Celebrating a Choral Heritage

Group of adult choir members, Bethany Magazine

Photo by David Norris (’91)

Returning and current choir directors from left: Dennis Marzolf (1984-2023), Randi Ellefson (1977-83), David Paulson (current), Jerome Wilske (1970-77), Jim Krikava (1983-84), and Ann Fredrickson (current).

All-choir reunion brings over 200 participants

By Emeline Gullixson (’21) – Bethany Magazine, Winter 2024

Of the many core extracurriculars at Bethany Lutheran College, Concert Choir is one of the most beloved. It is a thread that connects generations of Bethany alumni, and is often noted as a highlight of their college experience. On September 16, 2023, over Fall Festival weekend, hundreds of Choir alumni gathered in the Ron Younge Gymnasium to sing in the Bethany Choir once again—under beloved choir directors, old and new. This once-in-a-lifetime, highly-attended event resonated with alumni and friends and gave them the opportunity to celebrate the treasured choral heritage at Bethany.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sing praises to God with hundreds of fellow believers.”
– Megan (Gerdes ’08) Enstad

Planning for an event of this caliber began back in January 2023, as staff and faculty knew it would be a large addition to the already-packed Fall Festival weekend.

Initially, they wanted an event to recognize Dennis Marzolf and his legacy as Bethany’s longest-serving Choir director. Though Marzolf was honored at the Concert Choir’s homecoming concert in May, they wanted to find a time to celebrate his legacy and the choir when more alumni could attend. Fall Festival weekend was a natural fit, with ample time to plan. But even they could not anticipate how this opportunity would resonate with choir alumni.

“We knew this had potential to be big, since an event like this had never happened before in Bethany’s history. We thought we could maybe get 125, maybe 150, people at the most,” said Jake Krier, Director of Alumni Relations. Though the preferred location was Trinity Chapel, it became apparent once registrations started coming in, it would have to be in the Ron Younge Gym. “We heard from 200 people very quickly. It definitely exceeded our expectations.”

“Whatever we were initially envisioning in our planning stage, we quickly realized this was going to be a lot more,” said Mark DeGarmeaux, chapel organist, and choir accompanist. Those involved in planning emphasized that it was no small effort to pull this event off.

Having hundreds of choir alumni register online was already impressive; it was even more impactful seeing around 300 choir members—alumni and current students—on the gym bleachers that weekend. Those singing, as well as audience members, numbered around 800 people, making this event one of the top five most-attended events in Bethany’s history.

While this is an impressive accolade, it isn’t too surprising that an all-choir reunion would garner this large of a crowd. Many alumni traveled from across the country to participate. Countless alumni expressed that being in the Concert Choir created some of their fondest memories at Bethany. Lasting friendships have endured because of choir, and future spouses have gotten together because of it. Parents and children, who sang in the choir under different directors, had the opportunity to sing together in the same choir.

Man directing a choir, David Paulson directed during the All-Choir Reunion Concert on September 16, 2023, Bethany Magazine

Photo by David Norris (’91)

David Paulson directed during the All-Choir Reunion Concert on September 16, 2023.

A remarkable addition to this already unique event was the inclusion of past living directors to step back onto the podium and direct the Bethany Choir once again. Each of the directors was thrilled to receive an invite. Those that were able to attend and direct were: Jerome Wilske (1970-77), Randi Ellefson (1977-83), Jim Krikava (1983-84), and Dennis Marzolf (1984-2023). Professors Ann Fredrickson and new choir director David Paulson also had the opportunity to direct.

Much planning and coordination went into putting together a beautiful program and making sure that each director knew what he was directing. Music was sent out ahead of time to those who registered, but on the day of, choir members and instrumentalists had roughly two hours to rehearse the selections.

The choir sang many pieces, some of which included Bethany staple, “All Those Who Trust in Christ Are Blessed” (C.H.H. Parry, 1848-1918), directed by Dennis Marzolf; and chorales from “Jesus, Priceless Treasure” by J.S. Bach (1685-1750), directed by James Krikava. Professors Mark DeGarmeaux and Ann Fredrickson delivered remarks about the Choir and Music Program as a whole during the event.

Boy, Jacob Weber, with Professor Mark DeGarmeaux at concert rehearsal, Bethany Magazine

Photo by David Norris (’91)

Jacob Weber (’10) talked with Professor Mark DeGarmeaux at the rehearsal. Weber’s commissioned arrangement of “One Thing Needful” (Freylinghausen) was performed during the concert.

Both the choir and audience sang Jacob Weber’s (’10) setting of “One Thing Needful” (Freylinghausen), Bethany’s treasured motto hymn. Weber was commissioned to write an arrangement to commemorate this event. Each director led a verse, and audience members joined in singing select verses. The concert concluded with “O God, Beyond All Praising” (G. Holst, 1874-1934, arr. R. Proulx 1988), directed by David Paulson.

