With the spring 2023 tour of The Kapelle, the University honored a significant milestone. The choir of today can trace its inception—the beginning of concert choral music at Concordia-Chicago—to a century ago. Music has been an important part of life at Concordia-Chicago since its founding in 1864. Back then, every graduate was expected to be capable in organ, piano, vocal music and violin. In addition, there were many extracurricular and ad hoc choral and instrumental groups in the early years. The Schubert Chorus, the Euphoria Glee Club and a variety of special choruses, quartets and clubs were among the choral variety. While music was ever-present from the start, organized, faculty-led, concert-level singing at Concordia-Chicago did not begin until more than 50 years after its founding.
With the organization of the College Chorus in 1922, a male choir of more than 180 voices, Albert Beck (1894–1962), a graduate of the first class from River Forest in 1914, began the new era of concert choral music at River Forest. The spring of 1928 saw the first choir tour from River Forest as the group traveled by the steamer Saugatuck across Lake Michigan to St. Joseph, MI, and the surrounding area.
The choir also made appearances at the “Century of Progress” 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago. With the Great Depression in the 1930s, touring became increasingly difficult, but continued on a more limited basis. The 1938–39 school year saw the beginning of co-education at River Forest, and women were added to the choir. Beck spent his entire career—48 years—at Concordia-Chicago, longer than any other instructor in the history of the school at that time.
The second conductor of touring concert choirs was Victor Hildner (1917–2001), who served as choral conductor for 13 years from 1944 to 1957. He originally served as director of the High School Choir at River Forest (1944–49), which undertook extensive touring activities, and took over the College Chorus with Beck’s retirement in 1948. The Hildner years were marked by a dramatic increase in touring, together with many appearances on network radio and television, and in the production of various recordings of the choir.
For the rest of the story, including the Kapelle’s performance for President Lyndon B. Johnson at the national Christmas tree lighting, read the full article by Jonathan Kohrs BA ’85, MCM ’93 in the Summer 2023 edition of the Forester.