The music department hosts a number of intensive and inventive music ensembles, including:

Chamber Ensembles

Nancy McFarland Gaub, director

The Baroque trio sonata, the Classical string quartet, the passionate outpourings of Schubert, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, and Bartok – much of the greatest music of the Western tradition has been composed for small groups of musicians. String players, along with advanced pianists and woodwind players are invited to explore great works of the literature. Interested individuals and preformed groups audition for placement and repertoire. Coaching, on Tuesday evenings, culminates in formal and informal performances. Masterclasses have been given by members of the Cleveland, Pacifica, Lark, American, Prazak, Maia, and Chicago String Quartets.

Collegium Musicum

Jennifer Williams Brown, director

The Collegium Musicum is an ensemble dedicated to the historical performance of Early Music (the Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, & Classical periods of Western European music history).  The goals of the ensemble are:

  1. to provide a hands-on way of learning about the history of Western Music;
  2. to learn to perform well, using techniques appropriate to the instrument and the historical period;
  3. to learn about historical “performance practice” as it applies to various different repertories;
  4. to explore the beautiful but less often heard music of earlier periods;
  5. to share the results of study with the Grinnell community through formal and informal concerts; and
  6. to share the experience of performing music with each other.

The ensemble is comprised of both singers and instrumentalists, divided into several groups according to repertoire and experience level.  Each group meets for approximately one hour per week.  Section placements are held at the beginning of each semester.  Rehearsals are held in the spacious Egan Early Music Room (BCA 102).

Instrumentalists in the Collegium perform on Grinnell’s first-class collection of replica period instruments.  Since many of these are ancestors of modern instruments, students can often transfer their knowledge of modern technique to early instruments fairly easily. Both group and individual instruction is provided.   Available instruments in the Grinnell collection include:

  • Bowed strings: Baroque violins, violas, cello, violone, a set of viols (viole da gamba), vielle, rebec, hurdy-gurdy 
  • Plucked strings: Renaissance and Baroque guitars, lutes, theorbo, medieval harp, psaltery, dulcimer 
  • Woodwinds: Renaissance and Baroque recorders and flutes 
  • Reeds: Baroque oboe, shawm, dulcian, sordun, crumhorns
  • Brasses: Baroque trumpets, Baroque and Classical horns, sackbuts, cornetti 
  • Keyboards: harpsichords, chamber organ, fortepiano 
  • A variety of small percussion instruments
Grinnell Oratorio Society

John Rommereim, director
Marlys Grimm, Rehearsal Pianist

Originally founded in 1901, the Grinnell Oratorio Society was, in the early decades of the 20th Century, one of Iowa's most auspicious musical institutions. Edward Scheve (1865-1924), a composer of symphonies, concertos, oratorios, and chamber music, established the choir as an outgrowth of the music conservatory that was then part of Grinnell College.

In 2010, the Grinnell Community Chorus was renamed the Grinnell Oratorio Society as a way to draw attention to this proud history. The choir currently rehearses Monday nights, and it draws together students, faculty and staff of the college, people from the town of Grinnell, and nearby cities such as Newton and Malcolm.

In recent years, the Oratorio Society has performed many of the masterpieces from the choral literature, such as the Brahms Requiem, Mozart's Requiem and Grand Mass in C Minor, Beethoven's Mass in C Major, Bernstein's Chichester Psalms, Haydn's Lord Nelson Mass, Bach's Magnificat, Verdi's Requiem, and Britten's monumental War Requiem. The Oratorio Society has also expanded its activity beyond the confines of classical music, with concerts of Duke Ellington’s music in collaboration with the Grinnell Jazz Ensemble, and Carol Barnett’s Bluegrass Mass, together with the string band Monroe Crossing.

The Oratorio Society is a valuable resource for our community -- and the more involvement we have, the greater the impact will be. Unlike most choruses of this type, there are no dues charged for the Oratorio Society; the ensemble is supported by Grinnell College as a service to the community. Our aspiration for this year is to draw in all the best singers from the region, so that we can raise the roof with an even more robust sound, returning to the glory days of the Oratorio Society, when the choir numbered around 175.

