The History of the Castle Singers

Early Years Photo
Castle Singers in its early years.

The group was founded in 1950 by Dr. E. Arne Hovdesven, renown composer and arranger, as the Chapel Choir. Dr. Hovdesven was an associate of the Royal College of Organists of London and a fellow of the Canadian College of Organists. Before coming to Wartburg, he was the choirmaster and organ recitalist at Mercersberg Gothic Chapel in Pennsylvania and served as organist-in-residence at Wittenberg College, Springfield, Ohio.

Dr. James Fritschel, also a nationally recognized composer and arranger, was director from 1959-1971. During this time, the group's name changed to Wartburg Castle Singers and the focus of the group became music and drama. Franklin Williams became director from 1971-1978. During his tenure the group traveled abroad to the former U.S.S.R.

For the next decade there was a great deal of director transition that occurred. During this time Kristi Becker (1978-1980), Eugene T. Wilson, Jr. (1980-1981), Franklin Williams (1981-1984), and Gayle Hartwig (1984-1987) conducted the Castle Singers.

In 1987, Dr. Paul Torkelson helped give the group stability and built on its traditions and performance experiences. During his tenure the group made several trips abroad including Western Europe and Australia.

Since 2001 Dr. Jane Andrews has taken the group to new levels of jazz excellence. Her initiative started the annual Wartburg Vocal Jazz Festival. During her time at Wartburg, the group has appeared at numerous regional, state, and local events and festivals.

Hailed a “crown jewel of choral music” by critic George F. Day, the Castle Singers offer a solid program of vocal jazz as well as standard choral literature.  Accompanied by a rhythm section, the group performs all styles of vocal jazz and continually works in the area of improvisation.  Members of the Castle Singers are chosen by audition and represent many of the college’s more than 50 academic majors.

Most recently in 2012, the Castle Singers toured Estonia, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Czech Republic, and Paris during May Term.  Invited to perform in Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, the Singers also presented multiple improvisation workshops for students in both locations.  Other international tours have taken the Castle Singers to Brazil; Germany, Austria, Slovenia and Italy; the Caymen Islands, Montego Bay, Jamaica and Cozumel, Mexico on the Holiday Cruise ship; Australia and Fiji; the British Isles; and Rumania, Bulgaria, and Greece.  U.S. tours have included performances at the historic Blue Room and Mutual Musicians Union Hall in Kansas City, Dazzle Jazz Club in Denver, the Greeley Jazz Festival, Disney World in Orlando and on the Mississippi Queen riverboat. 

Chosen to perform at the North Central American Choral Directors Association Convention in Omaha, Nebraska and Madison, Wisconsin, the Castle Singers were the only vocal jazz group selected in the eight-state conferenceA commissioned work written by Craig Curry, Jazz Mass, will be out on itunes later this year.