Echoes of patriotism christen grain bin

The Gibault Catholic High School Hawkappellas took advantage of some marvelous acoustics last week when they sang in an empty grain bin in Hecker. Pictured, from left, are Gibault Music Director Scott Ruppel, Grace Floerke, Hannah Janson, Sophie Spurgeon, Elayna Hermanns, Katie Grawitch, Maliyah Phillips, Sarah Rose and Isabella Garcia. (James “Tal” Moss photo)

More than 467,000 people have viewed a video of The Bethel College Choir singing in an empty grain bin on YouTube. 

Among those viewers was a Gibault Catholic High School student whose parents own  Hecker Feed Services. 

She showed the video to her parents, who thought Gibault’s a cappella group, the Hawkappellas, should recreate the video in a new grain bin that had been put up at the family business. 

So, Gibault parent Christine Lohrberg asked fellow Gibault parent James Southworth to make it happen.

“I sent the video to (principal) Russ Hart and talked to him that morning,” Southworth recounted. “He got it to (music director) Scott Ruppel, and my daughter said she heard it in three or four classrooms walking around school that morning. It went like wildfire through Gibault that they were going to do this. The other staff members were excited about it as well.”

Ruppel was among those excited staff members.

“I thought it was so cool and such a neat idea because of the acoustics in those grain bins,” he said. “You sing a note or you hit a note and it just echoes forever and ever and ever.”

Ruppel immediately knew his students would sing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” When he brought the idea to the Hawkappellas, they were shocked. 

“I was like, ‘What is Mr. Ruppel on?’” senior Sophie Spurgeon said with a laugh. “Those are just the two most random things you could do. I didn’t understand how that happened.”

“After Mr. Ruppel mentioned the words singing and grain bin together, I thought this was the epitome of southern Illinois,” senior Grace Floerke also joked. “I was also excited about it.” 

Other students emphasized the novelty of the idea.

“For me it was very unexpected,” senior Sarah Rose said. “I never considered that type of activity before, but I thought it would be very cool.”

“I thought it sounded like a really fun idea,” senior Isabella Garcia agreed. “I’d never seen somebody do that before, so I just thought it was different.”

As the Hawkappellas prepared their voices, Southworth planned the logistics of the performance. He had only a few days in which the students could sing because the new grain bin had just finished being constructed and would soon be needed for this season’s harvest.

Part of Southworth’s planning also included getting local videographer Curt Simshauser to film the performance, which included several takes, to create a professional video.

“We had to get somebody in there with decent microphones to record it,” Southworth said. “It’s a big echo chamber and it sounds majestic when you get those folks in there.”

Once those plans were laid, the Hawkapellas went to the grain bin last Tuesday to sing. 

They were all surprised by the size of the structure when they went into the empty grain bin. 

“It was even bigger than I imagined,” Ruppel said. “I grew up in Southern Illinois and I’m pretty familiar with farms, but I’ve never been inside a grain bin. When you’re inside an empty grain bin and look around you, it’s unbelievable how wide it is and how tall it is. I just felt so small in there.”

The voices of the Hawkappellas did not feel small, as they reverberated across the metal surfaces.

“When we were in there singing, Mr. Ruppel said we were going to have to wait a few seconds for the echoes,” Garcia noted. “I didn’t realize how long those few seconds felt and how you could hear those harmonies come together and just surround you. I thought it was so beautiful.” 

“It sounded so cool,” Floerke added. “I just wanted to stand in there the rest of the day and keep on singing. I didn’t want to go back to school.”

“It sounded almost magical,” Rose summarized. “The singing, and even talking, sounded amazing in there.”

Ruppel said the acoustics exceeded his expectations, which he thought would make the performance more memorable for his students.

“As you grow up, there’s going to be moments that impact you, that you remember,” Ruppel said. “And I really hope that’s going to be one of those moments for those girls, of standing in that grain bin and hearing their voices echo through that enormous chamber and the aesthetic feeling they got from that. I hope it’s a lifelong memory we created for them that day.”

Spurgeon spoke for the group about the impact of that performance. 

“It was an interesting experience,” she said. “I’ll never forget about it.”

Simshauser’s complete video will be released sometime this month. 

To watch a video of the performance, which currently has more than 26,000 views, visit the Republic-Times Facebook page. 

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