Grinnell Singers

John Rommereim, director

The Grinnell Singers are a select ensemble that performs distinguished choral music from a wide variety of traditions, with repertoire that spans five centuries, from renaissance motets, to the music of today. They have an ambitious year planned for 2012-2013. Highlights include: hosting one of Cuba's foremost choirs, Schola Cantorum Coralina, performing Carol Barnett's Bluegrass Mass with the string band Monroe Crossing, a Spring-Break tour to Chicago, Ann Arbor, Toronto, Montreal, Boston, and New York, and April performances of Orff's Carmina Burana.

The ensemble regularly performs works by its members, and a number of students in the ensemble have gone on to careers as composers. We were proud to see that a work by Grinnell Singers alum Jisoo Ben Kim '08, for example, was recently performed by the Los Angeles Master Chorale. The Grinnell Singers premiered this work while Ben was a student at Grinnell; the Grinnell Singers recording helped to facilitate the publication of this piece with Earthsongs. This year, they will be performing yet-to-be-written works by our Composer-In Residence, Michael Maiorana '12. In February, they will also be presenting "Think Global, Sing Local: Home-Grown music and music from the far-flung Grinnell family." -- a concert that highlights music of Grinnell students and alumni. In previous years, the ensemble has commissioned several major composers. In 2006, the Singers commissioned an extended work from the 2005 Pulitzer Award winner, Steven Stucky. The Grinnell Singers received a grant from the Meet the Composers foundation for this commission, in a consortium of professional choirs that included the Kansas City Chorale, the Phoenix Bach Choir, and the Seattle Pro Musica. The Grinnell Singers' 2012 season featured the premiere of a commissioned work, "Anything Can Happen," by Mohammed Fairouz. In pursuing this project, the ensemble formed a consortium with three of the country's most distinguished choirs: the Back Bay Chorale and the Marsh Chapel Choir of Boston, Scott Jarrett, Conductor, and Cantori New York, Mark Shapiro, Conductor. An Iowa Public Radio piece on this commission project is available in streaming audio.  The entire work can also be viewed on You Tube

In 1994 and 2002, the Grinnell Singers were honored with invitations to regional ACDA conventions. In 2000, the choir traveled to Helsinki, Turku, Talinn, St. Petersburg, Prague, and Brno in a tour that included a full cappella program, as well as another separate concert of Beethoven's Mass in C and the premiere of John Rommereim's Utopia with the Prague Radio Orchestra. In 2006, they completed a concert tour of Romania, Bulgaria, again with an a cappella program as well as a separate choral/orchestral program of Mozart's Grand Mass in C Minor. In April of 2011, the Grinnell Singers worked with the renowned conductor Simon Carrington during a week-long residency, culminating in a conducting master class and concert. In May, 2011, they completed a recording titled "Sacred Love," which will be released later this year.

In the spring of 2012, the Grinnell Singers participated in performances of Sacred Concerts, a remarkable work by the great jazz master, Duke Ellington, in collaboration with the Grinnell Jazz Ensemble. In the 2012-13 season, we are delighted to continue this exploration of works that blur the lines between traditions, as we present The World Beloved: A Bluegrass Mass, by Carol Barnett, in collaboration with an outstanding string band from Minneapolis, Monroe Crossing. In a few short years since its premiere in 2008, this unique work has already become one of the most treasured pieces in the choral repertory. As the composer says, it brings "the solemnity of the classical-based Mass together with the down-home sparkle of bluegrass." On November 7, the Grinnell Singers will be hosting Schola Cantorum Coralina, Alina Orraca, conductor. This is an exceedingly rare opportunity to hear one of Cuba's finest professional choirs. The 21 singers of the choir will be in Grinnell for three days (including November 6, the day of the presidential election), and they will be hosted in local homes. Looking ahead to the spring, they will be performing Carl Orff's spectacular Carmina Burana, in collaboration with the Grinnell Symphony Orchestra and the Ottumwa Symphony, under the direction of Eric McIntyre.

