Over the din of Christmas carols and complaints of looming finals, it’s not uncommon to hear an, “Oh yeah! He’s that Summit Singers guy!” around campus, said bass Ben Waterfield, a member of St. Thomas’ men’s a cappella group, the Summit Singers.
That’s been the case since the singers began making a name for themselves by appearing in unlikely places to sing, including President Julie Sullivan’s office during her first week at St. Thomas, several area elementary schools in October, and in the freshmen dorms for Christmas carols last year. They even serenaded the entire student center from the third floor balcony last March.
Their performances have become coveted by organizations and clubs both on and off campus, said Summit Singers president Chad Berg.
A junior finance and economics double major, Berg founded the group as a freshman. Two years later, he says he couldn’t be happier with the growth the club has experienced. The group of 10 students, established in the spring of 2012, has grown to 14 members.
Along with the other singers, Berg will welcome students to the group’s first winter concert at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 12, in O’Shaughnessy Educational Center, handing out free hats and scarves to the first 400 undergraduate students. They’ve come a long way, Berg said, considering he came to St. Thomas looking to join an a cappella group. “There really wasn’t one,” he said. “I asked some seniors and they said that I should just go for it, make it myself.”
Listen to the Summit Singers perform Ave Maria.
Tucked away on south campus in Brady Educational Center, the men started with one rehearsal a week. Soon, they were performing at a variety of venues in the Twin Cities, even being featured on local television and interviewed by KARE 11’s Belinda Jensen last Christmas. Berg said that one of the group’s first chances at schoolwide recognition was being on stage with singer-songwriter Mat Kearney, who performed at St. Thomas last year.
“We were practicing for a performance over by the bathrooms, for a performance for Father Dease here in the Hearth Room,” Berg explained. “[Kearney] heard us singing as he was walking by and he asked us to sing onstage with him. That was some really great exposure for us.”
Since its inception, the group has gained exclusive club status, receiving $4,300 in grants from Undergraduate Student Government and St. Thomas Activities and Recreation (STAR) in November. Berg noted that because of the exclusive status, the Summit Singers did not have the traditional avenues of receiving funding; rather, they had to apply for it. The money will be used for the production of the winter concert, primarily for sound and lighting. A small portion will be put toward advertising, and the free hats and scarves.
Yet amidst the attention and flurry of activity, the Summit Singers have managed to remain just a group of guys who love music. With rehearsals now twice a week, the men have time to socialize and get serious about their performances. The group stands in a circle while rehearsing so everyone can see each other, Waterfield said. “There are a lot of laughs,” he added, “but when we’re coming up to a concert, we’ll say, ‘Hey, we really need to polish up this music.’”
The Summit Singers are a unique conglomeration of students, with a range of majors and interests. The common denominator is involvement in St. Thomas concert or chamber choir. To be a Summit Singer, Berg said, one doesn’t have to be the best choral or opera singer, but someone who loves music and wants to improve. Surprisingly, there are many members of the club who are not vocalists. These include finance, logistics, planning and advertising personnel, who make sure the events run smoothly and that the performers can simply … sing.
The group performed in October when it opened for Tonic Sol-Fa, a nationally renowned a cappella group, at a concert in Woodbury, Minn. The Summit Singers have reached a lot of landmarks and have begun to reach out into the community beyond St. Thomas.
One moment stands out for both the club president and Waterfield – performing at the 2012 Relay for Life.
“There was a moment in last year’s Relay for Life where we sang at the luminaria, which was to remember those who have lost their battle to cancer,” Berg said. “We sang a song called ‘Be Still’ by the Fray, and in the middle of the song there’s a great build … and then there’s silence. I was lucky enough to be the soloist for the song.”
He recalled the way he could feel the weight of the room and the way the lyrics, which say “Be still and know that I am here,” carried a lot of emotion for the audience. “It was a message that really touched them. It was special for all of us in the Summit Singers to be able to bring that to them,” he said.
The group hopes to continue to touch people with its music, Berg said. The men plan to continue giving concerts each semester, and to stay focused on performing for other students. He said that with so many invitations to perform for faculty and outside organizations, it’s tempting to forget that the vocalists’ main function is entertaining their peers.
The singing always comes back to the students at St. Thomas and the men who bring it to them. “Each of us has had a solo,” Waterfield said. “When you hear someone with their solo voice, you can just tell how many hours they’ve put behind it … probably spent singing in the shower. You can tell that everyone is passionate about music.”
Berg agreed, saying that the men of Summit Singers are guys who work hard, have fun and know that they are a part of something bigger than themselves.
“It’s not just a group of singers, it’s a group of friends,” Berg said. “We bring in new guys every year, and they just join the family.”