In 1932 College of Puget Sound’s John Paul Bennett founded the Adelphian Choral Society, named from the Greek adelphos, meaning “brother.” As early as 1895 the college had sponsored choral ensembles, but the Adelphians were different. Bennett instilled in choir members a belief in community through singing, and under his direction, the Adelphians flourished and quickly developed a reputation for excellence. At Bennett’s insistence the choir began to tour the Northwest, and the tradition of the Adelphian Concert Tour was born. In 11 seasons under John Paul Bennett, Adelphians performed more than 500 concerts around the region. By 1942 the Adelphian Choral Society was established as one of the leading collegiate choirs in the Northwest.
As the country entered the war years, the increased difficulty in staffing and funding the choir led to a period of struggle. The school’s orchestra conductor, Eric Koker, kept the choir going from 1943 to 1946, after which the college appointed Clyde “Butch” Keutzer as head of the music department and the Adelphians’ new conductor. Keutzer brought a new energy and professionalism to the group. Under his leadership the Adelphians became a virtuoso ensemble whose repertoire embraced a wider range of art and concert music. It was at this time that the name of the ensemble changed to Adelphian Concert Choir, reflecting its new focus. Keutzer built on the foundation of his predecessors and revived and expanded the choir tour tradition, which had languished during World War II. Tours reached up to nine states and even included a performance at Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City. During Keutzer’s tenure the choir became known for its tradition of singing Handel’s Messiah each December.
Bruce Rodgers led the Adelphians from 1952 to 1983. He crafted a yearly experience for his students that culminated in a meticulously prepared program of repertoire for tour and home concerts. Uncompromising in his standards, “Rodge” introduced a new level of artistry to the ensemble, expecting total dedication from the choir. A New York debut at Town Hall, tours throughout the Western United States, and international tours to eastern Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, and continental Europe, gave the Adelphians an even wider reach. Rodgers also created Madrigal Singers, a small ensemble of select Adelphians. Madrigal Singers’ popular Christmas concerts became a Tacoma tradition. Tickets often sold out within hours. After a remarkable tenure as director of the Adelphians and of the School of Music, Rodgers retired in 1982, leaving the Adelphian Concert Choir established as one of the premiere choral ensembles in the West.
Paul W. Schultz became the Adelphians’ fourth conductor in 1982. Schultz carried forward his predecessors’ legacy, increasing both the breadth of the ensemble’s repertoire and the scope of its performance season. Additional concerts throughout the academic year were added to complement spring tour repertoire; new music and non-Western repertoire was regularly performed; and an annual fall retreat emphasized both choral excellence and relationship-building between ensemble and conductor. Under Schultz’s leadership the Adelphians appeared at regional and national American Choral Directors Association conventions. In 1992 the choir celebrated its 60th anniversary with both Schultz and Rodgers leading a joint concert, with a host of alumni singing the finale at Tacoma’s historic First Methodist Church, where the choir had often performed since its earliest days. The success of this milestone would be bittersweet. Shortly after the anniversary concert, Rodgers passed away suddenly, shocking the Adelphian community.
In 1999 Jerry Yonkman succeeded Paul Schultz as conductor of the Adelphians. By this time the choir was well established within the Northwest, and enjoyed a reputation for a superior level of artistry, as well as for innovative concert programming. Under Yonkman’s direction Madrigal Singers became a yearlong ensemble under a new name, Voci d’Amici. Yonkman continued the tradition of innovative programming and established a practice of performing many of the great choral masterworks, including Mozart’s Requiem, Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, and Bach’s Mass in B Minor. The choir celebrated its 75th Diamond Jubilee in Yonkman’s final year with a performance in the School of Music’s Schneebeck Concert Hall. As for anniversaries past, Adelphian alumni from many generations shared the stage.
In fall 2008 the Adelphian Concert Choir came under the direction of Steven Zopfi, director of choral activities for the School of Music at Puget Sound. Zopfi served previously as interim conductor of the choir during the 2001–02 season, and served on the Puget Sound choral faculty as a visiting professor until 2004. Under his direction the Adelphians have resumed their annual tradition of touring and have broadened the focus of their popular holiday program to include poetry, readings, and music of many different cultures.