With the steely resolve of a drill sergeant, the discipline of an Olympic athlete, the caring of a father, and the vision of an artist, Adam Pulver directs the McKendree University Show Choir.
“My students are my everything,” said Pulver, who is now in his fifth year leading the group. “I’m very strict, but it’s out of love. I want everyone to feel like they have a home here.”
Pulver, of O’Fallon, not only directs, but writes the show, and recruits performers.
“I’m a totally ‘type-A’ personality,” he said.
The current roster features 65 students, which includes singers, dancers and musicians. They practice three days a week.
“There is no off season in show choir,” Pulver said.
They utilize vocals, choreography, staging, costuming and production simultaneously to create a beautiful work of art, taking favorite aspects of performing arts and molding it into one cohesive and powerful show. The performances include solos, duets, trios and group numbers.
“It’s the highest form of entertainment imaginable,” he said.
Some previous show themes were “Marilyn Monroe,” “Carmen Sandiego,” and “Time.”
“Time — why are we afraid of time, or we ignore it? Time heals everything, and every moment lost is one we don’t get back. I wanted to do something fun, and cute and clever. It was about living in the moment and how real time is,” said Pulver, who is currently putting together a new holiday show at the request of the university president, who wanted a Christmas spectacular.
Building a program
While working on his master’s degree at Georgia Southern University, Pulver found out about the job at McKendree through an online search. He wasn’t finished with school the first time he saw the ad. But a year later, he was. He believes it was fate that the position was tweaked and re-posted.
“It wasn’t the same name, but it was the same job. I was so excited. I immediately contacted HR,” he said.
When he arrived for an interview in fall 2013, he felt right at home.
“I fell in love with the campus. I had just the best time,” he said.
And the school liked him. He had the skills, experience and a business background, too.
“Less than three weeks later, I started,” he said. “The business component is absolutely important to running the choir.”
The energetic Pulver built the program from scratch, with the full support of the administration, which was happy to offer a quality performing arts option.
“McKendree has been so supportive of the program, and we continue to grow,” he said.
A love of music
Growing up in San Diego, Pulver became involved in choir during middle school.
“My mom loved the arts,” he said.
When he was in seventh grade, his mother died after battling cancer. She never saw him perform.
“I just couldn’t leave music. I learned wonderful life lessons. I come from a beautiful family, and I learned to make tomorrow more beautiful for others, always be kind, do the right thing, and life means more when you believe in love,” he said. “I want to give that to my students when I teach.”
A different type of show
With cultural phenomenon that was “Glee” — a TV show that ran from 2009 to 2015 about a glee club at an Ohio high school — popularity of show choirs across the country has grown exponentially, Pulver said.
But the McKendree choir doesn’t copy that format, he said.
Pulver’s shows feature a variety of music — pop, R&B, gospel, jazz and show tunes.
“We support different genres. We don’t put limits on them,” he said. “We find strength in not focusing on musical theater or ‘Glee’-esque songs, but instead of songs from all different genres — from gospel to Broadway, proving our strength and versatility,” he said.
The song selection must fit perfectly.
“I draw inspiration from emotions and feelings. We want to transport an audience. We need intensity and energy. Can it be sung and danced to?” he said.
A family atmosphere
Pulver doesn’t recruit a specific number of students, but wants to include as many kids as possible.
“We’re in a business of ‘no’s’ — I want to be giving as much ‘yeses’ as possible,” he said.
He considers group members to be goodwill ambassadors for the college every time they perform. He seeks not only talent in his performers, but looks for passion, heart and drive as well.
“I look for that sparkle in the eye,” he said. “We’ve got some ugly going on in the world right now. My students are very perceptive about what’s going on, and they want to make the world a better place.”
Pulling off their elaborate performances requires a team effort. Pulver depends on the band for live music and choreographers for the dance moves. Robert Allen is the music arranger. Demetries Morrow and Maxwell Deijo are the choreographers, and Angie Morgan and Jermaine Manor are the vocal coaches.
“I couldn’t do this without the support staff. We need our tech students. We need many people. No way can I sew 40 dresses in a year,” he said.
The choir also leans on student leadership, such as dance and vocal captains. Other students help with marketing, while others ensure everyone in the group is communicating and connected, students called “family relations captains.”
Besides arduous rehearsals, working together means learning how to collaborate.
“The real magic comes when they learn what it’s like to be a team,” he said.
The choir usually takes a summer trip, which helps them bond.
“I tell them to put their phones away,” he said. “They spend time talking with each other.”
That’s important, Pulver said, because the relationships the students make will remain long after the curtain is pulled on their final show.
“Show choir is just the vehicle to make memories and friendships, and learn life lessons. One person can change your whole life,” Pulver said.
Q: Do you have words to live by?
A: Always be kind to others and do all things out of love.
Q: Whom do you most admire?
A: My empowering students and my wonderful parents.
Q: If you could spend time with a famous person, past or present, whom would it be?
A: If we consider famous, in regards to the public eye, I would love to spend time chatting with our past president, Barack Obama.
Q: What is the last book that you read?
A: Oh, goodness! The last book I read/haven’t finished yet is “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and the last book I actually finished was “Wicked.”
Q: What do you do for fun and relaxation?
A: I lounge around with my best friend and confidante, Little Girl, my awesome dog.
Q: What is the usual state of your desktop?
A: Clean, no clutter, extremely organized, and modern.
Q: What did you want to do career wise when you were growing up?
A: Perform among the stars.
Q: What do you think is your most outstanding characteristic?
A: My sense of humor!
Q: What irritates you most?
A: Mean, disrespectful, unappreciative, and unkind people.
Q: What type of music do you listen to?
A: Classical piano while at work and anything with a hot dance beat to get my wheels turning when I am attempting to get my creativity piqued.
Q: What do you like most about your job?
A: Watching my students grow and reaching their next potential.
Q: If you were independently wealthy, what would you be doing?
A: Creating my own business and working to collaborate with others on a grander scale.
Q: When they make a movie of your life, who would play you?
A: Oh goodness, I have no clue. But the more important question is: Who will play my dog? She is far more special.
Q: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what would you have with you?
A: A genie in a magic lamp, because those that know me, know that I probably wouldn’t survive alone. Let’s hope Disney is right about Aladdin’s story.
McKendree Show Choir upcoming performances
Nov. 18: Victorian Holiday in downtown Lebanon
Dec. 1: Christmas Spectacular at The Hett Center for the Arts at McKendree
Dec. 9: Scott Air Force Base Masquerade Ball at the Regency Conference Center in O’Fallon
For more information, visit mckendree.edu/showchoir