The Wartburg College Castle Singers have been hailed as a model of musicianship since their inception in 1950. Under the direction of Dr. E. Arne Hovdesven, the choir was the center of sacred music on the Wartburg campus. The ensemble adopted its current name under the direction of Dr. James Fritschel in an effort to reflect the group’s growing performance repertoire. Further, under the baton of several diverse directors, this select ensemble has evolved in focus and most recently garnered a noteworthy reputation for its performances of vocal jazz arrangements. 

Today, under the direction of Dr. Nicki Bakko Toliver, this chamber ensemble continues to prepare a wide variety of repertoire from Byrd to The Beatles and beyond. Comprised of advanced vocalists who are dedicated to exploring challenging choral literature, the Castle Singers enjoy performing both on and off campus throughout the academic year. They strive to prepare quality choral literature, both old and new, with flexibility, stamina and dramatic flare.  

The Castle Singers tour the United States annually and travel overseas during the college’s May Term. Previous international tours included countries throughout Western and Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, the Middle East, the Caribbean, Latin America, Australia and French Polynesia.

Nicki Toliver

Associate Professor of Music / Associate Director of Choral Activities

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Name Hometown Major(s)
Brynn Vassios Sioux City, IA Music Therapy
Tori Hofer Edgington, IA Music Education (K-12)
Hannah Johnson Aplington, IA Music Therapy
Abi O’Dell Johnsburg, IL Religion
Alexis Rios Fort Wayne, IN Music Education (K-12)
Amber Sweeney Walcott, IA Music Education (K-12)
Mackenzie Barth St. Michael, MN Social Work
Hannah Bartlett Fifield, WI Music Education (K-12)
Leo Burk Denver, IA Music Education (K-12)
Valerie Feyen Trempealeau, WI Music Therapy
Elizabeth Koehler Bettendorf, IA Sociology
Hanna Langley Cedar Rapids, IA Music Therapy
Allison McQueen Fort Wayne, IN Music Education (K-12)
Liam Candib Colorado Springs, CO Music Education (K-12)
Adam Dettmer Mason City, IA International Relations, Political Science
Benjamin Edwards Holly Springs, NC Social Work
Gavin Foust-Wollenberg Cascade, IA Mathematics, Secondary Education
Dylan Feuling Des Moines, IA Music Therapy
Dillon Kremer Alburnett, IA Business Administration, Journalism & Communication
Cade Carpenter Waverly, IA Exercise Science
Jesse Nevarez Williamsburg, IA Business Administration, Music Performance
Noah Peyton Marion, IA Biology
Parker Sperfslage Oelwein, IA Mathematics
Ashton Thilges Boone, IA Business Administration
Matthew Tudor Independence, IA Health & Fitness Studies, Journalism & Communication

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.

From 2001-2013 Dr. Jane Andrews took the group to new levels of excellence. During her time at Wartburg, the group appeared at numerous regional, state, and local events and festivals. 

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 conference

Under the leadership of Dr. Nicki Toliver, the Castle Singers returned to their roots as a chamber ensemble, performing a diverse set of choral repertoire from Byrd to The Beatles.