Grinnell Symphony Orchestra

Eric McIntyre

The Grinnell Symphony Orchestra is dedicated to providing students, faculty, and the greater community with high quality performances of substantial orchestral literature.  It also serves as a performing outlet for instrumentalists who wish to explore the immense body of orchestral literature from the past as well as that composed during our lifetimes.  The GSO is comprised of student musicians representing all disciplines within the college who are unified by a love of music and a dedication to the art of orchestral performance.

The GSO performs five to seven concerts each season with a wide range of music from the Baroque to the 21st Century.  Highlights of recent seasons include performances of Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, Verdi’s Requiem, Sibelius’s 2nd Symphony, Liszt’s Les Preludes, Vaughan Williams’s Dona Nobis Pacem, Feldman’s Intersection No. 1, and Holst’s The Planets.  During the last few seasons, the GSO has also performed with numerous guest soloists, including violinist Alexander Kerr, violist Jeroen Woudstra, mezzo-soprano Katherine Ciesinski, soprano Lynelle Rowley, trumpeter Nathaniel Mayfield, and baritone saxophonist Aaron Lington.  The GSO also continues to establish itself as an ensemble dedicated to the future growth of our art by performing music by living composers.  Examples include recent performances of Wojciech Kilar’s Krzesany, Gavin Bryars’s The Sinking of the Titanic, John Corigliano’s Gazebo Dances and Henryk Miko?aj Górecki’s Kleines Requiem für eine Polka as well as several world premieres of new works.

Full GSO rehearsals are Monday and Wednesday afternoons from 4:30 to 6:00 with sectional rehearsals for the string section on Monday evenings 7:00-8:00 and for the winds and brass on Wednesday evenings 7:00-8:00PM.

Membership in GSO is open to string, woodwind, brass, and percussion players, regardless of major.  Admission to the ensemble is by audition.  Auditions for new members are held during the first week of classes each semester.

For more information about GSO, please contact Eric McIntyre.

Jazz Ensemble

Damani Phillips, director

The Grinnell Jazz Ensemble is open to instrumentalists (and occasionally vocalists) who are interested in the study and performance of jazz works of the large ensemble tradition. The ensemble performs music from a wide variety of jazz-related styles, and frequently performs works by both veteran and contemporary jazz composers. Past concerts have included compositions by composers such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Sammy Nestico, Miles Davis, and Charles Mingus, Maria Schneider, Gordon Goodwin, Thad Jones and Oliver Nelson. While the ensemble focuses primarily on traditional jazz ensemble literature, the group occasionally embarks upon large-scale musical performances of a non-traditional nature. Two recent examples of such endeavors include a performance of Robert Nelson’s “Up South” (collaboration between jazz ensemble and symphony orchestra) and a recent performance of selections from Duke Ellington’s “Sacred Concerts” (collaboration between jazz ensemble, full choir, vocal soloists and a tap dancer).

The ensemble performs twice per semester, and customarily performs with one nationally-acclaimed jazz artist per year. In addition to performing with the ensemble, our guest artists present clinics, conduct masterclasses and lecture on their personal research during their visit. Past guest artists have included Antonio Hart, Marcus Belgrave and Pat Bianchi.

Admittance into the ensemble is determined by audition, which is held during the first full week of classes each semester. For audition information, please contact the ensemble director at phillipd[at]grinnell[dot]edu.

Javanese Gamelan and Dance Ensemble

Roger Vetter, music director; Valerie Vetter, dance director

Learn experientially about the arts of Central Javanese karawitan (music) and beksan (dance) through involvement in this (1 credit) ensemble. The rudiments of the Central Javanese music tradition are taught on an authentic gamelan originating from the court city of Yogyakarta on the island of Java, Indonesia. A gamelan is a large, predominantly percussion, orchestra that is used to perform music for listening pleasure and to accompany dance and various forms of dance and puppet theatre. The varied instrumentation of the gamelan provides a student with numerous levels of challenge, and many members of the ensemble remain involved in the study of this music over several semesters. The college also possesses a small bronze gamelan that is occasionally performed. Javanese gamelan music and dance are highly integrated, and Grinnell is one of the few places outside of Java where both are regularly taught. The highly controlled and codified movements of Javanese dance offer interested students a whole new perspective on the art of dance. Musicians and dancers in the ensemble stage one on-campus performance per semester and are occasionally invited off-campus to perform. No previous musical or dance experience is required for enrollment in this ensemble.

