew old friendships and to be a Capella member again for a day.”

Perhaps Joel Westmaas summed it up best: “Because of Calvin, our joy in singing has been multiplied down through the generations and across the branches of the family tree. How wonderful that this institution has helped to foster the musical lives and Christian faith of so many, including our extended family.