Wyatt Steinke ’17, Manager for Choral Activities, Concordia College
Major: Vocal Music Education

Tell us about your journey to where you are now.

My high school choir director in Brainerd, Brian Stubbs ’88, knew that I wanted to pursue music education and told me one day to look up The Concordia Choir on YouTube. I watched a video of the choir singing “Wake, Awake” and knew at that moment that I wanted to go to Concordia and sing in The Concordia Choir. I came to Concordia in 2013 eager to pursue a degree in vocal music education. I was fortunate enough to sing in The Concordia Choir for three years, where I learned the thrill of uncompromising and unrelenting collaborative pursuit of musical integrity and spiritual expression. I also met many of my closest friends through choir, as well as my wife, Megan Hovinen.

During my time at Concordia, I had the opportunity to student manage a choral ensemble during each of my four years: Männerchor during my first year, Vocal Jazz during my sophomore year, and The Concordia Choir my junior and senior years. These experiences taught me many valuable lessons about leadership, organization, flexibility, planning, and, perhaps most importantly, grace toward others when things are not going according to plan. I also gained a tremendous amount of experience on the technical side of choral performances and tours, from how to set up the risers to how everything gets loaded efficiently onto the equipment truck.

In addition to my student managing experience, I also directed Concordia’s Vocal Jazz program during my junior and senior years. During this time, we successfully established ourselves as an official student organization on campus and with that came a lot of organizational management, including budget requests and spending, space reservations, publicity and promotion, and, of course, experience teaching a musical ensemble. We also established Concordia’s annual Vocal Jazz Festival, which taught me a ton about managing logistics and coordinating with many parties both on and off campus.

After graduating in 2017, I taught choir for grades 9-12 at Park Rapids High School. I taught three curricular choirs, voice and piano lessons, a few independent studies, and managed the school’s auditorium. As any first-year teacher would say, I learned a ton and gained many valuable experiences from leading my own choral program.

I loved my year of teaching and was prepared to go back for more, but in June of 2018 I received an email from René Clausen letting me know that the manager for choral activities position was open and that he hoped I would consider applying. The rest is history and I am back home at Concordia.

What do you do as the manager for choral activities? 

Basically, I do the behind-the-scenes work for the choral program, the stuff that isn’t the music. I plan, promote, and lead tours for The Concordia Choir and the Chapel Choir. I am the executive producer for the Christmas Concerts, coordinate day-of logistics for our choral festivals, lead setups for concerts, and plan tours for the Minnesota All-State Lutheran Choir, a summer program of Concordia. In addition, I serve on the music recruitment and marketing committee and am the staff advisor for our Vocal Jazz student organization.

What is the best part of your job? 

The best part of my job is being able to serve The Concordia Choir and the choral program at Concordia. I chose to come to Concordia as a student because of The Concordia Choir and fell in love with the whole choral program during my time here. I loved the intense focus on musical and individual excellence demanded by The Concordia Choir, Dr. Clausen, and Dr. Culloton, and the lifelong relationships I made because of it. To now be back at Concordia once more because of the choral program is a dream come true. I have so many amazing memories from my time in choir at Concordia and to now watch new students make those memories and know that I played a small part in making that possible is an incredible feeling.

What skills are necessary for success in your industry?

Strong organizational and long-range planning abilities are needed most of all. At any given time, I am working on lining up multiple tours with different ensembles, planning for the upcoming Christmas Concerts, keeping track of numerous different budgets, and dealing with all of the other day-to-day tasks that come up. Concordia Christmas Concert planning begins basically as soon as the last one finishes, with initial meetings happening already in January. In addition, I have to start planning national tours for The Concordia Choir about two years in advance! In order to keep all of this straight, I need to keep everything well organized and prioritize each day’s tasks to make sure that it’s all getting done when it needs to.

In addition, this job requires patience and an ability to remain calm. You can make all the plans in the world, but when things inevitably don’t go exactly according to plan, you have to remain calm and be able to figure out a solution while remembering that you are working with human beings. If things are going wrong and you are visibly frustrated and stressed, students and colleagues will pick up on that and also get frustrated. It is part of my job to remain calm in stressful situations and help everyone work out a solution, whether it’s a difficult setup on tour or working out space usage for on-campus events.

How did your time at Concordia prepare you for your current work?

While I was a student, I was able to have numerous leadership positions that directly helped prepare me for this job, even though this was never the job I was working toward. Through student managing ensembles, I learned what it was like to lead the logistics of a choir. I experienced what it was like doing setups for The Concordia Choir on tour and how to think creatively with each space, how to plan entrances and exits, and how to lead an ensemble in a way that both communicates the high demand for excellence placed on each singer while still respecting them as a peer and a professional. Through Vocal Jazz, I got opportunities to request and manage budgets and plan group travel to festivals and learned how to organize and host our own festival when I began the Concordia Vocal Jazz Festival. In Res Life, I learned so many things about conflict resolution and how to respond in stressful or emergency situations that can come up at any time on tours.

Finally, Concordia taught me how to learn. As a vocal music education major, I didn’t learn a lot about marketing or sales for my degree, but that is a huge part of my job that I have had to learn by doing. Concordia taught me how to recognize what I need to learn to be effective and then how to research and learn that new skill and adapt to what the situation requires. 

What is the best advice you would give a current student who is studying music?

Well, the big advice that should go without saying is obviously to practice hard and hone your craft to become the best musician you can be in four years. Beyond this, my piece of advice that might be a little more unique is to embrace and get great at the behind-the-scenes work. Being a successful musician involves so much more than the on-stage performance. Today, whether you are leading a high school choral program or hosting Zoom concerts from your living room, being a musician involves marketing through print, social media, and other avenues, creative design, accounting and budget management, stage setup, sound equipment know-how, excellent communication skills, spreadsheet organization, customer service abilities, sales experience, and on and on and on. Embrace this behind-the-scenes work during your undergraduate experience. Volunteer for every setup opportunity, design your own programs, market your performances on social media, find ways to get your peers to come to your performances, and learn how to set up a sound system. Embrace the logistics!

What do you see for the future of The Concordia Choir?

In a time of so much uncertainty, one thing I am certain about is that The Concordia Choir will continue to inspire generations of singers and audience members across our country and world. After my experience singing in the choir and now planning and leading the tours, I have met countless individuals from Seattle to Miami, California to Boston, and from our own backyard of Moorhead across the ocean to Leipzig that have been inspired by the music of The Concordia Choir. After every concert, I hear from alumni and first-time attendees about the ways in which our singers moved and even changed their lives and how they needed the music that we gave them.

In a world that is increasingly more divided and challenging, the impact that The Concordia Choir has on people will continue to be even more important. Through The Concordia Choir, our little college in Moorhead is able to go into communities across our nation and influence the affairs of the world through the choir’s uncompromising and unrelenting collaborative pursuit of musical integrity and spiritual expression that truly has the power to change lives. All it took for me was one video on YouTube for The Concordia Choir to change my life and I know going into the choir’s next 100 years there will be many more lives that The Concordia Choir changes.

Published October 2020