Latin American Ensemble

Gabriel Espinosa, director

The Latin American Ensemble of Grinnell College was founded in the fall of 2001. Primarily comprised of college students and directed by a professor of music, the Ensemble has performed a variety of styles of latin music including bolero, son, cha, tango and Brazilian folk song. Each semester the group focuses on a different style of latin music, and the selected pieces are presented to the Grinnell community at the end of each term. In addition to the end-of-semester concerts, the ensemble has performed for a variety of local organizations: as part of "cruise night" at the retirement and nursing home community; in compliment of a Brazilian art exhibit at the Faulconer Gallery; for the Cinco de Mayo celebration at a local restaurant; and as part of the annual talent show organized by the College’s International Student Organization.

Percussion Ensemble

Michael Pawlak, director

This ensemble provides musicians with an opportunity to study and perform a variety of music written for the percussion family of instruments. Interested students must attend a meeting and an informal private audition during the first week of class.

Symphonic Band

Mitch Lutch, director

The Symphonic Concert Band is open to experienced instrumentalists who would like to study and perform music from the wind and percussion band repertoire. Rehearsals are Monday evening. There will be two to four performance opportunities annually featuring the ensemble in full-length concerts and special events on campus. To determine chair placement, interested students should attend a meeting and participate in an informal private audition during the first week of class.

Young, Gifted, and Black Gospel Choir

Barry Jones, director

The Young, Gifted, and Black Gospel Choir (YGB) has a truly proud 21 year history of struggle and success, but we have always gained strength from the "joyful noise" which we share with each other, and the rest of the community. This has been true from the very beginning when, in 1967, six black first-year students came together in the basement of Younker Hall on campus at Grinnell College to share a common and powerful experience: gospel music.

The foundations which these students laid were not formalized until 1973. At that time, YGB's founding members, Milton Rolland and Gwendolyn Moore, requested that our first Director, Cecil Lytle, who was an associate professor of Music at Grinnell, help them increase both YGB's size and level of excellence. Prof. Lytle was able to accomplish these goals with great success. The choir was organized around three basic principles. As Prof. Lytle wrote, these were:

       1. cultural uniformity as a result of the Black Church experience
       2. a strong desire to continue that same cultural heritage while pursuing higher education at Grinnell College
       3. the choir's expressed desire to act as an active agent in raising money for the Martin Luther King Scholarship Fund at Grinnell College.

The name of the choir was taken from a work entitled To Be Young, Gifted, and Black by the famous black writer Lorraine Hansberry. With this strong foundation, the choir grew to 48 members. Practicing 6-8 hours a week, the choir was able, in 1974, to record a record entitled Young, Gifted, and Black: In Concert. They performed around Iowa, often accompanied by Spaces, which was Grinnell's jazz-rock ensemble.

Since this auspicious beginning, YGB has gone through many transformations. YGB has performed in a number of cities including: Des Moines, Waterloo, Marshalltown, Iowa City, Kansas City, Chicago, Madison, Memphis, New Orleans, Los Angeles, New York, and Washington D.C.

We have had our share of trials, however. In 1981, the number of people in the choir dwindled to seven. These seven members had the same passionate love for gospel music that the first six students felt as they sang in the basement of Younker Hall in 1967. Today, YGB has once again grown and includes over 30 members.

