Union College Celebrates A Legacy of Praise

The effect was magical and inspiring, as vivid a musical experience as one could have on this earth. The blended sounds of more than two hundred voices, chosen as the best from over forty years of singers at Union College to be in its select choir, the Unionaires, filled the sanctuary with exquisite singing that echoed and shimmered in time and space, and in the minds of those who listened.


A reunion of the Unionaires, scheduled as an Alumni Weekend event at Union College in April 1997, proved to be an inspired idea that exceeded all expectations. The first evidence of the extent of the success of the event began Friday when over one hundred additional walk-ins and others showed up for the Unionaire Friday luncheon! Besides the good food, singing, and visiting, a "memory runway" fashion show, featuring Unionaire gowns from the past, enlivened the event.


The real excitement, however, had started the previous afternoon when three of the six directors from the past four decades who were able to attend began rehearsing both choir members who had sung with them during their tenure at Union College and a mass choir consisting of all former Unionaires. Subsequent rehearsals, recitals and concerts heightened the pleasure as the sheer joy of making music led to an all- pervasive spirit of cooperation and support for one another.


The Unionaires has been the select choir at UC since 1954, when J. Wesley Rhodes, chair of the department and choir director, established and named the group. Subsequent directors have included William Haynes, Lyle Jewell, Elmer Testerman, Lynn Wickham, and Daniel Lynn, present conductor. Wickham and Lynn have the longest tenures, together conducting the Unionaires for twenty-five years.

The event was organized and coordinated by Lynn, who has been at Union for the past eleven years, and Lisette Deemer, a former Unionaire member. Jewell and Wickham joined with Lynn in conducting students from their respective eras as well as the mass choir. Students who had sung with Rhodes, Haynes, and Testerman were directed by Jewell.


A thrilling performance by the full reunion choir for the church services Sabbath morning provided the first public hint of what would follow. The participants and congregation were profoundly moved by the incredible beauty of so many mature, professionally trained voices, and the organ service provided by Melvin West on the College View Church's Rieger organ.

That afternoon a Sacred Music Concert, a recital of former Unionaires who have continued to perform professionally, was presented which featured solos by Duane Anderson, Freeman Davis, John David De Haan, Kandice Dickinson, Darcy Jo Pearcy, Karen Sogard, and Jere Torkelson; vocal trios and duets; and a piano solo by Ryan Wells, chair of the fine arts department. Wells was inspired by the event, observing that "the electricity and excitement these gifted vocalists generated made this a truly memorable concert."

The Saturday evening concert featured four sections, beginning with the performance of three choir numbers conducted by Jewell. Wickham's and Lynn's choirs followed, each also singing three numbers. The grand finale featured the combined groups in stunning performances of four works, conducted by the three directors. Wickham conducted the final work of the evening, one that in recent years had become a theme song for the Unionaires, Kathleen Thomerson's I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light.


The instantaneous and emotional standing ovation and repeated curtain calls by the audience at the end of the concert could not begin to express the euphoric elation and satisfaction experienced by those who sang and conducted. The reunion with old friends, singing once again under beloved conductors, and the making of music at the highest level made it, in the words of many, "one of the greatest weekends of my life."


Dan Shultz

This article was printed in the Summer 1997 issue of Notes, magazine of the International Adventist Musicians Association.