When Roger Hoel resigned last year after serving as director of the Apollo Male Chorus for 30 years, the choir’s board launched a global search to find the right person to revamp the 117-year-old organization, which had been struggling with declining membership.
In January, they found their man in Sean Vogt, an accomplished choral director and organist who has studied, performed and taught throughout the nation, as well as in Austria, Germany and the Netherlands. The recently married Omaha native holds a master’s degree in choral conducting and organ performance from Southern Methodist University and a doctorate in conducting from Michigan State University, where he served as assistant conductor of the MSU Chorale and sabbatical professor for the MSU Men’s Glee Club.
Vogt immediately launched a five-year plan designed to breathe fresh life into the chorus. He oversaw the development of a new website and a new logo for Apollo, with the ultimate goal of increasing membership from 50 to 200-250 by the end of five years.
“I don’t see any reason why we can’t find at least 100 guys from Minneapolis and 100 guys from St. Paul and the surrounding areas,” said Vogt. “Quality breeds quantity. I view it like a five-star restaurant, where you can’t just have a five-star chef and a five-star menu, absolutely everything has to be five-star. So we’re making sure our website is awesome, our logo is awesome, the product is just great, and people are excited to hear us.”
Vogt also reduced rehearsal time from five hours a week to just one hour on Monday nights in an attempt to appeal to a younger crowd that may not have five hours to spare during the workweek. He circulates a written agenda before every rehearsal to make sure the chorus is focused during the compressed schedule, and he e-mails everyone audio files with notes that can be used for additional practice. This allows the members to plan additional rehearsals during the week that can be done from home, either individually or in small groups.
“We’re making some massive changes, and I think everyone is starting to come around,” said Joel Quinnell, who serves on the board and has been a member of Apollo since 1991. “The biggest thing is the group’s relevance in this huge mecca of music in the Twin Cities. In its heyday we had as many as 140 members on stage, and we want to get back to that. We want to be a household name.”
The running time of Apollo’s spring concert has also been slashed, from the usual two hours with an intermission to an hour with no intermission. It will open at 7 p.m. Saturday with a half-hour of Vogt playing the organ at St. Bartholomew Catholic Church, 630 Wayzata Blvd. E., Wayzata, and transition into a program of eight songs to be sung by the chorus. Songs range from “standard war horses of the male repertoire” like Edvard Grieg’s “Brothers, Sing On!” to modern classics such as “Let it Be” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water” to lighter fare like “The Shortest Ballad in the World” and “A Drinking Song.”
“I like all of my programs, if possible, to have T.L.C., which is a tear, a laugh and a chill bump,” said Vogt.
Tickets for the spring concert are $15 and can be purchased at www.brownpaper tickets.com/event/345399.
The concert will kick off a busy year for Apollo. They will be playing the Lake Harriet Bandstand June 9 at 2 p.m. and are scheduled to sing the national anthem at the Twins game later in the summer. They also are tentatively booked at Carnegie Hall in January as the anchor chorus for a four-day festival, according to Quinnell.
“There’s been some growing pains since we gave [Vogt] the reins ... but the change has been almost 100 percent positive,” said Quinnell. “I think [Vogt] is a rising star in the industry, and we’re ecstatic to have him.”