Singing Scholars: Edina's Colonial Church Offers Students More than College Tuition can Buy

Mark Stover Leads the Colonial Church Chorale in Music and a Mission

A rich harmony of voices leads Colonial Church in Edina through its traditional Sunday morning worship. But for the 80-plus members of the Colonial Chorale, the harmony of generations of singers making music together is even sweeter.

Not only are the members of the Colonial Church Chorale a tight-knit group of talented musicians, but they have also created a family dynamic that stretches far beyond the rehearsal room walls. This is most evident in the Colonial Scholars program. What began as a way for college students to participate in choir life in exchange for tuition support has resulted in an experience that has been so much more.

“When I started with the chorale, I was feeling this [sense of] family. It was changing me, making me a better person and a better contributor to the life of church,” says Mark Stover, minister of worship music and arts at Colonial Church. “Even though I was their leader, I was feeling led into God’s presence by them. And I wanted to see how we could do this for the next generation of leaders in the church.”

So Stover began the Chorale Scholars program in 2010. It’s a partnership with University of Northwestern–St. Paul and St. Olaf College in Northfield, which invites music majors to participate in regular choir rehearsals and Sunday worship at Colonial Church and in return, receive tuition support.

“[The program] turned into something beyond what I could have ever imagined,” says Stover. “It’s as if these students just acquired a massive set of new moms, dads, aunts, uncles, grandmas and grandpas.”

Chorale Scholars currently supports five students. Soprano Elysa Bond and alto Katherine Jardon are from St. Olaf College. Soprano Maggie Benham, tenor Eric VanBruggen, and bass David Reeves, hail from the University of Northwestern–St. Paul. Each student auditioned for the program, and as long as they meet requirements, they receive a $1,800 tuition stipend for their participation.

“It’s been really amazing, just the sense of community,” says Van Bruggen. “They really care what is going on in our lives.”

The chorale meets every Wednesday for rehearsal, and some of the students drive as many as 80 miles round-trip to participate. While the choir perfects their repertoire, rehearsal time is also an opportunity to check in and share prayer requests.

“I’ve felt really able to be pretty vulnerable with them, and share some quite heavy things that have been going on in my life,” VanBruggen says.

“To know that these people are not just going to listen to them, but actively pray for them and support them—it’s truly been a transformative process for both the students and our chorale members,” Stover says.

Chorale members have committed to being part of the students’ lives by attending concerts, recitals and graduations And some students who have since graduated choose to stay on as a part of the choir.

“It’s a testament to the people of the Colonial Chorale, who make it a one-of-a-kind experience and pour their heart and soul into these kids. It’s really special,” Stover says.

Sometimes those connections become even more permanent. After graduation, VanBruggen will celebrate his marriage to fellow choir member Charlotte Sarappo. Their wedding will take place at Colonial Church, and Mark Stover will officiate. And they’ve invited the entire choir to attend.