faculty spotlight: John Verkuilen

get to know Muhlenberg's fall 2022 choir director

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Photo courtesy of John Verkuilen

This fall, the Muhlenberg music department welcomes Visiting Assistant Professor John Verkuilen, to take on the role of choral director and professor of voice for applied lessons and larger ensembles, in light of the recent exit of long-time choral director Christopher Jackson, D.M.A., who now works as the full-time artistic director of the Bethlehem Bach Choir.

Verkuilen explained that this is his first faculty position which he is tackling alongside continued work on his doctoral degree. He has been directing the Chamber Choir and the College Choir, while staff pianist Vincent Trovato now directs the Treble Choir.

“…I’ve already had so many singular moments in rehearsal–whether during warm-ups or learning new music–that have stuck with me as a director.”

-John Verkuilen

Prior to accepting the position at Muhlenberg, he directed a few ensembles in Massachusetts. In addition to his role as assistant conductor at the Oratorio Society of New York, where he had the opportunity to perform at Carnegie Hall. 

When asked about the overarching ideas surrounding the fall 2022 concert season, Verkuilen explained, “The theme that I’m bringing in this semester is community, and just gladness to be back together.” 

Verkuilen made it very clear that, even though the world is still very much coping with the horrors of the COVID-19 pandemic, the immense scientific progress of our medical system and personal responsibility of the Muhlenberg community has allowed for a greater reintroduction of ensemble-based musicianship in its most desired rehearsal format.

“It’s nice to feel like we’re back to a point where we can be in person, be making music together, while predominantly singing live,” he continued. “The focal point of this semester is really going to be teamwork and the joy of singing with a group again.”

“I think the thing my peers and I have appreciated the most about how he [Verkuilen] runs the chamber choir is his respect for our time,” says Ava Pirie ‘23. “He makes it a point to start promptly at 5 p.m. and let us go right at 6:30 p.m. It’s incredibly refreshing to have an authority figure respect students’ time this much, particularly in the teaching of a class in which the material is so easy to get caught up in.”

In terms of repertoire, Verkuilen explained to his classes that he is committed to assembling a program that allows students to interact with the music and text of many cultural backgrounds and musical styles. Additionally, he elaborated on a particular fondness for romantic to late twentieth century English chamber choir music, including compositions from Edward Elgar, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten.

“Every face is a new face for me coming into this [position], so I really want to focus on building relationships,” explains Verkuilen. “I’ve already had so many wonderful conversations with students and staff, and I’ve already had so many singular moments in rehearsal–whether during warm-ups or learning new music–that have stuck with me as a director.”

“It’s incredibly refreshing to have an authority figure respect students’ time this much, particularly in the teaching of a class in which the material is so easy to get caught up in.”

-Ava Pirie ’23

“John has stepped into his role of chamber choir director very quickly but has made the transition seamless,” says Anna Bobok ‘23. “I don’t know what our concert or candlelight will look like, but I do feel like we’re in good hands.”

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Danny Milkis
Danny Milkis '23 is a Media & Communication student at Muhlenberg who has a specific interest in writing and journalism. In high school, he took part in extracurricular writing whenever possible, and received a Metropolitan Award nomination for his work as a Student Performing Arts Critic. He is ecstatic to have joined the staff of talented writers and editors at the Muhlenberg Weekly, and is excited to learn from this wonderful group of knowledgeable individuals throughout his time at Muhlenberg.

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