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Long-Time Choir Director Finishing On High Note

April 2, 2012, 10:03 PM by Nicole Winters

Long-Time Choir Director Finishing On High Note

If you've ever attended Mass at the Cathedral in Sioux Falls, you've probably heard the voices of the Choir ringing beautifully through the church.

The forty-plus member group has high standards to meet, having to impress not only the community but their long-time choir director who expects nothing but the best.

That director, Ron Schallenkamp, has been turning out masterful performances for over 50 years. But come next week, he's putting down his baton.

If you're going to sing in this Men's Schola, you have to give it your all.  If you don't, Schallenkamp will point it out just as quickly as a wrong note.

"Make sure it says what it's supposed to say," Schallenkamp said.

"He can get on us, and then we sing better if we listen to what his instruction is," Men’s Schola member Kenny Mork said.

Mork knows that well having sung under Schallenkamp's direction since he was just a young child.

The same goes for fellow singer Matt Billion, who recalls being kicked out of a same classroom by Schallenkamp many years ago.

"He’s mellowed a little with age. He still expects the best and the most and he gets it out of you," Billion said.

"They tell me all the times I kicked them out of choir, but I can't remember that," Schallenkamp said.

Years after first tuning in together, the men continue to meet twice a week as part of the Cathedral men's choir group. They formed over 10years ago. It was Schallenkamp's idea to invite his under studies back.

"Matt and Kenny, they were in the boys choir way back in the 60's, very good musicians already," Schallenkamp said.

This is not the only talent he works with. Schallenkamp is also the mastermind behind the Cathedral Choir, which has been making music much longer.

“This is the choir I started with back in 1960 when I came; there is no one in the choir now who was here at that time," Schallenkamp said.

Members have come and gone, but the director and former teacher has stayed true to his true love for over 50 years.

"I have a great love for music that is precisely in tune, precisely in tune," Schallenkamp said.

He's hit many milestones in his career like singing at the Vatican.

"Just make it quality," Schallenkamp said.

But to him it doesn't really matter where he's at, as long as the notes are flowing and he's with his choir.

"So many of my singers are so musical that they react to really good music, and they react so musically to it," Schallenkamp said.

He's directed the group, which mostly sings a cappella, in multiple masses and concerts. He also plays the organ, though he wouldn't for us because he likes to direct all attention onto his singers even though they say he's the one that deserves much of the credit.

"He’s a musical genius," Billion said.

Schallenkamp's work has been recognized for decades. But even the best hit a point where they have to hang it up.

"If I didn't look at the calendar, I would kind of like to not retire now, but I need to.  It's time go put it that way," Schallenkamp said.

Easter Sunday will be Schallenkamp's final act. Though not everyone believes he can put the baton down for good.

"No, I don't.  I think he'll be hanging around in the hallways listening, making sure we're singing the right notes," Mork said.

"I don't know if that's possible; he's tried it before," Billion said.

The 78 year old insists it's time to open up his schedule for other things. It's a decision the choir knew would come someday, but it doesn't make it any easier.

"I think he's one of the best, I'm going to miss him," Mork said.

"He makes this choir a family.  He's the heartbeat and soul of this choir, and he has been for many years," Billion said.

Schellenkamp admits it will be difficult to leave, but he's taking decades of memories with him and he'll leave on nothing less than a high note.

"It’s been a wonderful ride, put it that way.  I wouldn't have it any other way," Schallenkamp said.

Monday is Schallenkamp's 78th birthday.  If you're interested in seeing him in action, his final moments as Cathedral Choir Director will be the 11 A.M. Mass Easter Sunday.

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