Viterbo Choirs on Tour


Jen Burch

The tour group poses for a photo in the lobby of Kansas City’s Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.

Nathan Janzen, Arts and Entertainment Editor

From April 4-6, a group of students from the Conservatory for the Performing Arts, all members of various choral ensembles, went on a multi-state recruitment tour. Led by Music Department faculty Dr. James Wilson and Dr. Mary Ellen Haupert, the group of around 30 students traveled from La Crosse through Minnesota and Iowa to Kansas City, Mo. 

High school stops on the southern departure began with Caledonia, Minn., where Music Education alum Rachel Handrick currently directs choral activities. The second stop before Kansas City was Waterloo West High School. At both locations, the Viterbo groups exchanged songs with the respective high school choirs and took questions from students about music and theatre opportunities, degree pathways and college life in general. Caledonia’s Concert Choir performed John Rutter’s arrangement of “For the Beauty of the Earth,” while Waterloo West’s selections included Rosephanye Powell’s “Non Nobis Domine,” a familiar number to many current students who performed the piece in 2019. 

The tour’s second day commenced with a visit to Lee’s Summit High School. The high school’s selection included Renee Clausen’s “Prayer.” Afterwards, the group toured the American Jazz Museum. Highlights of the collections included a sequined gown worn by Ella Fitzgerald and one of Charlie Parker’s saxophones. A short performance in the lobby of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts ended the day’s activities, along with a reunion with the former Director of Choral Activities, Dr. Brett Robison, who now directs the Topeka Symphony.  

In the evening, Kansas City provided plenty of places for students to dine before the third day of the tour began on Wednesday. The morning featured a visit to Lee’s Summit West High School. The main events concluded with a choral exchange and workshop featuring ensembles from the University of Missouri-Kansas City before the two buses of students began the return journey.  

Reflecting on how tours benefit students, Dr. Haupert noted that these experiences have two purpose: recruitment and retention. For her, giving opportunities to students who want to pursue music and building camaraderie are crucial. “Taking students out and getting them laughing with each other and having a great time makes you feel great about Viterbo. We can recruit students all we want, but if we can’t keep students, we’re in trouble. In this way, she says tours are “really worth it, especially [if] morale is down.” 

Dr. Wilson said about the tour, “The choir takes on family environment … and the tour helps solidify it. [The tour provides] time for members to get to know each other and have fun.” He says that, when students look back, the tour will stand out to them for this reason. 

Echoing Dr. Haupert, he agreed, “The two main reasons [for the tour] are retention and recruitment. Student experience and music are central.” For Wilson, the main purpose is to make music. An example he gave was, “Going to the Kaufman Center—there’s a nice view and great architecture—but it’s the music that makes the trip worthwhile.” Elaborating, the Director noted, “That’s what’s cool about walking around the city with a choir—you have the best party trick. You can just find a corner, give a pitch, and suddenly you’re a special group to anybody around.” It is creating these moments, for Wilson, that makes a trip memorable for those taking part.   

Many important individuals took part in making the tour possible. Special thanks to communications specialist Jen Burch, who provided additional chaperoning and logistical support.