“I love introducing students to different kinds of repertoire and really giving them a sense of what the soul of vocal music is. Not just what somebody as an individual can sing, but what you can bring together as a group and create. I think it’s great not only for the music department and for the students, but it’s great for the community because you’re building something and giving back, and the community gets to see what you’re doing.”
Cramer began directing the College Choir and Singer’s Express, the show choir, at Northeast in August. He said both choirs can be essential to students’ music education.
“You get something very different from both groups. When you’re in a choral setting, you’re thinking about the music. The singers have time to really rest in the music. They’re looking very inwardly at what they’re doing, and they’re critically thinking about the notes and how to deliver a message.”
He said show choir, which involves both singing and choreography, often serves as an outlet for students’ creative energy.
“You get to be your own star in show choir, and I think that builds a lot of confidence. It gives them a chance to be somebody different, and I think that’s important. Experiencing college can be very daunting, not just on a social level, but on a personal level. I think in that respect, show choir can be key in the transition to adulthood. (Students) can be more than themselves.”
Originally from Indiana, Cramer holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in vocal performance, and he is currently finishing his doctorate in vocal performance from the University of Northern Colorado. Prior to joining Northeast, he served as choir director and faculty at Front Range Community College in Fort Collins, CO, and also taught at Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne, WY, as well as the University of Indianapolis and Ivy Tech Community College, both in Indianapolis, IN. He has directed and assistant directed public opera performances for the University of Northern Colorado; Opera Fort Collins; the University of Nevada, Las Vegas; and Theatre Workshop of Owensboro (KY). He has performed with a number of organizations, including the Indianapolis Opera, San Diego Opera, Greeley (CO) Philharmonic, Indianapolis Symphony and Opera Colorado, and with orchestras at Indiana University; the University of Wyoming; the University of Nevada, Las Vegas; and University of Northern Colorado. He also studied and performed in Germany and Austria.
At Northeast, Cramer said he appreciates the students’ dedication and willingness to explore new possibilities.
“From day one, I saw that the students were excited. They were enthusiastic about getting in the classroom and learning music. They were able to grasp it very quickly and hold onto some of these musical pieces and perform them. Not just sing through them but really take what I gave them, take what they learn and give some thoughtful rendition of what they’re doing.”
Rachel Biehl, Lexington, is majoring in music business at Northeast and performs in both the College Choir and Show Choir. She said Cramer brings an infectious energy and focus to rehearsals.
“I don’t see students getting antsy or checking their phones because when we’re in there and working hard, it’s just so easy to care. Everything we do is fun and it’s worth something. (Cramer) is driven, he cares and he goes above and beyond. To see how much he cares makes all of us care.”
Morgan Kavulak, an elementary education major from Bee, performed with a large summer chamber choir through a four-year university when she was in high school. She said she sees a similar level of professionalism in College Choir and Show Choir.
“(Cramer) brings the energy of a large university choir to a community college, and I think that’s what makes the Northeast program so special. It has a university feel to it, but you have the size and atmosphere of a smaller school. When you know everyone in your choir, you bring an intensity to it. And the audience feels that.”
Kavulak said that while she is moving back to Bee and taking online-only classes for her final semester at the College, she will commute to Northeast’s Norfolk campus twice a week so she can continue to practice and perform with the choirs. And Biehl said she had the option to graduate in December but has chosen to stay an additional semester to remain active in music.
Cramer said he has also reformed Ebony & Crimson, the College’s men’s and women’s audition ensemble. In addition to performing together, the group will also break into separate men’s and women’s groups.
He said he’s also excited to work with the theatre in the Cox Activities Center because many colleges of comparable size to Northeast simply do not have the advantage of a lighting system, curtains and a proper performance space.
“We have the ability to do so many things here. I don’t believe there are limitations, even within your limitations. There are no limits on what you can do within the confines of your facility. A facility does not make a performance, but a performance can make a facility.”
Cramer also noted he’s excited to be a part of a group that can bring students together, whether they are majoring in a music-related field, like Biehl, or another discipline, like Kavulak.
“There’s a lot to be said for being in a choir to help with your social life and making new friends. There’s a way you connect with others when you’re in a music ensemble that’s unique. I don’t think you can get that anywhere else, whether it’s in band or choir. You make those connections in a way that’s very deep because you’re working on a piece of art together. You can’t do that without connecting with others.”
“Music is not only important to the development of one’s self but the evolution of the whole community. It’s bigger than anything that we as one person can give.”
The College Choir and Singer’s Express will next perform at Northeast’s annual Holiday Concert on Sunday, December 9, at 2 p.m. in the Lifelong Learning Center on the Norfolk campus.
PHOTO CUTLINE – Stewart Cramer
Stewart Cramer, the new director of vocal activities at Northeast Community College, speaks to the audience at the College’s Fall Concert recently. Cramer began directing the College Choir and Singer’s Express, the show choir, at Northeast in August.