By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – John Petzet knew he had big shoes to fill.
The University of Nebraska at Kearney’s new director of choral activities was replacing David Bauer, a highly respected vocal music instructor who held the position for 35 years before retiring last May.
Petzet, a Tulsa, Oklahoma, native with 18 years of experience at the postsecondary level, was up for the challenge. UNK’s vocal music program hasn’t missed a beat since he took over in August.
“There are a lot of opportunities here that weren’t available at my last position,” said Petzet, who served as director of choral activities and head of vocal music education at Louisiana Tech University from 2013-19.
For the first time in his career, Petzet is conducting four collegiate choirs – the Women’s Chorus, Men’s Choir, Collegium and Choraleers – a responsibility he calls both challenging and fun.
He credits his colleagues in the department of music, theatre and dance, as well as the hardworking students, for making the transition as smooth as possible.
“I’ve been well supported by everyone in the department,” Petzet said. “They’re just as helpful as can be.”
The assistant professor of music is also impressed with the local performance venues, both on campus and across the Kearney community.
In October, UNK hosted its annual choral symposium, an event that included the Choraleers and more than 200 high school singers from Kearney, Cozad and Lexington. The students worked with guest clinician Vijay Singh, a professor of music and choral/jazz director at Central Washington University, before performing a public concert at Kearney High School.
Petzet praised Kearney High director of choral activities Clayton Moyer, a UNK graduate, and the school’s state-of-the-art concert hall.
“I can’t say enough about Clayton Moyer,” Petzet said. “He is professional. He is excellent at what he does. When I go over there to work with the choir, I’m always very impressed.”
One of Petzet’s goals is to find more opportunities for UNK students to showcase their talent off campus and collaborate with other performers.
In December, the Choraleers shared the stage with gospel music legend Sandi Patty when her holiday tour stopped in Kearney. UNK students sang backup vocals on two songs during the five-time Grammy Award winner’s concert at the Merryman Performing Arts Center, allowing them to experience contemporary Christian music.
“We only sang two pieces, but it was a blast to do something completely different than what we typically do,” Petzet said.
In addition to performing with the Gospel Music Hall of Famer, UNK students were able to ask Patty questions about the music business and life as a full-time performer.
All four UNK choirs will be represented at the Merryman Performing Arts Center on April 28, when members perform two pieces with the Kearney Symphony Orchestra.
“The more opportunities and musical experiences I can give our students, the better prepared they’ll be,” Petzet said.
Petzet, who teaches secondary choral methods and advanced choral conducting, also has his sights set on recruiting.
He’s visited a dozen Nebraska high schools over the past seven months as part of his plan to grow UNK’s vocal music program. On top of that, more than 120 students from six high schools attended UNK Choral Day in October and more than 750 performers from 101 high schools were on campus in January for UNK’s annual Honor Band and Choral Clinic.
“It’s all about recruiting,” Petzet said. “We’re not going to have singers if people don’t know we exist.”
Petzet wants to “let other universities know they have competition” by getting UNK’s name out there as much as possible. This includes auditioning for events with a statewide audience, such as the Nebraska Choral Directors Association and Nebraska Music Education Association annual conferences.
“We need to become more visible in the state,” said Petzet, whose choirs performed at the Louisiana Music Educators Association conference in 2014 and Louisiana American Choral Directors Association conference in 2016 and 2018.
UNK’s Collegium and Choraleers have been selected to perform at the Nebraska Choral Directors Association and Nebraska Music Education Association state conferences numerous times throughout the years, most recently in 2015.
Eventually, Petzet would like to see the Lopers represented at the American Choral Directors Association regional conference.
“We have some growth that needs to occur,” he said. “It’s going to take a few years to get there, but I’m willing to put in the work.”
Petzet, who holds a Master of Music in choral conducting from the University of Kansas and Doctor of Musical Arts in choral conducting from Texas Tech University, also plans to continue the international trips UNK choirs took under Bauer’s leadership.
The 45-year-old lives in Kearney with his wife, Jennifer, and their three children, Zachary, Andrew and Catherine.
Position: Director of choral activities; assistant professor of music
Education: Bachelor of Music Education, University of Tulsa, 1997; Master of Music, choral conducting, University of Kansas, 2004; Doctor of Musical Arts, choral conducting, Texas Tech University, 2007.
Career: Director of vocal and instrumental music, Clinton Middle School (Tulsa, Oklahoma), 1997-2000; Director of vocal and instrumental music, Bishop Kelley High School (Tulsa), 2000-02; Graduate teaching assistant, University of Kansas, 2002-04; Graduate teaching assistant, Texas Tech University, 2004-06; Director of choral activities, Lincoln University, 2006-07; Director of choral activities, University of Texas at Tyler, 2007-08; Director of choirs/instructor of voice, Panola College, 2008-11; Associate director of choral studies, Louisiana State University, 2011-13; Director of choral activities/head of vocal music education, Louisiana Tech University, 2013-19.
Professional memberships: American Choral Directors Association, College Music Society, Louisiana American Choral Directors Association, National Collegiate Choral Organization, National Association of Teachers of Singing.