Monmouth College Highland Harmonizers a cappella group returns, thanks to two QC-area students' leadership and persistence

Monmouth, Ill. (03/26/2024) — MONMOUTH, Ill. - As it turned out, the late 2010s weren't the best time to start a new initiative. Right as any momentum was beginning, the pandemic slammed the door shut.

That was the fate of Monmouth College's Highland Harmonizers, an a cappella group whose most recent iteration was started six years ago by Thomas Burkhead '18 as his senior research project.

"The group ran for a while," said Vea Vavrosky '25 of Reynolds, Illinois, president of the Highland Harmonizers. Megan Holevoet '24 of Geneseo, Illinois, is the vice president. "I saw the Highland Harmonizers poster in the Chorale room above the whiteboard, and I was looking at it one day. And I thought it would be very interesting and that we should bring it back. I started asking around to see if anyone was interested, and I found Megan, who also was excited about this project."

There was once an all-woman a cappella group at Monmouth, and a men's a cappella group soon followed. In addition to the pandemic, a problem those student-led groups faced was proper leadership. But this time, both the president and vice president are certain their group will continue once they've graduated, as they have a lot of motivated student members.

"We believe that it's going to stick around for a while this time," said Holevoet.

The Harmonizers currently have 15 singers, most of them freshmen. Music professor Tim Pahel, who directs the Monmouth Chorale, advises the group, but the students do most of their own fundraising. While Pahel's Chorale is typically accompanied by a piano or other instrument and often performs music from a century ago or longer, the Harmonizers sing without accompaniment and perform contemporary selections.

"Our theme, which we want to accomplish this semester, is to bring awareness to the Highland Harmonizers," said Holevoet. "We are most likely going to have a concert with the Jazz Band, as well as our own concert."

To recruit students, the group usually sends campuswide emails and flyers to attract attention. Their last such effort produced positive results, including a few high school students who are going to participate with the college group.

A cappella is 'cool'

While describing a cappella as a "cool" style, Holevoet said it's something audiences don't often get to hear.

"If you go to a band or choir concert, there's probably not going to be a group performing a cappella," she said. "It takes so much talent to sing, and that's why it's magical. When we began our rehearsal, everyone shocked and surprised themselves that they can do it. It was a feel-good kind of thing."

Their musical background

Vavrosky said music changed his life. He was inspired to be a music major in college by his choir director at Rockridge High School.

"I was in an extremely dark place in high school and music was the only reason that I was going to school," he said. "My music director was the reason I got up every day and went to school. I want to be that hope for other people and inspire other students to get up and go to school. My dream would be to go back and teach at my alma mater."

Meanwhile, not too far away in Geneseo, Holevoet grew up with music.

"In my house, being in a band was a normal thing to do," she said. "My mom went to Augustana College and became a band director. She teaches in an elementary school and taught saxophone, and I woke up every morning listening to that sound. My dad was always in a band and plays saxophone, so I was always around music. I joined the choir my senior year of high school. At my community college, I joined the choir, too, but because of COVID, I couldn't continue singing. Then I came to Monmouth, and I've had the best choir experience so far."

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Half of the group is pictured before departing campus to speak to music students at Orion High School. Vea Vavrosky is second from the left, and Megan Holevoet is fourth from the right.