As is to be expected, YGB has changed significantly in 21 years. We no longer have the bond of "cultural uniformity." Instead, we use our diversity as a bond. Our choir has members from different cultures, nationalities, and races. We feel these differences only make us stronger. In one of our programs from years past is this quote from W.E.B. DuBois The Souls of Black Folks, "...sometime, somewhere, men will judge men by their souls, and not by their skins." In YGB, we strive to create such a place, while continuing a tradition we inherited from YGB's original members: the celebration of Black American culture through Gospel Music.

--Written with love by Ronald Edgell '96

Zimbabwean Mbira Ensemble

Tony Perman, director

The mbira is a handheld instrument with metal keys played with the thumbs and right index finger played in the Shona community of Zimbabwe. In our ensemble, students will focus on playing this instrument, but will also learn how to sing in the appropriate style and play the hosho, a set of gourd rattles, as their interests take them. There is no written music and everything is learned aurally. The primary goal is to learn the specifics of technique and style for this instrument and to play as a group. The mbira is a participatory instrument and is rarely played solo, thus the rewards of collective music-making are emphasized. The mbira repertoire is a rich body of songs dedicated to the ancestral spirits for whom they are played. Learning to play the mbira with others can be a rewarding musical and social experience that will hopefully last longer than your College career.

Studio Ensembles (associated with music lessons)

Fresh Flutes

Claudia Anderson, director

Fresh Flutes from Grinnell is one of the ensembles open to flutists at Grinnell College, founded in 1989 and in its 21st season presenting concerts. The ensemble performs in duo, trio, quartet and full choir formats. Any intermediate-to-advanced level flutist on campus is welcome to participate. You need not be taking flute lessons, though the majority of the ensemble is made up of members of the flute studio. The Music Department owns alto and bass flutes and several piccolos. Dr. Claudia Anderson is director and head of the flute studio at Grinnell.

Fresh Flutes is a terrific musical experience, a wonderful flute "bonding" experience, and lots of fun! We perform twice a year in Sebring-Lewis Recital Hall on campus (one of the country's best hall acoustics for flute) or the Faulconer Gallery in conjunction with concurrent exhibits, and often at the annual Iowa Flute Festival. Grinnell College will host the IFF in 2013, an event which draws all the major flute studios in the state of Iowa and features world-class guest artists. Please contact Claudia Anderson for further information regarding Iowa Flute Festival 2013.

Please contact Claudia Anderson at anderso5 with further questions regarding Fresh Flutes and/or the flute studio at Grinnell College.

Harp Ensemble

Kristin Maahs, director

Harp Ensemble is an ad hoc group under the direction of harp instructor, Kristin Maahs. It consists of harp students and guest musicians that play together for the sheer joy of making music with others.  You can hear members of the ensemble at the studio harp recital held at the end of each semester.

We choose repertoire that fits the interests and the technical abilities of the group. This includes works by classical composers, traditional Celtic tunes, dance arrangements from the Latin Americas, and more. The ensemble encompasses a broad spectrum of musical styles and experience levels.

Instruments: The music department owns and makes the following harps available for student use:

  • Lyon-Healy Concert Grand (85 CG) purchased 1999
  • Lyon-Healy Semi Grand (Style 15) purchased used in 1993
  • Wm Rees 36-string nylon/metal lever harp purchased in 2004
  • Kortier 36-string nylon/metal lever harp purchased 1996
  • Gothic lap harp with brays (used under the supervision of the early music instructor)
  • West African kora (dispayed and sometimes used by the ethnomusicology instructor)

G-Tones, Vox, Con Brio

These are Grinnell's ever-popular a capella groups. G-Tones is all-male, Vox is all-female, and Con Brio is comprised of both men and women. Members of these groups perform at many campus events, hold their own concerts, and participate in a capella competitions. Watch out--come Valentine's Day, that special someone may send you a G-Tones serenade!

Jazz Night

Come down to Bob's Underground Cafe on Jazz Night, but leave your homework in your room! One night a week, this informal gathering turns the normally quiet coffee shop into an open jam session.


This annual CD is a compilation of performances by campus bands and open-mic performers. The campus band scene has a long and storied history at Grinnell, from the old theme dwelling Musik Haus to recent rockers Vegetable Medley.