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Reunion Vocal Band to play EMU

A diverse group of musicians came together for the first time 20 years ago because James R. (Jim) Krabill, an Eastern Mennonite University alumnus, had an irrepressible urge to “do music.”

Krabill had just returned stateside after 14 years of mission work with wife Jeanette Neff Krabill, a 1973 EMU alumna, in Europe and West Africa. Today, Krabill is senior executive of global ministries with Mennonite Mission Network, Elkhart, Ind.

In high school, Krabill was a member of “Sons of Jubal,” a folk-flavored group that released an album in 1969 of songs largely written by Mennonite young people and published in “With” magazine.

While at EMU, he was vocalist, guitarist and wrote material for the highly-acclaimed folk-rock group, “Rebirth.” They went on two national tours and made several recordings.

In consultation with other former “Rebirth” members, Krabill drew up a list of about 40 musicians from across North America and contacted them. Eighteen showed up one weekend in September 1989 in Harrisonburg to get acquainted, share their personal and musical journeys, play spontaneously in small groups and engage in a lengthy jam session.

At a second meeting in Harrisonburg on Jan. 25-27, 1991, participants began plans for a recording and narrowed a list to 14 songs – no small task, given the range of musical tastes and backgrounds represented. The weekend included an intense session on what to call the formative group. From a list of some 150 possibilities came “Reunion Vocal Band.”

For the next 18 years, band members reassembled annually, usually at Laurelville Mennonite Church Center, Mount Pleasant, Pa., to reminisce, share personal updates and make some incredible music together.

Reunion Vocal Band has recorded two albums, “Hunger for Beauty,” in 1991, and “What We Have Tasted,” in the mid-1990s. Group members wrote much of the material.

EMU’s 2009 homecoming program this fall will include a Reunion Vocal Band concert. It will be the largest gathering, some 18 members – 14 from the original group – since the musicians’ first meeting in 1989.

In addition to Krabill, EMU alumni expected to play at the homecoming reunion concert are: Ken Brunk ’74, Harrisonburg; Dean Clemmer ’72, Lancaster, Pa.; Rob Eby ’71, Scottdale, Pa.; Mark Hartman ’78), Shippensburg, Pa.; Don Kulp ’75, Salunga, Pa.; Jerry Lehman ’76, Akron, Pa.; Dennis Maust ’75, Lititz, Pa; Robert Maust ’72, Keezletown, Va.; and Elaine Warfel Stauffer, Hinton, Va.

Other members will include Doug Jones, Evanston, Ill.; Jim and Janalee Croegaert, Evanston, Ill.; Steve and Cheryl Zehr Walker, Ephrata, Pa.; Michael Reece, New Holland, Pa.; Michael Bade, Seattle, Wash.; and John Wiebe, New Hamburg, Ont.

“We’re really not together enough to be a polished group, Krabill notes. “Members are spread out across the country, and we have difficulty just coming together once a year.

“But,” he adds, “one of our distinct strengths is that group members come from a variety of musical backgrounds and experiences. Together we’re able to play music in a wide spectrum of genres.

“We’re really an experiment in community,” Krabill states. “Music is what brings us together, but more than that it’s an opportunity to share each others stories and to provide a place for new faces to join us.”

In anticipating the group’s concert at homecoming, Krabill envisions creating a “living room approach that invites audience members to come sit a spell, join in and have some fun.”

Reunion Vocal Band will appear 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 10 in EMU’s Lehman Auditorium. Tickets are $10 and can be ordered online at www.emu.edu/homecoming. A limited number of tickets will be available at the door.


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