Montcalm Community College’s Performing Arts Department is comprised of music and theater. It is led by Performing Arts Coordinator Valerie Vander Mark and Visual Arts Coordinator Carolyn Johnson.
Music came into play on MCC’s campus in fall 1967. Kenneth Smith created the MCC Choir at first, and soon after, he organized the MCC Community Band. That year, the Pep Band was also formed. Former MCC President Dr. Donald Fink and Smith organized the Montcalm Community Choir in January 1970. It was directed by Fink and Karen Stearns over the years.
Around 1970, a Women’s Ensemble, the MCC Stage Band and a short-lived barbershop quartet, called the Uncalled Four, joined the department. A few years later, a Men’s Ensemble was established.
In the mid-1970s, the Creative Art Council, in Greenville, sponsored a community performance of Handel’s Messiah, which MCC took over in 2003, offering it every three years during the holidays. The next Messiah performance will be in fall 2015.
In 1980, Jane Karlzen directed the MCC Choir. In fall 1982, Valerie Schulz, later Vander Mark, became the choir director. Smith remained the director of the Montcalm Community Choir and Stage Band, later called the Jazz Band. The band dwindled over the years until instrumentalists were invited to accompany choir concerts.
In 2001, the MCC Choir and Montcalm Community Choir somewhat combined as the MCC Alumni & Friends Choir, which is still active today under Vander Mark’s direction. Students can take this as a credit or noncredit course; alumni and community members are encouraged to join. MCC also offers MCC’s Philharmonic Orchestra as a credit and noncredit offering, which is taught by Jeff Ayres. It was founded in 2013 by Charlotte Lothian.
In addition to conducting the Alumni & Friends Choir and teaching other music courses at MCC, Vander Mark acts as the play producer for MCC’s drama productions. Johnson teaches a variety of visual arts classes and acts as the play director. The duo has largely contributed to the growth of MCC’s theater offerings.
MCC’s first taste of theater started with the Drama Guild in 1967, advised by Instructor Vernon Blake. In 1971, a barn at the edge of the property was reconstructed into the Barn Theater. It continues to be the home for many of MCC’s productions today.
MCC’s theater offerings grew to what they are now because of Children’s Theater. Children’s Theater, produced by the Community Players of Montcalm County, Inc., and sponsored by MCC’s Office of Community Services, was popular from the 1970s to the 1990s, according to historical documents. College students, retired community members and non-working mothers made up the cast. Local students were bussed to the Barn Theater to view performances. Carol Polaha was the director and David Pritchard was the producer from 1972 to 1976. Ruth Hansen, a large contributor to theater in the Greenville area, directed the Children’s Theater after Polaha left. In 1991, Vander Mark took over. In 1996, Johnson started working with Vander Mark to create MCC’s drama productions.
“Now, we have over 1,000 children from local elementary, middle and high schools visit campus each year,” Johnson said.
Every spring and fall semester, Johnson has a drama class that chooses and practices a play to perform for local students and the community.
“Theater has been a part of MCC’s history from its beginning when some of the earliest drama students put their hearts and souls into transforming the Barn Theater into an intimate, unique performance venue,” Vander Mark said. “Over the years, many school and community groups have benefited from MCC drama productions, on-campus and off, and we look forward to offering quality theater to the community for years to come.”
In order to celebrate nearly 50 years of performing arts, a Community Celebration on April 19 will feature a spring concert. The MCC Alumni & Friends Choir and MCC’s Philharmonic Orchestra will perform songs from the past five decades.
- Samantha Mack