The Topeka Choir unmasks for a post-Covid concert at the White Concert Hall
Topeka Festival Singers has had its share of ups and downs, including recent setbacks due to COVID.
Now the band are unmasked and eager to reveal their positive spiritual energy during a 7.30pm program Monday at Washburn University’s White Concert Hall.
The show must continue
Marilyn Foree sings alto, is president of its board of directors and has been a member for 20 years. She shared some of her favorite memories of when her members overcame challenges.
One year, on the morning of a Christmas concert, former director Kevin Kellim fell ill and told Foree, “You’re going to have to direct tonight.”
“At first I thought he was joking,” she said.
Foree overcame his initial panic and took over the reins. The show went off without a hitch.
Another year the performance was underway when firefighters entered the venue and helped an audience member deal with a medical issue.
Kellim, with his back to the audience, was unconscious.
“He didn’t see anything,” Foree said.
The show continued uninterrupted.
And then COVID-19 hit
When COVID hit, new challenges emerged. Still, the show went on, this time with a different look.
Grace Morrison – who sings soprano, is vice-chairman of the board and has been with the band for 17 years – recalled taking part in a virtual concert produced during the lockdown. Each part was added separately.
While recording her voice at home, Morrison was somewhat flustered.
“I would sit in the hallway with the accompaniment playing in my ear,” she said. “Have you ever heard yourself sing a capella?
The challenge ahead
Challenges remain for the group, which is looking for a long-term director.
Guest conductors — like Jon Arnold, guest director of Washburn University Choirs — stepped in to fill the void while working with themes chosen by the board.
The theme of Monday’s program is meant to be uplifting and exciting, Morrison said.
After receiving this theme – “Feel the Spirit!” — Arnold decided to change things up a bit for his show.
“I’ve incorporated the more traditional pieces with others, which aren’t technically spiritual but are in the same vein,” he said.
Two of the more traditional dishes, “Ezekiel Saw the Wheel” and “Ev’ry Time I Feel the Spirit”, were arranged by composer William Dawson, who has Topeka ties.
Dawson studied composition and orchestration in 1921 at Washburn College (now Washburn University), then headed the music program at Kansas Vocal College in Topeka.
He eventually returned to his alma mater, the Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Ala., where he spent 25 years as director of its music school. He died at age 90 in 1990.
A less traditional piece, “Spirited Light”, has a tight harmony and features unusual meter changes. Morrison particularly appreciates this piece.
“It paints a musical picture,” she said.
The text, written in the 12th century by the composer Hildegard of Bingen, known for her visions, tells the story of an angel falling from heaven. Contemporary composer Jake Runestad “illustrates” the piece with descending and ascending scales.
Students from Hayden, Topeka and Seaman will sing with the band
Topeka Festival Singers is community based and always looking for new members. A former member, Jeff Kready, is now a star on Broadway.
Perhaps new members will be found among the select singers the group recruited from Hayden, Topeka and Seaman high schools to perform alongside the choir for three of its plays on Monday.
How to Get Topeka Festival Singers Tickets
Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors, and $5 for students. They can be purchased at the door.
The quartet of barbers, Double Stuf, will warm up the crowd at 7:00 p.m. with doors opening at 6:45 p.m. The Topeka Festival Singers will take the stage at 7:30 p.m.
Spectators are required to wear masks and encouraged to come early to secure the best seats.