Red Shirts

Katie Knecht
Published in the Talisman 2012
Western Kentucky University's annual yearbook


     “Make waaaay!” Jameson Price, a Glasgow, Ky., senior, sang in his deep voice as he and another member of RedShirts carried a keyboard into classroom 300 of the Fine Arts Center at WKU.

     John Logan, a Princeton, Ky., senior, sat at the keyboard and played a few warm-up notes as members of Western Kentucky University’s all-male a capella group, the RedShirts, shuffled chairs and papers, all while singing—and sometimes harmonizing—instructions and jokes at each other.

     The members reviewed what each RedShirts applicant would be rated on—solo, pitch retention, blend, range and personality—and individual auditions began.

     “You’ve got to have a ready and willing personality,” said Price, a member of the group since his freshman year. “You have to be vocally talented and have a passion for music and performing.”

From the piano, Logan tested students’ vocal abilities and applicants sang solos including “And So It Goes” by Billy Joel and “Since U Been Gone” by Kelly Clarkson.

After two days of auditions totaling about five hours, the RedShirts debated and discussed who their newest members would be, showcasing their more serious side, Price said.

“We get serious when we’re rehearsing before a big concert and with auditions,” Price said. “We debated over one guy for an hour.”

Three new men were invited to join RedShirts for the fall 2011 term, bringing the group’s membership to 13 students.

After his first rehearsal, new member Will Linder, a freshman from Louisville, Ky., was overwhelmed. He received the music for 10 new songs, including “My Old Kentucky Home,” “Brown Eyed Girl,” and “Kiss From a Rose,” and Linder had to be prepared for a show only four days later.

“I’m sure I’ll pick it up,” he said.

Linder said he felt reassured by the group’s ability to focus in practice.

“There’s a lot of joking around, but we really get a lot done,” he said.

The RedShirts are often asked to perform for Bowling Green and campus events, such as the WKU College of Health and Human Service’s 100-Year Anniversary, the Voices in Harmony annual voice competition, and Lights Up Downtown. The group is paid for some gigs they do, and the funds go toward various purchases, such as the red shirt members are required to sport at each performance.

The a capella group is led by students and advised by Dr. Paul Hondorp, Associate Professor of Music. Hondorp founded the RedShirts in 2004 in hopes of starting an a capella tradition on campus, but he said the group has grown beyond WKU.

“They’ve developed a name for themselves in the community,” he said.

Hondorp said the group’s independence brings the leaders to the front.

“They’re forced to become leaders by necessity, both musically and administratively,” he said.

 Logan is the student music director and works to keep the focus on music during rehearsals. Price said he views the students as a group of peers working together.

“We all participate and music is always up for interpretation,” he said.

Hondorp said he advises the group financially and listens in on their rehearsals before a big performance, but the nature of the group is that it is never directed.

“The success they’ve had is because of their own efforts,” he said. “Between choosing repertoire, performing, practicing and marketing, I want them to be doing this on their own.”

     There are no major or minor requirements to become a RedShirt, which resulting in a collection of WKU students interested in diverse subjects. According to the RedShirts website, the students study political science, journalism, engineering, mathematics, sociology and music, among other disciplines.

     Ben Hussung, another new member and a sophomore from Bowling Green, is majoring in religious studies and French and plans to become a pastor.

     “I’ve been around music my whole life,” he said. “My mom is a music teacher, my dad loves music, and my two older brothers have both been music ministers.”

     Hussung said he didn’t feel that the music ministry was his calling, but he wanted to remain involved in the art.

     Linder is a triple major in music, cultural anthropology and agriculture.

     “I’ve been around music since the first time I went to church when I was two days old,” he said. “It’s such a stress reliever—not the work that goes into it, but investing yourself in the performance.”

     Linder said he is passionate about music, but his ultimate goal is to study agricultural techniques in South America.

     The RedShirts rehearse for two hours twice a week, a commitment that can be difficult to honor as the semester goes on.

     “Around Christmastime, we’re performing every day,” Price said.

     Linder said he was excited to perform for more events.

“I don’t know what the heck I’ve gotten myself into,” he said. “But I can see myself doing it for the next four years.”

Price said the group runs in a professional manner, complete with business cards and a bank account.

“It’s a challenge, but it’s fun,” he said. “It’s firsthand experience in what it takes to perform and run your own business.”

As a self-governed group, the RedShirts have to remain focused on their purpose—to create the best performances possible for themselves and the audience.

“It’s a fun group of guys,” Hussung said. “It’s really relaxed, but everyone is disciplined and knows enough about music to know what’s important.”

Price views the group as an energy release.

“It’s an outlet for performing,” he said. “Not as our instructor would have us, but how we decide.”