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Impressive Singing Hoosiers farewell for Schwartzkopf ends with honors

Bloomington Herald-Times

By Peter Jacobi
April 2, 2012

"Am I dreaming?"

Michael Schwartzkopf asked himself that question from the stage of the Indiana University Auditorium late Saturday evening. He had finished directing the Singing Hoosiers in their annual spring concert. He had heard former area Congressman Lee Hamilton lavishly praise him and discovered that the Jacobs School of Music had established the "Michael L. Schwartzkopf Singing Hoosiers Fund" in his honor. He had received from IU President Michael McRobbie the very rarely bestowed Indiana University Distinguished Service Medal.

He was not dreaming, of course. All this was happening because Schwartzkopf is retiring after 17 years as the much admired guiding spirit of the Singing Hoosiers and, therewith, roving goodwill ambassador for the university. He and his ensemble had, earlier in the evening, already passed out an awful lot of good will, on this occasion an even richer mix of musical goodies than usual, conductor Schwartzkopf perhaps unable to select out numbers from this final Auditorium outing of his.

The program held close to 50 items. In total, they must have been a tremendous challenge to prepare. The songs had to be memorized and technically mastered, a number of them with complicated arrangements. Schwartzkopf was never a conductor on the lookout for easy marks; he's always sought the effective, hang the difficulty. There also was choreography to be considered and conquered, for those on the risers (by Laurel Crutchfield and Jared Zachariah McElroy) and even more choreography for the agile Varsity Singers (by Julian Ramos); some of it, as that for Carmichael's "Lazy River," was show-stopping In addition, there was fusion to be aimed for between singers and the supporting instrumentalists.

But everything seemed to go swimmingly well, and the audience — swarming with Singing Hoosier alums — hooted and hollered its support. Rightly so, because the quality of performance from this excellent show choir was fully up to expectations.

Medleys of hits by Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hammerstein, and Hoagy Carmichael were prominent elements; so, too, selections from Broadway shows like "Ragtime," "Mamma Mia," and the film-turned-musical "Thoroughly Modern Millie." Fats Waller and Duke Ellington were represented. There were spirituals: a serene "My Soul's Been Anchored in the Lord;" a catchy "I'll Fly Away, arranged by Moses Hogan," and a traditional "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" altered into a boisterous "Swing Low/Swing Down" by arranger Steven Taylor. A '50s Medley, highlighted by "Sh-boom" and "Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini," proved another hit. Schwartzkopf and his assistant conductor, R. Ryan Endris, both conducted with authority.

Rousing repeated audience enthusiasm were soloists stepping from the ranks of the chorus, among them: Sarah Ann Paulsen and Elizabeth Anne Duff in an emotional bit of country, "Like My Mother Does;" Abigail Rose Kunkel in Mariah Carey's stirring "Hero;" Madeline Stern in "Daddy's Son," detailing a mother's heartbreak in "Ragtime;" Landon Scott and Julian Ramos in the comic "Two Nobodys from New York;" Erica Johnson savaging her once wealthy/now not "Don Juan" from "Smokey Joe's Cafe," and Cody Butcher (eventually joined by the choir) lampooning politics in "Favorite Son" from "Will Rogers Follies." The Singing Hoosiers' piano man, Adam Johnson, who took best care of the keyboard throughout the show, did double duty in Billy Joel's "Piano Man," playing and singing, as Joel himself did in the reflective song he wrote about his days as a lounge performer.

An impressive package it was, this 62nd anniversary concert of the Singing Hoosiers, the Michael Schwartzkopf farewell.