35 years ago, Dr. Steve Zegree gave Western Michigan University one of its greatest gifts, founding the Gold Company program and setting the School of Music’s jazz program on a path towards worldwide recognition. Fast forward to 2013 and Zegree is no longer teaching at Western, having moved on to a position at Indiana University last year, but this weekend, the program he built is pulling out all the stops to celebrate its major milestone.
Students from Gold Company and its sister ensemble, GC II, have been practicing tirelessly ever since the beginning of the semester. They’ve given up Saturdays, rehearsed through all hours of the night and practically taken up residence in Miller Auditorium and Dalton Center over the last week, all to master the jazzy standards, riotous skits and high-energy medleys that have defined their Annual Miller Show since its inception. And tomorrow, during a pair of performances (at 2 and 8 p.m., respectively), all of that hard work will finally pay off.
For Sarah Zegree, a senior music education major, a member of the Gold Company ensemble and a four-year veteran of the program—as well as the daughter of the man who founded that program—this year’s show will be a bittersweet farewell.
“It’s a little bit sad knowing that this is my last year in the program,” Zegree said. “But I’m so happy to have been in the groups all four years of college. I’ve had some of the best experiences of my whole life and I know that some of my best friends have come from these ensembles.”
Undoubtedly, Zegree’s feelings are shared by all of her senior comrades. But if this year’s Miller Show is a beginning of goodbyes for the program’s soon-to-graduate veterans, it’s also a celebration of how far the program has come and a glance towards what the future will bring as it continues to adapt.
According to Zegree, the big anniversary will be marked in a variety of ways, from references to past themes to a genre-hopping retrospective of the music from the past 35 years. And, as always, the audiences will be peppered with a plethora of Gold Company alumni—including, probably, the guy who started it all.
“Although he won’t tell me which show he will attend, my dad told me he would definitely be in the audience,” Zegree said. “We’re excited to have him here, as well as a lot of GC alumni. Without all of these people we wouldn’t be where we are today or have the opportunities we do.”
But if Steve Zegree and other ensemble alums will be the guests of honor at tomorrow’s performances, the man of the hour is still Duane Shields Davis, a veteran jazz voice professor and a former interim director for the Gold Company who stepped in to guide the ensemble after his colleague’s departure last spring. While Davis has stated that he will only hold the position for this year, his presence has been key in moving the ensemble forward after such a titanic change.
“The transition from my dad to Professor Davis has been very smooth,” [Sarah] Zegree said. “He is a fantastic director and has brought so much to this group. He is always encouraging every member to be the best they can be every day and to bring nothing less to any rehearsal.”
So while Western’s School of Music scours the nation for the future of the Gold Company program, the focus of its current students is very much on the now. Davis and fellow GC II director, Michael Wheaton, have selected an exciting and diverse range of music for their ensembles to perform. And the students have certainly held up their end of the bargain, writing, arranging, choreographing and producing skits and high-octane medley numbers that will have audiences laughing and collectively leaping to their feet.
“The only thing I can say about the medleys is that the audience can expect some surprises, but will definitely not be disappointed,” Zegree said.
If you want to figure out the answer to that riddle, you’ll have to get yourself to Miller Auditorium tomorrow afternoon or evening (at either 2 or 8 p.m.) to check out the show. Admission is $15 for students and $25 for adults, with a special discount reserved for “friends and family” of Gold Company members, and plenty of great seats are still available. Tickets can be purchased on Miller’s website, over the phone at 269-387-2300 or 800-228-9858 or in person at the Box Office prior to the show.