A Christian Liberal Arts University, Est. 1846

Rehearsing with Dr. Rediger

  • By: Meredith Sell
  • Published: Nov 30, 2015 3:15PM
Dr. JoAnn Rediger

The sounds of her heels echo down the hall of the music building. She’s headed to her office, at a brisk pace as always, her curly bob bouncing above her shoulders. If Dr. JoAnn (Kinghorn ’71) Rediger seems in a hurry, it’s not because she’s running late. It’s because she doesn’t take any moment for granted, and she is determined to make the most of each one.

For Rediger, every day is an apple she eats all the way down to the core, until nothing is left but stem and seeds – enough to remember what has passed and then replant, begin again. Nowhere is this more obvious than a Chorale rehearsal.

Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons, students gather in the Butz-Carruth Recital Hall. They leave their backpacks and jackets on seats in the back and sit in the first few rows by the stage. Rediger is at center stage, organizing a folder of music on a stand. An accompanist sits at the piano.

The clock at the back flips to 3:59. 

“Talk for a minute,” Rediger tells her students, “because then it will be gone.”

Chatter fills the room for the next 60 seconds. Then, at 4 o’clock on the dot, rehearsal commences.

Rediger has the next 90 minutes planned. A student shares a devotion, and then Howard Lee ’16, the student assistant conductor, leads stretches and vocal warm-ups. Next, quartets are called to the stage to sing from memory the piece due that day. Each quartet is onstage less than three minutes, and as soon as one group is sent off, the next rises for their turn. When the quartets are through, Lee once again takes the lead, conducting a segment of a new piece.

Her family wasn’t exceptionally musical except for her mother, who played piano by ear. But in third grade JoAnn had the opportunity to take piano lessons.

Rediger sits on a bench to the side of the stage, swaying and singing along with the music open on her lap.

A student in the last row of singers holds a red sheet. When it’s time to move on to the next part of rehearsal, he holds the sheet above his head and waits for Rediger to notice. They’re on to the next within seconds, no break for chatter.

The fast pace, her preparedness, her expectation that the students show up as ready as she does – all of these things challenge her students, past and present, to give their best and improve upon what their best was yesterday or last week.

Rediger grew up in Coon Rapids, Minn. Her family wasn’t exceptionally musical except for her mother, who played piano by ear. But in third grade JoAnn had the opportunity to take piano lessons.

She quickly found she loved practicing, and the world of music opened to her like a blossom. She enrolled at Taylor in 1967 and studied piano, accompanying the Chamber Singers and Taylor Chorale as a student. In the early 1990s, after earning her master’s in music education, she began pursuing her doctorate in organ performance.

Then she audited a class in choral conducting, and the professor asked her to stand and conduct.

“He’s the one that really turned the course for me,” Rediger said. “He thought he recognized some ability … and he encouraged me to think about going into choral music.”

In 1994, she received her doctorate in choral conducting, and in 1996, she returned to Taylor to teach and conduct. Since then, at least five days a week, she has shared her passion for music with students of all majors through classes like Art as Experience and rehearsals with Chorale and Sounds.

“She was so good at pushing us to excellence and not letting us move on – even from a phrase of music, until it’s exactly what it should be,” said Mark Statler ’10, who with his wife Audrey (Boyers ’12) teaches music and directs choirs at Rosslyn Academy in Nairobi, Kenya. “And not in a negative way of pressure, pressure, pressure … but of, ‘No, you can do it better, so let’s do it better.”

“I never had anybody in my life care that much about all of the details before,” Audrey said, “but the reason she cared is because she knew that the more excellent we could be, the more we could glorify God in that.”

"For this soul-moving experience, you can’t be shoddy."

Since graduating in 2011, Reed Spencer’s pursuits have introduced him to a musical world where beautiful sound is the end and lyrics, regardless of their content or origin, are just words set to music.

“A lot of choral music is sacred … but most musicians who study this, they end up worshiping the music,” he said. “She never let that happen. She showed us an example of how to … turn that choral experience into worship.”

That is because Rediger’s ultimate goal is glorifying God. And it’s why she spends two days each year sorting through thousands of musical pieces for the next year’s repertoire, seeking musical variety and lyrics that, she said, “are worth going through a student’s mind all year.” That’s why she expects her students to arrive prepared, confident that they know the pieces from beginning to end.

“For this soul-moving experience, you can’t be shoddy,” she said.

Chorale, Sounds, piano, music – for Rediger, it’s not just about creating a beautiful sound. It’s about taking a gift, an undeserved gift, and offering it up to those listening, to those in need of inspiration and encouragement, and to the God who gave the gift in the first place.

“Even if the text isn’t outrightly Christian, there’s still this sense of God enjoying what we are creating for Him,” Audrey said.

In the recital hall, Chorale builds to the crescendo in Dan Forrest’s A Covenant Prayer.  As the music rises, breath catches and eyes close to claim the richness of the sound without visual distraction. When Rediger cuts the singing to correct an error, the listener is still enraptured. If that contained mistakes, what would perfection sound like?