Dordt College News

Ambassadors of good music

June 24, 2014

Connecting with people is one of the most important aspects of the annual Dordt College ensemble tours. Choir and band alternate tour dates; this year, Concert Choir took a 12-day tour to the East Coast between March 6 and 17. Along the way, the choir performed eight full evening concerts and sang for eight school assemblies. They also participated in four church services.

“Host, host, host; family, family, family; story, story, story; time, time, time... .”

Lisa Smith’s deep alto voice rang through the bus speakers over the 52 choir members, some already napping, others already playing cards, calling them to the front to share stories of their experiences from the night before.
Students took their turns with the microphone, telling the rest of the choir how last night’s host family had fed them too much food, had a really large, incredibly smart dog, had told them countless stories until midnight, or knew someone who knew someone who was related to them. “

An honest highlight for me is getting to know the host families,” said Senior Devin Veenstra, who has been on five tours with three different Dordt music ensembles. “Whether it’s playing ‘Dutch Bingo,’ eating what seems like all the food in their kitchen, or staying up just talking.”

“There’s always something to talk about and ways to understand each other,” said Sophomore Rianne Van Wingerden. For her, the fact that she plays the organ became a good conversation piece.

“It’s one of the best outreaches we do as an institution,” Choir Director Ben Kornelis said. “We’re bringing 52 ambassadors into the community. We have the opportunity to make a large impact as we travel across the country.”

“Choir members are excellent ambassadors of Dordt College,” said Garry Zonnefeld. Zonnefeld, a college relations representative who has gone on every tour since 2006, believes that tours demonstrate the excellence of Dordt’s music department and show what Dordt College is and who its students are. Tours also give students an opportunity to thank supporters and to show them what it is they have been supporting. And they are a way to connect with former students and recruit new ones.

Kornelis knows of instances in which students have come to Dordt primarily because they were exposed to the college and its music program through a performance at a school assembly. Singing for assemblies lets high school students see how they can continue to be involved in music after high school.

At these assemblies, Kornelis often asks Concert Choir members to show by hands how many of them are not music majors. The majority raise their hands. Sometimes, he also asks choir members to tell their majors. Answers range from accounting and engineering to art and criminal justice.

“You don’t have to be a music major to sing in choir,” Kornelis often says. “We love our non-majors.”

Visiting schools also gives younger singers an opportunity to hear a good choir and improve their own singing and excitement for music.

On the final day of this year’s tour, the Concert Choir sang at Wheaton Christian Academy in Wheaton, Illinois. Dordt Alumnus Joel Visker is the choral director there. He and Kornelis have been trying to arrange a tour stop at Wheaton Academy for years.

Kornelis wanted to sing at Wheaton because the school has traditionally had a strong choral program, but not many of them have come to Dordt College. He and Visker wanted to put a face to the name and have the students hear and experience Dordt’s choir for themselves.

Visker was excited about the opportunity to connect his students with Dordt.

“My experience in the Dordt College choral music program was foundational for my deciding to pursue a career in choral music,” Visker said. “Dr. Kornelis had a huge impact on who I am and how I structure the choral music program at Wheaton Academy. It was only natural for me to want to connect my past with my present.”

Visker’s students enjoyed hearing Dordt’s choir.

“It was valuable for my students to reset their ears to a standard of excellence represented by the Dordt Concert Choir. When students hear a great choir, they intuitively sing better,” Visker said.

Timothy Van Voorst, the choir director at Pella Christian High School, felt that hearing the Dordt choir benefitted his students, too.

“Seeing and hearing an excellent college choir is motivating for students. They see where music can take them in the coming years,” said Van Voorst.

As they perform, Dordt choir members also see that they are having an impact on students.

Veenstra enjoyed watching students react to two songs in particular. “O Love That Will Not Let Me Go” was sung by men only and featured some soaring tenor notes. “O Lord God” allowed the basses to show off their range.

“Whenever the men would sing ‘O Love’ at assemblies, the faces of the guys in the choirs would perk up because they recognized the talent it took, but also because they realized they could sound that good too,” Veenstra said.

