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Choirs at Monmouth College

Monmouth College has a rich vocal music history that stretches well back into the 19th century. Although the college didn’t have a music department when it was founded in 1853, musical groups were an important part of the college’s social life. The Mandolin and Glee Club was one of the college’s largest social groups and even toured Midwest schools and churches in the 1890s. The College Choral Society was also a popular campus group and in 1901, began sponsoring the May Festival, an annual musical event that featured music from MC students and from prominent national vocalists and orchestras.

Monmouth’s vocal music program was relatively small until 1901, the year T. Merrill Austin was hired to direct the college’s Conservatory music school. Under Austin’s direction, new choirs were created, orchestras formed, and the music program became widely known in the region. By the time he retired in 1936, Austin had become one of the country’s most significant college choir conductors and vocal music teachers.

Austin was later joined on the faculty in 1922 by Grace Gawthrop Peterson and in 1925 by Glenn Shaver, and MC’s vocal music program became ever more widely respected. More choirs were formed so that the college featured a Choral Society, Concert Choir, Chorale and Men’s Glee Club, which was named best in Illinois in 1931. Shaver produced a Christmas production of Handel’s Messiah, which became a holiday tradition while he taught at Monmouth College.

Dick Griffiths took the helm of the choral program in 1967 and led it skillfully for over 30 years, founding the highly successful Sound of Five and having great influence on generations of Monmouth College Students.

Most recently Tim Pahel has taken over the leadership of the choral program, which has continued to grow and thrive under his direction. His formed the Monmouth Chamber Choir in 2011, has recorded a CD with the Chorale and Chamber Choir, and tours regularly with the groups both nationally and internationally. The choral program is gaining ever greater recognition and respect in the region for its excellence and high standards of performance.