Afterward, Bethany staff were presented with the All-Steinway School Certificate—a testament to the quality of Bethany’s Music program. Like countless choir concerts before this one, audience members joined the choir up front to conclude with former director Alfred Fremder’s arrangement of “On My Heart Imprint Thine Image,” directed by Marzolf one final time. He received a standing ovation.

“It was such a powerful, moving group of people singing,” said Krier. “It shows how special the Choir is and what it means to Bethany. We had alums that graduated in the 50s and those who had just graduated last May come back. They all were here at Bethany at different times. Their experiences were different, but they all have a special place for the College in their hearts—how it shaped them, instilling their love for this place. Anybody who was a part of this is going to remember this forever and will think of the day often.”

Two people, Professors Mark DeGarmeaux and Ann Fredrickson, delivering remarks about the choir and music program, Bethany Magazine

Photo by David Norris (’91)

Left: Professors Mark DeGarmeaux and Ann Fredrickson delivered remarks about the choir and music program throughout the event.

Alumni were eager to share the impact Choir had on them, and what it meant for them to be a part of the All-Choir Reunion.

“It was truly wonderful to sing under Randy Ellefson again and to join voices with so many other alumni and current students,” said Janet (Nelson ’81) Costello. For her, a highlight was the joy of singing with other family members. “My mother, Charlotte (Loberg ’55) Nelson, sang under Fremder and was visiting from California. Although she didn’t sing with the choir, she really enjoyed the music from the audience. My aunt, Marjorie Loberg, was even a director of the choir for a year back in the 50s, so my family has many connections with Bethany music through the years. It is really gratifying to share in Bethany’s musical legacy.”

Another alumna, Megan (Gerdes ’08) Enstad, flew from Tacoma, Washington, with her husband Mike to participate in the concert. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sing praises to God with hundreds of fellow believers,” she said.

For former Concert Choir directors, the reunion was equally as impactful. They were more than eager to direct, and reminisce on their time on Bethany’s faculty. One former director was Randi Ellefson, who served as director from 1977-83. “It was so exciting to join the faculty when I was a young choral director. There was a strong history of music. I look back on the repertoire that the Bethany Choir performed and I am still impressed that the Choir was quite fearless in tackling a diverse and challenging variety of music.”

On the reunion itself, Ellefson remarked: “I was very honored to be asked to come to Bethany this Fall for this amazing choir reunion. I was concerned about how we would get through all the music in quite a limited rehearsal time, but again, the ability of the Bethany Choir alumni and their dedication made it possible to do it and perform with a great depth of feeling and a strong musicality. It was such a joy to see so many wonderful singers from those years. I have stayed in touch with some of the singers and also faculty who were at Bethany when I was there, so it was wonderful to see them and have time to visit and catch up—not only about their children, but also in some cases, their grandchildren! There is a bond between people who have taught at Bethany and those who attended the College and sang in the Choir. There is something about the human voice that provides all of our souls to express our faith and our emotions in a very special manner.”

Photo by David Norris (’91)

Those singing, as well as audience members, numbered around 800 people.

James Krikava was another former director from 1983-84, directly preceding Marzolf. The featured work on the tour that year was the Bach motet, “Jesu, Meine Freude,” (Jesus, Priceless Treasure) parts of which were performed at the choir reunion. “That tour was fraught with Minnesota blizzards,” said Krikava, “While my chapter in the BLC choir saga is a short one, it brought back so many fond memories and the opportunity to be reunited with so many former students and colleagues from BLC. It was a weekend I shall treasure always. Perhaps the greatest thrill was conducting the chorales from the Bach motet, and remembering how we discussed the great master’s thinking in his composition of the work and all of his works. As I was conducting, I remembered all those conversations with the choir of how Bach shaped his music to proclaim the Gospel in its truth and utmost beauty. My choir members were moved by this to sing their hearts out. As great as Bach’s music and composition were, he never lost sight of the fact that music is to be the handmaiden of the Word of God. And so it was and still is. That came crashing down on me, bringing tears to my eyes as we rehearsed and performed. Too many musicians today think of music first and God’s Word as just musical syllables to serve the music. It’s the other way around, I believe. I love and live music. But music is always greater when it serves, and always less so when it wants to be served.”

Bethany’s treasured legacy of excellent, Lutheran choral music has shaped students in profound ways over the years. Choir is an integral part of the Bethany community, and is a thread that connects generations of alumni. Its legacy showed in numbers and in impact that weekend—and, God-willing, will continue to do so for generations to come.

All Bethany Choir Reunion Concert and Rehearsal 2023