4th Avenue Jazz: An enchanting ensemble

Lexi Schnaser —Staff Writer

Photo Credit: Dordt University Marketing and Communication Department

On a busy Friday afternoon, thanks to a crowd of family, friends, and alumni visiting for Defender Days, 4th Avenue Jazz vocalists kicked off their first concert of the semester with a bright arrangement of Cole Porter’s “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To.” The vocalists all appeared excited, relaxed, and ready to perform their lively repertoire for the audience spread throughout the BJ Haan. 

“I thought that Friday’s concert was a lot of fun,” sophomore Annika Rynders, who plays alto saxophone for 4th Avenue Jazz Band, said. “I think the crowd was engaged and excited about what we were doing.” 

4th Avenue Jazz is a unique feature of Dordt University’s music department. The group is composed of two ensembles: 4th Avenue Band and 4th Avenue Singers. The band is directed by Kevin Linder and consists of 15 to 20 students who perform various jazz pieces. Friday’s repertoire ranged in styles from Victor López’s “Mambo Hot” to Frank Meacham’s “American Patrol.”

The second group that shapes 4th Avenue is the vocalists. Made up of 16 students from the Chorale and Concert Choir, the 4th Avenue singers are a primarily acapella group directed by Ryan Smit. 

“It’s very different than any other ensemble on campus,” Liz Frisbee, a soprano for the 4th Ave. Singers, said. “I like that we can move around, be more expressive, have a good time and not worry about having to stand perfectly still and straight and look at the director.”

Each 4th Avenue Jazz concert contains three parts: the singers’ performance, the band’s performance, and a combination performance where the band and vocalists come together to perform. 

Photo Credit: Dordt University Marketing and Communication Department

“It’s harder than you would think, because there’s a lot of counting involved and having to pay attention to what the other ensemble was doing,” Frisbee said. 

The combination of instrumentalists and vocalists is “something that’s really unique to Dordt, I think, getting to rehearse with a group of singers and practice in a setting like that,” Rynders said. “That’s something I look forward to every time.” 

Jazz music comes from many cultures, from the Latin American Mambo to pieces written during the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. Performing music that reflects different cultures creates a fun and meaningful atmosphere for the musicians. 

“Jazz has a very powerful message if you know what they’re talking about,” Rynders said. “I love being able to share that with other people.” 

Dordt musicians, whether in ensembles or personal studies, focus much of their time on classical music. 4th Avenue allows these musicians to learn and share a different type of music they may not otherwise. 

“The ensemble is very good at supporting one another and encouraging each other to use the unique gifts that we have,” Frisbee said. “This is a style of music that isn’t performed a lot at Dordt, so 4th Avenue gives ensemble members an opportunity to improvise or do something that is outside of their comfort zone.” 

As a saxophone performance major, Rynders loves the diversity of music she can perform with her instrument, particularly jazz. 

“In high school I was very involved in jazz, so I knew coming to Dordt that one of my favorite things on campus was going to be jazz,” Rynders said. “[4th Ave.] is a great way to expand my repertoire. In the future, I could go and play with a jazz group somewhere or even start my own.”

A fun style of music for both player and listener, jazz creates bridges across cultures and communities and allows for expression of joy and worship in a unique way. 

“Because it was originally created by breaking the rules and going against the norm, jazz is truly a way you can express yourself,” Rynders said.

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