Angelus votes to rejoin Vespers concert

Angelus will participate in the Christmas Vespers concert this December after being reinvited by Peter Follaird, the dean of the School of Music, on Oct. 18.

The choir will sing two pieces independently, two with the Augustana Choir and two songs with all choirs and the Gloria Dei congregation. Angelus will also still perform their own concert at First Lutheran Church on Dec. 11.

Angelus was previously cut from Vespers because of space issues in Gloria Dei Lutheran Church and for artistic decisions, according to Folliard and Russell Svenningsen, the director of vocal studies. Paul Nesheim, the director of Angelus, declined to comment.

Space issues are still a concern, as only one choir can sing on stage at a time. For the combined pieces, however, Svenningsen said space issues had been resolved by having Angelus sing in the church’s aisles. 

According to Folliard, the artistic decisions for this Vespers concert have changed with the addition of Angelus. Rather than programming Vespers like a professional event with paid performers, Folliard has shifted to treating Vespers as a student-based concert. 

“The difference between a student organization as opposed to a professional music organization is professionals get paid while students invest in other ways,” Folliard said. “The consideration around how much Vespers meant to that group of students — or to all students, I guess — was not that apparent to me.”

Both Folliard and Svenningsen said they have tried to make lines of communication more open and clear for the School of Music going forward.

“There was a communication breakdown this summer, and I know that,” Svenningsen said. “I’ve apologized for that. And again, this was never a decision that was meant to hurt feelings or anything, but that’s what ended up happening, and I’m glad we were able to remedy that and tell this story together.”

After being invited back into Vespers, Angelus voted on whether to join. Twenty-five Angelus members voted yes to rejoin, while four voted against it and two abstained. 

Many choir members said they voted yes for the future of the program rather than their own feelings about the situation.

“If I was voting just for myself, I probably would have voted no because if I’m not wanted in something, then I don’t want to be a part of it, but I was really thinking about the future of Angelus,” senior Jessica Kratz, the vice president of Angelus, said.

Senior Gracie Onstad, the president of Angelus, said she also voted yes for the future members of Angelus.

“This is so much bigger than me and so much bigger than my direct family — bigger than Angelus even right now,” Onstad said. “It’s the girls that are going to come after us. It was really important to me, as someone who is in a place of power, to set that precedent.”

Some choir members said they thought if they didn’t accept the invitation to Vespers this season, their choir would not be offered a place again in the future. Senior Isabelle Thorson, the treasurer of Angelus, said she voted to rejoin in order to preserve Angelus’ place in Vespers going forward.

 “I don’t think that it’s just this year,” Thorson said. “I do believe if we would’ve said no, we could have harmed chances of participation in future years.”

The offer to join Vespers came after three forum sessions between Folliard and Angelus choir members. Folliard created the forum after hearing students were upset about being excluded from Vespers. For choir members, the goal of these sessions was to facilitate greater conversation between the School of Music and students.

“Letting them hear how we felt and what we wanted to say made such a difference,” junior Ashley Elston, the secretary of Angelus, said.

For Folliard, the goals of the forums were to talk about why Angelus wasn’t initially in Vespers, apologize to students for miscommunications, see how students were feeling and assess how students and the School of Music could move forward.

Throughout the forum meetings, Angelus choir members asked for better communication in the future and said they did not want to be invited to Vespers this year, according to Thorson. 

“With the forum, I don’t think the goal was ever to be invited back in,” Onstad said. “I think we just wanted our concerns to be heard and listened to, which they did respectfully.”

Folliard said he decided to invite Angelus back into Vespers after discussing it with provost Colin Irvine. Some Angelus members said they felt they had been put in a difficult position when invited to join the concert.

“We were probably going to look bad either way,” Kratz said. “If we said yes, it looks like we’re accepting a pity invite, and if we were to say no, then it looks like we were being overly dramatic.”

Kratz said Vespers will provide a platform for Angelus to establish itself as a valuable part of the School of Music.

“I think it will be a good opportunity for us to showcase our skills and that we deserved to be in Vespers in the first place — that we are worthy and that we belong in the School of Music,” Kratz said.

Many choir members said they hope for a better dialogue with the School of Music moving forward. 

“I hope in the future they definitely have better communication with us,” Elston said. “I definitely think that we’re going to have to keep fighting the good fight just to make sure that we, as Angelus, belong in the School of Music, and we’re here to stay.”

To foster more communication between the School of Music and students, Folliard created the dean-student advisory council, where the dean of the School of Music will meet with student ensemble leaders monthly. 

According to Folliard, the council is meant to serve as a “conduit between students and administration” in the School of Music.

Folliard also said he hopes the council will foster communications about concert operations, facility needs, student morale and larger School of Music initiatives.

“What’s super important to me is [the School of Music] is a place where all students feel valued,” Folliard said. “That’s the most important thing — that they feel like it’s their School of Music.”

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