Singing in rhythm and blues country

March 22, 2011

The Chorale Spring Tour took Bradley’s top singers through rhythm and blues country last week, with performances in St. Louis, Memphis, Nashville, and New Orleans. The ensemble gave five evening concerts in churches along the way and held exchanges with high school and college students.

“It’s wonderful to share our music, but tours also give us a chance to adapt to different audiences in different venues,” said Ashlie Schlatweiler ’12. “We had one performance where nobody clapped because we were in a church, so it felt off-balance without that immediate response, but it’s good to experience a completely different concert environment.”

The group presented music by historical composers Palestrina, Hassler, and Gorczycki, as well as folk-inspired pieces from Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Also featured were two compositions by Dr. John Orfe, a temporary assistant professor in Bradley’s Department of Music.  

Under the direction of Dr. John Jost, the ensemble’s 38 members make a dynamic, but intimate group. They are like a little family within the Bradley family, each literally willing to offer another the coat off his back – camaraderie not lost on audiences.

“During our performance in the ninth ward of New Orleans, the auditorium was very cold, so the guys naturally offered the ladies our jackets,” said Kevin McClelland ’11. “An audience member remarked to Dr. Jost that she was really touched by that. To us, that’s just normal.”

“We do try to do more than just be a choir,” Dr. Jost said. “I think singing together, and singing the kind of music we sing helps build that bond.”

Music education major Schlatweiler appreciates the opportunity semiannual tours offer to spend more time with the group’s non-music majors, such as McClelland who studies sports communication. McClelland has been singing with the Chorale since his freshman year and served as manager for this spring’s tour. During exchanges with high school students in Alton, Illinois, and New Orleans, Louisiana, McClelland spoke about the experiences Bradley offers students of every discipline. 

“I love to share with them that you don’t have to be a music major to sing in a top ensemble at Bradley. You just have to be dedicated,” McClelland said. “Dr. Jost understands that many of us aren’t music majors, so he helps us appreciate the meaning behind the words and dynamics.”

The Chorale is comprised of students who shined as high school vocalists, many accustomed to spotlight roles. It takes a talented musician to direct a group of stars into a beautiful constellation, an ability Dr. Jost has demonstrated for more than two decades as the Chorale’s conductor.

“He has this way of making us want to achieve the same goal, so all of us are working together for that,” Schlatweiler said. “He just wants to make beautiful music, and his success is in making us help him do that. I don’t know how he does it, but I hope to be that kind of director one day.”