On a hot June weekend, more than 100 Rockway Mennonite Collegiate alumni rehearsed, relived and performed a Rockway choral experience.
Three beloved choral directors—Jan Overduin, Robert L. Shantz and Ann L. Shultz, a 1984 graduate—each chose a hymn and two pieces that, with prayer and reflections, were melded into a moving, worshipful experience.
As we sat with fellow former students, the rehearsal took us back to the days when we heard familiar chastisements, soaked in praise, made sidebar comments to bleacher mates, and sang the way we love to sing. Although, for some, much time has passed, it seemed that the rehearsal techniques, musical approaches and deeply ingrained collegiality of our teen years were brought back in an instant.
Tributes to the directors were not only nostalgic, but they pointed to the profound and lasting influence each educator had on his or her students, and on the extended Rockway community.
Of Overduin, Susan Seyler, a 1971 grad, said: “He was very particular and required us to sing accurately. We had to work hard to get it perfect, and in his quiet way, with that little smile . . . he would get the results he wanted!” Of the gifts he brought, she said, “Not the least was his great humility and his example of deep Christian faith, which he demonstrated in how he talked about the words and music that we were learning.”
Of Shantz, Rob Gascho, a 1981 grad, said: “His overwhelming enthusiasm and his obvious love of what he was doing made it impossible for a student to sit back and not get right into singing their lungs out.”
In tribute to Schultz, Sarah Wyngaarden, a 2011 grad, said: “She swept us up in her passion for music and she worked us hard. . . . I left Rockway with an unquenchable love for music. Not just for the sake of music itself, but for the ways that music allows us to express our praise, our adoration, and even our sorrows, to a God who loves and cares for us.”
Our choral experience, grounded in a spiritual connection, shared with high school and lifelong friends, was profoundly moving.
In her prayer to open the program, Louise Wideman, a 1980 grad, captured the Rockway choral experience: “Singing our prayers: that is the heart of our song.”
See also: “Why Mennonite education matters.”