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Academics / Departments & Programs / Music / Ensembles / Capella

Capella is a mixed concert choir (SATB) that performs diverse choral literature from all historical eras. Capella performs concerts each semester, collaborates with area orchestras, and tours internationally. Membership is maintained a set limit, but is open to all students who meet the demands of vocal technique, sightreading, and musicianship.

Rehearsal information: Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, 4:00-5:10pm


Pearl Shangkuan's staff picture
Pearl Shangkuan

Professor; Director of Choral Activities
(Capella, Women’s Chorale)

Full profile

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  • History

    Capella was founded by Professor Seymour Swets in 1935, twelve years after he formed the Men’s and Women’s Glee Clubs, which provided the opportunity for Calvin students to sing and tour various local churches of the Christian Reformed denomination. This combined choir became first known as the A Cappella Choir and began touring in 1937. In 1942, a 54 person choir toured the East Coast and met such dignitaries as Mayor LaGuardia and Governor Lehman of New York. In 1957, Professor Swets led the choir at the International Amphitheatre of Chicago during the centennial of the Christian Reformed Church. During the choir’s twenty-fifth anniversary, the choir performed Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the Grand Rapids Symphony.

    Dr. Howard Slenk became Capella’s second conductor in 1967. During his 13-year tenure, the choir became known as the Capella, based on the pattern of the German Kapella, which meant that the choir sang literature that called for accompaniment by various instruments. In avoiding the redundancy of the Capella Choir, the proper reference became, simply, Capella.

    Capella performed choral literature from every historical era. The choir became known as one of the leading choirs among the Christian liberal arts institutions in the United States. Dr. Slenk brought the choir to England in 1975. While there, Capella was asked to sing Evensong at Westminster Abbey, and subsequently invited to be the Resident Summer Choir. During this tour, Capella worked with Sir David Willcocks and sang for Herbert Howells in a private session.

    Professor Merle Mustert succeeded Dr. Slenk as Capella’s third conductor in 1981. During his tenure, Capella continued touring the United States and Europe. Upon invitation of the Hungarian Reformed Churches, Capella visited communist Hungary in 1988. Elsewhere, the choir performed in England at Clare College in Cambridge, the Cathedral of Canterbury, Westminster Abbey, and St. Paul’s Church in London. Professor Mustert led the choir at regional conventions of the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) in 1987 and 1995 at Ann Arbor and Cincinnati. In 1996, the choir toured California and Arizona and made a guest appearance in Garden Grove for the Hour of Power telecast. In 2000, the choir presented a concert for the American Choral Directors Association at the Regional Convention of the Central Division. In 2001, the choir performed in Boston’s Church of the Advent and at the Church of Heavenly Rest in New York City. Professor Mustert arranged for Capella to work with several choral luminaries such as Sir David Willcocks, John Rutter, John Alldis, Jester Hairston, and Alice Parker.

    Dr. Joel Navarro was appointed Capella’s fourth full-time conductor in 2002 upon Professor Mustert’s retirement. Bringing his extensive background in European choral competitions and festivals, Dr. Navarro sought to introduce multilingual and multicultural repertoire from across Europe, Africa, South America, and Asia to reinforce the choir’s solid hold in challenging and thoughtful repertoire across the ages. Under his leadership, the choir performed in the state conventions of the Michigan ACDA in 2004 and 2007; workshopped with Masako Suzuki of the Bach Collegium of Japan; and performed with Karl Hochreither of Berliner Kirchenmusikschule, Dr. Joseph Flummerfelt of Westminster Choir College, and Maestro Scott Speck of the West Shore Symphony. The choir toured in December of 2004 to sing for the Christmas Festival of Lights in Gouda and several other churches in The Netherlands and Germany. In the spring of 2006, Capella gave a series of acclaimed performances in Chicago, Milwaukee, and Minneapolis. In the summer of 2008, Capella toured the Netherlands, Belgium, and France and won two third prizes at the Florilege Vocal de Tours international choral competition.

    Since the fall of 2014, Capella has been conducted by Dr. Pearl Shangkuan, professor of music at Calvin and a highly sought after conductor and presenter nationally and internationally.

    Among those who directed Capella during the sabbaticals of its full-time conductors were Trena Haan (1971), vocal pedagogue and therapist; Robert Talsma, erstwhile conductor of the King’s Choraliers; and Anton Armstrong (1980), now conductor of the St. Olaf College Choir.

    Capella’s discography lists significant recordings in LPs, cassettes, and CDs under the three previous full-time conductors which have merited a devoted following. The two-disc “2002 Spring Tour and the Music of Handel and Duruflè” was Professor Mustert’s valedictory CD. The choir’s fifth CD, “Jubilate!,” under the direction of Dr. Navarro, was released in the fall of 2006.

    Capella is committed to engaging the broad choral spectrum of every age and nation by valuing the music of our forebears, premiering new music, communicating transformative texts, and cherishing the global diversity and expression of Christian music and faith.

  • Auditions

    Live auditions are typically held at the beginning of each academic year, but it is possible for students to join at the start of the spring semester.  

    Those interested in joining Campus Choir, Capella, Oratorio Chorus, or Women’s Chorale should contact Dr. Pearl Shangkuan ( to schedule an audition time. The audition will consist of: 

    Please bring two copies of the hymn along to your audition (one for you and one for the professor). Please arrive early so you can complete a written audition form prior to your audition.

  • Tours

    Please visit our Ensemble Tours webpage for upcoming ensemble tours.

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