The Wartburg College Castle Singers have been hailed as a model of musicianship since their inception in 1950. Initially the Chapel Choir, under the direction of Dr. E. Arne Hovdesven, the choir was the center of sacred music on the Wartburg campus. The ensemble adopted its current name under the direction of Dr. James Fritschel in an effort to reflect the group’s growing performance repertoire. Further, under the baton of several diverse directors, this select ensemble has evolved in focus and most recently garnered a noteworthy reputation for its performances of vocal jazz arrangements.
Today, under the direction of Dr. Nicki Bakko Toliver, this chamber ensemble continues to prepare a wide variety of repertoire from Byrd to The Beatles and beyond. Comprised of advanced vocalists who are dedicated to exploring challenging choral literature, the Castle Singers enjoy performing both on and off campus throughout the academic year. They strive to prepare quality choral literature, both old and new, with flexibility, stamina and dramatic flare.
The Castle Singers tour the United States annually and travel overseas during the college’s May Term. Previous international tours included countries throughout Western and Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, the Middle East, the Caribbean, Latin America, Australia and French Polynesia.
The Kammerstreicher is the Wartburg College chamber orchestra. Formed in 2014 by Dr. Daniel Kaplunas, the Kammerstreicher is now led by Dr. Jacob Tews, who also conducts the Wartburg Community Symphony Orchestra. The group is comprised of Wartburg students who pursue a variety of majors but have in common skills on violin, viola, cello, and bass.
Repertoire for Kammerstreicher concerts is best described as “eclectic.” Recent performances have featured Baroque and Classical works by Bach, Corelli, and Mozart, standard string orchestra pieces by Britten and Warlock, and arrangements of songs by the Beatles and Radiohead. The group even branches into the realm of improvisation, exploring jazz and bluegrass alongside contemporary classical improvisations and aleatoric music. Since the ensemble is chamber orchestra-sized, opportunities abound for student solos from within the group.
While there have been chamber orchestras at the Wartburg throughout its history, the group became an official curricular ensemble in 2014. In 2016, members of the group agreed upon a name change as the orchestra continued its growth in on- and off-campus visibility. The new name is a nod to Wartburg’s rich German heritage—Kammerstreicher means “chamber strings”—and also stems from a desire of the group to reshape expectations for what a chamber orchestra can be and do.
The group, which stresses collaborative rehearsals—Dr. Tews even plays along with the group sometimes!—and a familial atmosphere, performs twice each semester, including participating in Christmas with Wartburg. Kammerstreicher joins with the Wartburg Castle Singers for their annual tours, with an upcoming (winter 2017) series of concerts from Iowa all the way to Florida.