By Alan Sorensen
The two part basic choral conducting class, limited to 20 participants, attracted just three very enthusiastic students.
But they weren't just three people off the street interested in swinging their arms in time with the music. They were serious students out to have a good time and glad for the extra room to swing their arms in MSU-Northern's Pershing Hall music room.
Jan Wiberg, MSU-Northern professor of music, had little trouble in holding her students' attention for two three-hour sessions Monday and Tuesday nights.
The students' prerequisites for the course included being able to read music, singing in a group, and occasionally directing a group.
"This is great; I'm having a ball," Bullhooks Bottoms Barbershopper Doug Safley said.
Dr. Safley and his two classmates, Ben Hall, a music instructor in Chinook Public Schools, and Carol Ortman, director of the Messiah Lutheran Church choir, had a lot to learn in just two evenings.
The classes were among nearly 100 classes being held under the auspices of the Cabin Fever 2000 Institute from Dec. 20 through Jan. 7.
In her two sessions with the students, Wiberg intended to cover beat patterns, attacks and releases, left hand gestures, choral diction and selection of choral literature.
Tuesday night, Wiberg started her class off with The Star-Spangled Banner in three-quarter time. With Wiberg at the piano, the students not only had to try to hit the high notes, they had to conduct the piece as they sang. Wiberg, for her part, sat at the keys awaiting her students' commands and playing the piece in accordance with their preparatory beats, fermatas and cutoffs.
The students then conducted a variety of beats per measure -- 2, 3, 4 and even 6 -- on Wiberg's command. And it wasn't easy.
"We're committed," Ortman said in reference to the students' tenacity at sticking with the class. "We check our egos at the door."
Ortman said she was having to deal with her newfound knowledge that she has spent years misdirecting the Messiah choir.
"You're supposed to conduct with your right hand and I've been conducting them with my left hand for eight years," she said.
Hall, who conducts the Chinook Junior High School choir and will conduct the Chinook Community Choir in its Easter presentation, kept his comments about the course short. "It's been very enjoyable."
Safley admitted, however, that the lessons in choral conducting would be of little benefit in his dealings with the barbershop chorus because barbershoppers have their own style and way of performing music.
"I'll have to modify it a lot because barbershoppers do things weirdly," he said.
There is still time to sign up for a variety of Cabin Fever 2000 classes and workshops dealing with farm, home, yard, office, shop, classroom, hobby and cooking skills and activities.
For more information, call the Hill County Extension Office at 265-5481, ext. 233.