The Austin College A Cappella Choir is in its 8th decade under its 5th director.
There has been vocal music at Austin College since the 1890s when three students and their faculty adviser would travel to concerts aboard the “Interurban” train that ran down the center of Grand Avenue all the way to Dallas. Along with this original Quartette, other serenading clubs of men from Austin College would walk the short mile to Kidd-Key College, a teachers’ college for young ladies, and sing beneath their windows – all with the permission of the Austin College president, of course!
Very soon, a Sherman music teacher named George Root began a larger choir along with a few music courses. By the 1920s, as women began attending Austin College, Root formed the Austin College Choir which he directed until about 1940. In 1943, the Austin College theater department needed a vocal ensemble for a show, and Mrs. Paul Silas, wife of an AC professor, formed an ensemble. Legend has it that they were so skilled, they began singing church services and concerts in the Sherman and Dallas area. For the next year, the Choir met at Mrs. Silas’ house, preparing for trips they would make around north Texas.
In 1946, Dr. Robert Wayne Bedford arrived at Austin College and formed the first Austin College A Cappella Choir. Dr. Bedford was an impressive bass-baritone whose own vocal abilities translated to his choir, recordings of which reveal a robust, energetic sound with especially strong men’s sections. Far from the ad hoc choirs of the previous decades, Dr. Bedford maintained an iron grip on the A Cappella Choir, and his high standards resulted in a national reputation for excellence. Dr. Bedford was responsible for the first recordings of the A Cappella Choir in 1951 as well their triumphant European tour in 1957 during which they became the first American choir ever to place at the International Polyphony Choral Festival in Arezzo, Italy where they received 3rd prize.
Dr. Bedford would leave Austin College later that year, and the search would begin for a new director. Bruce Lunkley came to Austin College from Minnesota in 1959 and began a 32 year career of modernization of the Choir. While never losing sight of its traditional a cappella church choir roots, Lunkley nonetheless began undertaking larger projects in the later 1960s with the new Sherman Symphony as well as forming other vocal groups and staging operas. Lunkley reintroduced European tours in 1971 and established international alumni tours soon after. Under “Lunk,” the Choir flourished as one of the college’s most visible ambassadors throughout Texas, the south, and the world, and its hymn recordings can still be heard on certain radio stations on Sunday mornings. Himself a noted baritone, Lunkley recognized a good voice when he heard it, even if its owner didn’t yet know it, and Bruce could be seen wandering the halls of the dorms listening to conversations and identifying singers for his choirs! Bruce retired in 1991, although he remained at Austin College as the director of the Community Series and went on to chair the voice department at SMU in Dallas until his death in 1998.
Paul Fletcher came to Austin College in 1991 from the University of Wisconsin where he had worked with esteemed choral director, Robert Fountain. Professor Fletcher expanded the Choir’s repertoire and made strides to modernize the tonal and rehearsal philosophies of the group.
Dr. Wayne Crannell has been Director of Choral & Vocal Music at Austin College since 1995. He previously taught in the noted liberal arts music program at Simpson College in Iowa from 1988 to 1995 and before that studied conducting with Robert Porter, Margaret Hawkins, and Pavel Burda. Under Dr. Crannell, the number and scope of vocal ensembles has increased with the A Cappella Choir being joined at times by a vocal jazz ensemble, a women’s choir, other various men’s and women’s groups, and in 2016, a new madrigal ensemble, The Camerata. Dr. Crannell has also expanded the Choir’s repertoire into the avant garde and world music. He also maintains an active career as a soloist in recital and concert. The Choir, joined by Austin College staff, faculty, and singers from Southeastern Oklahoma University, performed scenes from Mozart’s Magic Flute in April, 2019 with the Sherman Symphony Orchestra and will join in the rededication of the newly-renovated Wynne Chapel in February 2020 with a performance on Vivaldi’s Gloria.
Recently, the A Cappella Choir released an album of live music recorded at First Presbyterian Church – Dallas in May 2018. This recording can be found on iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, Google Play Music, and wherever else streaming music is heard.
Throughout the decades and under different directors, the philosophy of the A Cappella Choir has stayed the same. All students of all ages and from all majors are welcome through a very simple audition process, and the Choir remains a place not only for established singers, but for those musicians who are willing to commit and make the effort to learn good singing techniques and apply them to excellent choral literature, both old and new.