What could possibly make 96 grown adults want to reconnect with their college in the midst of a pandemic? It couldn’t be considered a class reunion, for most of them have never met. Their college days spanned more than 30 years, yet all of them worked together to help make this project happen — virtually.
“These Evangel University Concert Choir members may not have shared a time, but they sure shared a place and an experience,” says Sharon Wilkins, who directed the touring choir from 1984 to 2015.
Last spring, with the nation in lockdown, several alumni approached Wilkins about producing a video with onetime Concert Choir members singing their parts remotely, then editing the voices together for what they hoped would be a meaningful experience.
Several had seen similar videos shared on TV and social media, and they thought it might be a way to reconnect with classmates and other choir members, as well as to share a little hope in a trying time. The creativity of the idea impressed Wilkins.
“The world was at home, separated and alone, but we knew there was still a bond among our former students,” Wilkins says. “Concert Choir was never just a class. It was, for many, life changing. They experienced miracles and carried those experiences with them.”
The project received the green light, and soon the music was selected and distributed on the Concert Choir Alumni Facebook page. By the deadline, 96 recordings had been received from around the world.
Some of those graduates recorded themselves in the evenings, after working at home all day. Amy Ndurya sent her digital files from Sweden, while medical doctors Eric and Jericho Bell recorded their parts in Kenya, where they served as missionaries.
When the time came to put it all together, 1994 Evangel graduate Joe Mason deftly blended and synchronized those 96 files with the help of Adobe Premiere. Mason currently serves as video editor for Convoy of Hope, a compassion and disaster aid organization headquartered in Springfield, Missouri.
“The deepest friendships some people will have in their lives were formed on those Concert Choir tours,” says Mason, who met his wife, Jan, in the choir. “In a COVID world, this project gave people a chance to be part of a group again.”
The video for “Jesus — My Lord, My Life, My All” is now available online. Not surprisingly, response has been overwhelmingly positive, and plans are underway to record another Concert Choir favorite. “Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace”(the Prayer of St. Francis) will be recorded next, with voices and sign language.
The 96 participants had one common denominator: inspiration from a teacher. When then-dean Zenas Bicket offered the music teacher and choir director job to Sharon Wilkins in 1984, he urged her to build a fire under music education students so they could multiply their efforts.
“Up to that point, I wasn’t sure what to do,” says Wilkins, a 1965 graduate of Evangel. She had taught music in Atlanta, and had some great opportunities in front of her — including directing a new fine arts school. But Bicket’s exhortation made her future clear: she needed to return to Springfield.
During her three decades at Evangel, the Concert Choir toured weekends, spring breaks, and every other summer. The group ministered in the 48 contiguous states, Canada, Cuba, the Bahamas, and 15 countries in Europe. The Concert Choir gave invitational solo performances at New York’s Carnegie Hall in 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2008.
The Concert Choir sang for President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. They sang with Christian recording artists such as Steve Green and Larnell Harris. And in 2014, the choir and several alumni performed two major concerts in Branson with Sandi Patty to launch her annual Christmas tour.
Wilkins led the Concert Choir for 62 semesters, with an average of 45 students per semester. The singers represented all majors of the university, making the choir an effective voice for recruitment during its many tours.
It’s a voice that made itself heard once again during the COVID-19 pandemic — because of the teacher’s inspiration.
“The experiences that I gained from my four years in Concert Choir made me the teacher I am today,” says Sharon Doll, one of the 96. Doll learned how to lead a rowdy group with patience, humor, confidence, and hard work. “My biggest prayer is that my students see Jesus in me, and Sharon (Wilkins) led by example this way.”
But the lessons didn’t end when Doll graduated in 2005.
“A few years ago, I was struggling in my new position,” says Doll, who now teaches middle and high school choir in the Holden School District in Missouri. “Sharon traveled up to Kansas City area to visit and spent the whole day with me in my classes and gave me advice and guidance. It had been 13 years since I graduated! She didn’t have to, but she selflessly gave her time and effort — and that day was a tremendous help to me. She is still my teacher.”