The dawn of a new day of Columbus East High School’s choirs was evident in the sheet music that new director Nick Brockamp distributed in a recent class.
The school’s 23-year-old leader of its vocal ensembles has stepped in for the retired Ken Hauan, a respected and award-winning East choir leader for 26 years.
When students received the music for an upcoming competition, Michael Jackson’s 1979 pop hit “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough,” they let out whoops of joy.
“We’ve been wanting a very upbeat song like that for some time,” bass vocalist Riley Carmickle said. “He seems to pick stuff that we all enjoy. And it’s exciting to be a part of something new like this.”
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East’s fall choral concert, 7 p.m. Tuesday in the school auditorium, will feature a range of material. Irving Berlin’s “Play For Me a Simple Melody” and “Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair” by Nina Simone are a sampling.
Brockamp, who began his teaching career last year in his hometown area of Marquette Heights, Illinois, wants his students at East and Central Middle School, where he also leads two choirs, to have a voice — no pun intended — in the programs.
“I sometimes will tell the students, ‘You’re driving the bus, but I’m giving the directions,” he said.
Actually, he’s steering them in a direction that relates to their interest and experience.
For example, halfway through a recent show choir class, his students passionately sing, “Make Them Hear You,” the racial-equality anthem from Broadway’s “Ragtime.” Newer numbers worked into their mix include Hot Chelle Rae’s rock tune “I Like to Dance” and Christian pop group Royal Tailor’s funky “Make a Move.”
“I’m always trying to pick things where students can find a connection,” Brockamp said.
He also seeks a stronger connection with Columbus North High School’s choral program, where newfound friend and new choral director Alex Baker has assumed longtime leader Janie Gordon’s post.
“We definitely want a stronger connection there,” he said, adding that he and Baker aim “to make sure that our programs are a little bit aligned.”
He stresses a team concept (“There’s no “I” in chorus”). And he believes students with a well-rehearsed song in their heart always are better for the experience.
“Music and arts education simply makes you a more well-rounded person,” he said. “It opens you more to the world all around you.”
Brockamp loves music so much that it’s also where he spends much of his free time, doing choral arrangements for schools nationwide through Musicality Arrangements, his sideline business. Away from music, he sees himself as “a huge nerd” for being such a Batman fan.
Although the school year is young, he already has found little ways to connect with students. When he reviewed sight reading with a choral group recently, he pointed to a musical “sharp” sign on the whiteboard at the front of the rehearsal room.
“This is a sharp, OK?” he said, turning and grinning at his charges. “Don’t you dare call it a hashtag.”
His classes run at a fast pace, the better to keep students attentive and to allow little time for inappropriate chatter or other disturbances. Their solid focus, apparently, is showing.
Maddie Engelau, an alto show choir member, estimated that the group — in fewer than two months — already has demonstrated that the ensemble is ahead of last ear’s learning curve, while also enjoying laughs and fun amid the work.
“I think the energy in here definitely is higher — maybe because things are moving so fast,” Engelau said. “But I think we’re off to a great start.”
Granted, students such as show choir bass vocalist Riley Carmickle acknowledged they initially worried a bit about a new face to replace Hauan.
“But now we’re all pretty happy and excited,” Carmickle said.
Brockamp seems the same.
He regularly punctuates conversations with an upbeat and agreeable “of course” to requests for everything from his time to his thoughts. His enthusiasm surfaces in a near rapid-fire conversation in which his energy seems to spill in every direction.
Since his own middle school years, when he embraced the arts, he wondered if he could fan the flame of musical passion in others. Now, day by day, he is discovering his answer.
Role: Choral director of two choirs at Columbus East High School with 60 students total and two choirs at Central Middle School with 110 students total.
Hometown: Marquette Heights, Illinois.
In Columbus since: July.
First choral concert: 7 p.m. Tuesday
Education: Bachelor of music degree from Millikan University in Decatur, Illinois.
Previous post: Choral director and choir teacher at Rogers Elementary and Georgetowne Middle School, Marquette Heights.
Instruments: Bass, piano, sax, guitar.
Sideline business: His own Musicality Arrangements, developing custom musical arrangements and selections to fit a school’s or ensemble’s needs.
Hobbies: Various sports activities, from following Major League Baseball’s St. Louis Cardinals to coordinating his NFL fantasy football team. Plus, he loves all things Batman and traditional video games such as Super Nintendo.
Who: Columbus East High School’s Olympian Choir and its Center Stage ensemble.
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Where: The school’s Clarence E. Robbins Auditorium, Indiana Avenue and Marr Road.
Admission: Recommended donation of $5 per person.