Worship and Song: Kantorei at Valparaiso University

The holidays are almost here, and that means we are getting ready to embrace the magic of the Christmas season at Valparaiso University and enjoying musical performances from our stellar ensembles. Among those groups, one in particular serves as a very direct link to the University’s Lutheran identity, focusing on bringing liturgy and faith into song: the Kantorei. 

“Kantorei is a liturgical choir, so its role is to assist in worship,” says Jihye Choi, visiting assistant professor of music and director of the Kantorei. “They perform choral music, but its function isn’t to act as a concert choir. Its function is really to assist in the Chapel’s worship services.”

Previously known as the Schola Cantorum, the group serves year-round as the choir of the Chapel of the Resurrection, regularly performing for Sunday service, Advent, Holy Week services, Baccalaureate, and Vespers, among other services and events. Throughout the groups’ history and performances, it has consistently been a place for Valpo and its students to explore their faith and connection to Lutheranism. 

“Valpo has been a place that has been a creative laboratory for Lutheran resources,” Professor Choi says. “When the Lutheran Service Book and Evangelical Lutheran Worship were being formed, we tried out a lot of materials.”

Professor Choi is a doctoral candidate at Indiana University in Bloomington. She’s  from South Korea and immigrated to the United States in 2015 to further her dream of excelling in teaching and church music. Having completed everything for her doctorate outside of her dissertation, she was seeking a full-time faculty position when Valparaiso University’s Lutheran values got her attention.

“Valpo’s distinctive mission statement caught my eye because it resembled the educational philosophy of my alma mater — Seoul Theological University,” Professor Choi says. “It is the perfect place for me to serve the chapel and teach students.”

While Kantorei is fundamentally tied to the Christian religion and performs at religious functions, Professor Choi emphasizes that a student does not have to be a Christian to join.

“I welcome whoever wants to sing in the choir,” Professor Choi says. “Most of my students are Christian, but they don’t have to be. I am trying my best to make sure that nobody feels separated from the group.”

For Savannah Vela (year), an elementary education major with a minor in music, Kantorei was a great means of practicing her singing while adding more variety and connections to her college experience.

“Kantorei’s rehearsal schedule worked best with my own,” she says. “Rehearsal is a great “break” from the day-to-day classes and I love being in community with others, especially when it revolves around music.”

The opportunity to continue pursuing music despite a change in major was also part of what drew social work major and music minor Grace Roberts ’25 to the program.

“My priorities had changed over the course of my freshman year, as I changed from a music major to a music minor,” Grace says. “Kantorei’s less demanding rehearsal schedule drew me in, as I could still participate in choir and sing (which I love to do) while still balancing a busy schedule. Finally, I also enjoyed the emphasis on chapel music that Kantorei has and that we sing in the Chapel many times throughout the school year.”

Kantorei has impacted Savannah and Grace outside of music, helping to push them as leaders, putting their experiences in-line with one of the four pillars of Valpo’s five-year plan Uplift Valpo: our Beacon for the Journey Forward.

“Kantorei has opened many doors for me, whether it was serving as the choral librarian in the fall of my sophomore year, building connections, running social media, and organizing bonding events for members, it all pushed me to become who I am today,” Savannah says. “I am beyond grateful for the opportunities Kantorei has given me and for the safe atmosphere it has provided through the highs and lows of my college experience.” 

“I believe that I have grown as a musician, leader, and person through singing in Kantorei,” says Grace. “Kantorei has improved my skills in harmonization, sight singing, and knowledge of liturgical music and its structures. Furthermore, I had also gained valuable music and leadership experience in Kantorei;leading sectional rehearsals, playing piano to accompany the choir, and overall serving as a guide and mentor to other students in the choir, especially freshman.”

This year, the Kantorei will join the Chamber Concert Band, Chorale, Handbells, and Symphony Orchestra as the annual Vespers and Christmas Concerts combine to perform Christmas at Valpo: “O Come to Us, Immanuel.” This year’s show will put more focus on telling the story of the Advent-Christmas season in addition to performing incredible songs. Professor Choi will personally open the show with an organ rendition of Toccata sur “Il est né, le divin Enfant” by Denis Bédard.
Performances will take place at the Chapel of the Resurrection Saturday, December 1 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, December 2 at 5 p.m. Tickets are limited, and can be purchased here. Admission is free to students.