Changes in West High’s vocal music program


Laurence Walker

Choir directors Nick Andersen and Laura Engels are the new choir directors at West and plan on big changes coming soon.

Laurence Walker, Reporter

At the end of the 2018 school year, West’s vocal music program lost both of its directors, Colleen Schloemer and Tyler Finley. This year there are new directors, Laura Engels and Nick Andersen, and with these new directors come new changes to the department.

“I have changed the format of Dinner Theatre, who I take to Metrofest, how students learn the music, and the format of the choirs in which students participate… [For example, the addition of] men’s and women’s choirs,” Engels said.

Senior and choir member Brady Pratt has seen these changes in action.

“I’ve noticed student responsibilities, student involvement, and teacher expectations have all increased [under Engels and Andersen],” Pratt said.

Engels and Andersen have impacted West High’s choir programs in some ways already, but are still faced with challenges that come with being new to a school. Money is tight all over the Davenport district, and has been the source of challenges the new directors face.

“West is different because I have never had to fundraise so much before. I have never had a program that is totally self-sustained through the boosters, which is unique,” Engels said.

So far, the change Engels is most happy with is changing Dinner Theatre to Opening Night. Dinner Theatre was an event in which West’s show choirs first unveiled their show to family and friends, while also hosting dinner and acting as servers for their families table. The new format, Opening Night, is similar, but students walk around serving desserts to the whole cafeteria, and the eating time is shorter. Then students perform, and after clean up, everyone is free to head home.

“I have done both of these types of fundraising events, and feel Opening Night has a better flow, there wasn’t much down time, and students and parents had a better time,” Engels added.

Andersen and Engels both spoke about how many changes take time, but that they see big things for the future of West’s various chorale programs.

“[A] change that we are still working on is a change in the culture and expectations we have for our students. And a lot of that comes with time, mainly because we have to teach and reiterate and reinforce those expectations repeatedly until they become the new normal for everyone,” Andersen said. This can lead to a positive change and progress toward a culture of excellent music at Davenport West.”

Engels added that beyond time, not everything will be perfect when first changed.

“While I have lofty expectations for my students and my program, [certain changes] have been hard to make because it doesn’t happen overnight,” Engels said. “With two steps forward, there might be a small step back. Rome wasn’t built in a day!”

Despite the challenges that come with the territory, Engels and Andersen, as well as Pratt, are confident that the vocal music department of West will continue to better itself from the inside out.

“I am really happy with the change in the culture so far. I think the students are starting to understand that if they commit to the process, what I can teach them can take them pretty far,” Engels said.

Pratt has experienced both the past way the chorale programs have functioned, and the new things that are happening. He prefers the new program to West’s past program.

“Engels and Andersen are definitely a step up from the prior administration, [The vocal music program in the past] was lackadaisical, mediocre. It was just an okay program all together. [The prior administration] didn’t push students to be better like Engels does,” Pratt said.

Things seem to be looking up for West High’s vocal music program, with both the new directors and the students looking forward to what is possible if the program as a whole changes for the better. Engels added that she is not even close to done with renovating her department.

Fans, members, and parents should look forward to what West’s chorale programs will become in the coming years.

“There are a ton of changes I am still working on to be revealed in the next coming year or so,” Engels said.