Monday, August 08, 2005

AVANT GARDE HIGH SCHOOL CHOIR

One of my links, Tape Findings, collects cassette home recordings like family gatherings, band rehearsals, kids screwing around with a tape recorder, and other glimpses into private American lives. But in the course of downloading these charming gems this past weekend, I was flabbergasted by the innocuously named "Spring Choir '84." The St. Charles, IL High School Choir evidently had John Cage (or one of his admirers) for a band leader, because the abstract electronic effects and atonal harmonies couldn't be more radically opposed to the usual "Sound of Music" revivals normally found on school concert recordings. Not even the Langley School has anything on this guy. No credits on the cassette label, though. Any St. Charles alumni out there?

The St. Charles, IL High School Choir: '84 Spring Choir

UPDATE: Big thanks to Scott Bank (St Charles alumni class of '82) who commented that John Stoffel was possibly the choir director, and the band director was Jeff Childs.

12 comments:

Davecat said...

This.. this is a winner. Like you said, it's very Cage-y, mixed with Gyorgi Ligeti and the sound design guys on '2001'. Very ace find!

Personally, I'm surprised they received applause at the end..

Scott Bank said...

STC Class of '82 here. I wasn't in the choir, but I was a music theory student and spent a semester with the choir director, John Stoffel. The band director, Jeff Childs, was equally progressive. While not a fine arts high school, their music program was top notch! 23 years later, I'm a semi-pro working musician, thanks in part to the fine music dept at STC High.

(I understand Mr. Stoffel retired not long after I graduated. If I am accrediting this track to the wrong gentleman, someone from '84 correct me!)

idigworms said...

This is wild!!!!

http://idigworms.blogspot.com/

nwmsu said...

Mr. Stoffel retired in 1994.

Amy Daly said...

STC Class of '83 here. Hi Scott, remember me? I spent some time at your house -- I specifically remember a 4th of July party where we were blowing fireworks off of your roof. Anyway! I was also a product of STC's awesome music program, in particular John Stoffel. He was always finding ways to stretch and challenge us as singers/musicians. Although this performance was recorded the year after I graduated, I listened to it and it is very obviously the voice of the man I so highly respected-- John Stoffel. Hearing his voice brought back some great memories. The performance is really cool! Thanks to Mr. Stoffel for instilling the love for singing so well. He'd be glad to know that I am still actively singing/performing and owe much of that to him!

Paul Zaremba said...

Wow! StC class of '90. I was in the band, but Mr. Stoffel was indeed the director of the choir. They were fantastic.

illini84 said...

I am STC class of '80. hearing that piece brought back many memories! I was a member of the Choir and Chorale from '76-'80
and studied with John Stoffel privately for many years. He was a fantastic director who knew how to get the most from his students.
by inspiring and entertaining. He was one of the top high school chorale directors in the country, and we were very lucky to have him.

The '84 recording was not the first time one of John's choirs had performed the piece. We sang it in '78 or '79 and it was also well recieved. The accompaniment was recorded.

St. Charles had an incredible art and music program which could be directly attributed to 3 incredibly dedicated and talented educators, John Stoffel, Jeff Childs band director, and Ron Koeppl drama director. There was never a seat available for a concert or play when the 3 of these men were teaching. Anyone who every studied with them would tell you they taught us much about music and prepared us for life!

When John retired, St. Charles lost an incredible educator. Many of his students continue to perform and inspire others all over this country. By hearing this 1984 recording others will dicover what many of us have known, John Stoffel has a gift which should be enjoyed by all.

Suzanne Dawson
STC '80

Mr Fab said...

Great to hear from all of you alumni. You were indeed lucky to have had such a creative music program. (My school certainly didn't!) School music programs/recordings rarely get much recognition, so I'm glad STC's getting their props.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Thank you for this!!! I was in this choir (Anne Jezl STC class of '86) and very much remember this piece! I echo the kudos to John Stoffel. In fact, I stumbled upon this as I was trying to search for a way to contact him and thank him for my musical education. Thanks again! A great flashback!

Drover said...

OK, this blog entry is way old... but anyway, I'm STC class of 1992 which was the last year of John Stoffel's tenure at STC. I was a member of the chorale (basically, the varsity choir). Stoffel made the choir program so renowned that college music programs sent recruiters to our school like we were a dominant football team. Even other students in our school who had no interest in performing arts paid a grudging respect to the chorale and its members because they knew it was an elite outfit.

But there was nothing special about St. Charles kids that made us any more talented than any other bunch of suburban white kids out there in the vast American landscape. Sure, you had to be the cream of the crop to make it into chorale, but that cream exists in any school of 2000+ students. Our program's greatness was directly attributable to Stoffel's ability to get the most from us through technical instruction that most choir directors wouldn't even think to ask of 15- to 18-year-old kids.

The STC choir program periodically made recordings, including a 1990 Christmas tape that I participated in. I sold 130 copies of it just by going door-to-door, playing it from a boom box, and asking whoever answered the door if they were interested in buying a copy.

I used to have a copy of the '84 recording that is referenced in this blog entry. While every group Stoffel assembled sounded great, the 1984 chorale was, according to Stoffel, among the best if not the best. My group was damned good if I may say so immodestly, but the 1984 group was even better.

Drover said...

A couple of corrections to my post above:

1) Stoffel retired in 1994, not 1992.

2) The tape I had was of the 1985 chorale (plus performances from the freshman/sophomore choir and the junior/senior choir). Nonetheless, roughly half of the 1985 chorale was part of the 1984 recording linked here. A very talented group both years.

Anonymous said...

But, Drover, I think STC did record something around '90-'91. I remember singing "long time ago in Bethlehem, so the Holy Bible say . . ." with the big choir, and I'm sure the chorale had some other numbers too.

I happened to be listening to Sufjan Stevens today and thought of John Stoffel. I googled him and found this. Musically, he really knew his stuff. And more than that, he had sort of a tab with choir/chorale students--if you were short lunch money, he had a fat wallet--probably 100 1-dollar bills in it, and he would lend. An example of excellence in more than just music and education.

-jd