“I remember one girl mouthing ‘wow,’ during ‘O Lord God,’” he added.

Smith always enjoys watching the audience during concerts. An audience in Parma, Ohio, particularly stood out. 

The choir sang in Parma because it was a good stopping point between Illinois and New Jersey, even though there are not many Dordt connections in Ohio. They asked to sing a concert at Ridgewood United Methodist Church, and even though there was only one Dordt alumnus present, the audience received the choir well.

“We had an obvious impact,” Smith said. “They were grateful and authentic—they truly meant it.”

The audience in Parma was enthusiastic not only in their comments but also in their donations. According to Smith, the donations were all the more encouraging for the choir because many of those in attendance had never heard of Dordt College.

“They’re giving because of what we did, not because of a connection to Dordt,” Smith said.

For Van Wingerden, two other audiences were memorable. One was at an assisted living facility in Batavia, Illinois, called The Holmstad. The choir took the time to talk to the residents following the concert. Residents were excited to have the students there and were very appreciative of the music.

“Music brings such joy, and they especially love to hear and talk with college students,” said Cathy Reese, resident services director at The Holmstad. “We are very appreciative that Dordt College reached out to us and offered this great ministry of performing for our residents.”

The assembly at Elim Christian School in Palos Heights, Illinois, also stood out.  Elim is a school for students with special needs, and Van Wingerden enjoyed watching the students get into the music, dancing in their seats.
“There were students that yelled out in joy, as well as those who got out of their chairs to dance and jump to the music,” according to Megan Swiss, who teaches a high school class at Elim. “One of them even asked if there was a CD that he could buy because he wanted to listen to more. It meant the world to me that the Dordt choir students took time after the performance to mingle and meet our students.”

Tours also deepen relationships between choir members. This year’s weather helped. On March 12, the choir was scheduled for an assembly and concert in Rochester, New York; however, bad roads forced the bus to stop early at a hotel for the night.

In a Facebook post, Kornelis said, “We pulled off the freeway and into the hotel parking lot just as the driving rain was changing over to icy, sleety, slushy ick. Let the rip-roaring Rook tournament commence!”

Commence it did. The hotel offered their meeting room to the choir for the night so they could set up tables for games. Choir members ate pizza and played games and watched movies.

“Playing Rook and King’s Court until well past midnight may not have been the wisest choice health-wise, but it allowed us all to get closer as a choir,” said Veenstra.

And every tour gives students free time to spend in new places. This year they explored both New York City and Chicago. 

“Highlights for me were getting to see New York City for the first time and spending time in Chicago with people who have never been there,” said Senior Matt DeJong, who lives near Chicago. “I love going to the city, and I love taking people to places that I enjoy.”

All of the singers are grateful for the experience of coming together musically as a choir.

“LaGrave Christian Reformed Church was an awesome place to sing. I think that’s when we were most together as a choir,” said Smith. “We were glorifying God all night. I couldn’t stop smiling.” The words of “O Lord God,” “I will sing to the Lord as long as I live,” took on new meaning for her that night.

Kornelis pointed to this line often during the tour, reminding both the Dordt choir and high school choirs that being able to make music is an incredible gift. 

“No matter what, after college I can keep praising God with my gifts. It was a good reminder,” Smith said. “Those gifts never die away.”

At the end of each concert, the choir filed out of the auditorium for devotions by themselves and to sing the end of “Praise to the Lord,” a piece that has closed every tour concert for years.

After the home concert at Dordt College on March 21, the choir came together in the parking lot of the B.J. Haan Auditorium for their final devotions of the tour. 

Standing in a circle, alternating men and women and holding hands, robes flapping in the wind and legs shaking from the cold and adrenaline, choir members lifted their hands and voices one last time, the sound filling the darkness.

Yea, let the Amen sound from his people again; gladly for aye we adore him. Alleluia!

Anna Visser (’14) participated in her final Concert Choir tour this spring.

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