Allison Wordes-Staff Writer
His students are everywhere around the world, and he still keeps in contact with them via Facebook. They are his success stories.
Benjamin Kornelis reclines in his office chair, gazing at the ceiling. Behind him is his black upright piano, a hymn sitting on the ledge. For 23 years, Kornelis devoted his musical talent and experience to Dordt students. In 1994, he picked up where Dale Grotenhuis, the previous director of 35 years, left off, and when Kornelis started there were only two choirs on campus: Concert Choir and Chorale. Since then, opportunity for student vocalists has grown to include the ensembles Kantorei and Bella Voce, two groups that Kornelis said “fill certain needs in the community.”
Kornelis taught many classes while at Dordt, such as music education classes, introduction to music literature, music history and around 15 years of the Core 160 music track.
“He is a cool dude… he has a digeridoo in his office!” said Ellie Koerner, a music instrumental education major who participated in Chorale and Kantorei ensembles last year. (For those who may not know, a digeridoo is an Australian wind instrument.)
“He had an interesting way of explaining what sound he wanted to hear and explaining it in a way that worked,” said Koerner. “He draws fun stuff on the board!”
The fact that Kornelis organized the seating of the choirs by vocal type rather than height presented Koerner with another learning opportunity. “To me that was amazing!” she said.
Kornelis, along with his siblings, started taking piano lessons at a young age. He remembers missing Saturday morning cartoons because of these lessons. His family, along with his high school teachers, encouraged him to keep playing. In fact, his mom loved his playing so much that she asked him to perform for visiting company.
“I hated that,” said Kornelis.
Throughout his earlier teaching years, Kornelis taught in several different locations. Through those experiences, he realized that he loved the job. “It was confirmation that it was something I could do,” said Kornelis. He considered it good training experience.
In creating a repertoire for each vocal group, Kornelis said, “I aim for a lot of variety in choosing music.”
Kornelis believes Sioux Center offers many musical opportunities, many of which he made sure his children were involved in during their upbringing.
“He’s become a model for me in my growth as a music educator,” said Daniel Seaman, a music choral/instrumental education major. To him, Kornelis is more than just a music director; he is a mentor that he has grown to know through music events, concerts and the recent winter break Concert Choir tour. (As a humorous aside, Kornelis mentioned that the worst Concert Choir memory he has occurred on a return trip from one Chicago tour: Most everyone on the bus got sick.)
“He is always patient and more gracious with us than we often deserve,” said Seaman, who is also a work study in the music department. Seaman noted that Kornelis issues every reminder with a smile, and reveres Kornelis’ passion for music.
“Dr. K’s passion for music has encouraged me to continue to enjoy the music-making process, no matter how difficult the music is,” said Seaman. Even when Seaman has felt discouraged, or even now with a new director coming in, Kornelis continues to encourage Seaman in his music journey.
“We’re going to miss him a lot,” said Koerner.
Regarding Kornelis’ decision to pursue opportunity elsewhere, Koerner said, “I was really sad because I know he’s done a lot of great things here.” Though he will be missed, however, Koerner said she knows “he’s going to be very happy where he’s going.”
Dordt administration is in the process of searching for a new music director and said that none of the classes previously offered by Kornelis will be removed from the course list.
At the end of this semester, Kornelis and his wife Pat will move to Eagan, Minnesota, where he will begin a full-time church position that involves planning worship services and directing the church choir. He has friends in that area, as well as a son who lives in Minneapolis. Kornelis has missed living near the city, and he hopes that being closer to the city will present lots of music opportunities.
Even though he will soon be sharing his gifts elsewhere, Kornelis has left an impact that has helped Dordt students succeed, even those outside the music department. Kornelis said he will most miss his colleagues and Casey’s Bakery’s almond patties.