A lone vehicle rumbles along a gravel road as it approaches a house in a valley. In the background, the lingering rays of a setting sun cast shadows on the slope of the hill. From the outside, the scene is calm, but inside the car, a young girl and her father sing a melodic tune.
“You are a big old flag; You are a high flying flag….
Claire Kruesel, undergraduate coordinator of the Department of Biochemistry, Biophysics, and Molecular Biology, has been singing in the Iowa State Cantamus Choir for 16 years.
Her earliest memory of singing is performing George M. Cohan’s “You’re a Grand Old Flag” in the car with her father.
Kruesel entered Iowa State in the fall of 2002 as a chemical engineering student and later transferred to biochemistry. She planned to focus on her STEM classes but found herself joining Cantamus before her first semester was over.
“Halfway through that first semester, I thought, ‘I’m losing my mind. I need to be in music because I’ve been singing all my life,” Kruesel said.
Kruesel has been singing since the age of 2. Although his father first introduced him to his love for singing, his musical upbringing was also influenced by a member of his church and the experiences gained during his time there.
“I didn’t realize until I became an adult that he had such high musical standards that he brought to our church,” Kruesel said.
Kruesel participated in his church’s bell choir and vocal choir and performed as Joseph in a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. She continued the choir throughout middle school and high school.
For Kruesel, the most exciting part of Cantamus is the community aspect of perfecting a shared performance to present to an audience.
“There’s nothing quite like being in a live concert,” Kruesel said. “To give your audience that gift of like, immediacy, shared meaning and transcendence. I know that sounds dramatic, but there’s nothing quite like it.
One of Kruesel’s favorite Cantamus performances was at the 2013 National American Choral Directors Association convention in Dallas, Texas. It was the first time an Iowa State choir had been invited to the convention.
“It was so exhilarating to thrill and delight an audience that cares as much about music as you do,” Kruesel said.
Kruesel also favored Cantamus’ performance of Ēriks Ešenvalds’ “Northern Lights” during an exchange with St. Olaf College in 2014.
The song asked singers to imitate the sound of the Northern Lights by rubbing their fingers against the rims of wine glasses filled with varying levels of water.
“It was so cool to feel the visuals in your body through sound,” Kruesel said.
Throughout his time at Cantamus, Kruesel saw many students joining and leaving the choir.
“Creating that intimacy with the people around you and then seeing them move on is hard,” Kruesel said. “But it’s kind of like a microdose of grief. Like learning to say goodbye to people.
Kruesel thinks his time in Cantamus is a healthy way to practice saying goodbye to those around him. She appreciates the ability of music to help people process their emotions and experiences.
This was especially true for Kruesel when she lost her fiancé, Rob Stupka after he was hit by a bus in 2005. Stupka was an undergrad biochemistry student at Iowa State.
“When I lost him, it gave me comfort to continue singing in the choir and to know that even though my life was falling apart in every other way and I missed him all the time, maybe ‘he was getting that music somehow,” Kruesel said. . After her choir class,
Stupka would meet Kruesel outside the music hall to bring him food he had brought out of the mess halls. Stupka did not sing in any of the choirs, but he always came to Kruesel concerts to support her.
“Music transcends generations and transcends death,” Kruesel said. “It’s used to celebrate, and it’s also used to mourn, and it allowed me to vent my emotions.”
Kruesel has 16 years of memories with Cantamus, but she has no plans to leave the choir anytime soon.
“[Joining Cantamus] was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,” Kruesel said. “The program here is so amazing, and it really balances my life.”