Dr. Randi Bolding is embarking on her third year as an assistant professor of choral music education and conducting at UofL’s School of Music. She jokingly admits it will be hard to top Year Two.
Bolding launched the Singing Cardsmen last school year, a UofL men’s choir for non-music majors that includes about 20 members and an accompanist. Starting a men’s choir was one of her first priorities after coming on board at UofL. Her objective was to get away from the rigorous, audition-centered nature of music ensembles and get back to the basics.
“So many people love to sing, love music, not just music majors. They just want a place where they can be involved. They don’t want the stress of auditioning, it’s intimidating. And they don’t have four or five times a week to practice,” she said. “The idea for the Cardsmen is that singing is for everyone. We have some members who can’t read music or who have never been in a choir before.”
Overcoming such musical deficiencies, Bolding said, falls on her as the group’s teacher.
“I’ve always hated putting up that cut list. We wanted a place for everyone, where everyone plays a part,” she said. “The experience is what makes this what it is.”
Sing for Survivors
Last year’s season was focused on building the foundation of the group, which eventually became an RSO in order to get funding for certain projects and to be more efficient. In its first year, the Cardsmen held a retreat, launched a small tour to Kentucky high schools and held a few performances around campus and the community.
They were also asked to attend the invite-only Kentucky Music Educators Association Conference. According to Bolding, this is a very big honor.
The group built a solid portfolio in its first year, but it was one project in particular that really solidified their bond and that continues to motivate members: the “Sing for Survivors Contest,” sponsored by the White House’s “It’s On Us” initiative and the campus rape documentary, “The Hunting Ground.”
The contest took place during the spring semester and called for college students to create videos of themselves singing an a capella version of Lady Gaga’s “Till It Happens to You.”
Their effort was a collaboration with UofL’s PEACC Program. Sally Evans, director of the PEACC Program, emailed Bolding about the project. She then pitched it to the Cardsmen who voted unanimously to compete after watching Lady Gaga’s original video. One of the Cardsmen came up with the arrangement after the group talked about how to approach the topic of sexual assault from a male perspective.
“This project lit a fire for the guys. I always thought they sounded good, but this project took it to a different level emotionally,” Bolding said.
Their video went viral and ended up in the top 10 in the country. A popular vote pushed it into the top five.
“I don’t know if this project was ever about the competition. They knew it meant something more and they used their voice to help. It took things to a different level emotionally. Because of that project, they call themselves a family, not a choir. I’m very proud of that,” Bolding said.
The Cardsmen are just getting started. They have more concerts and events on the calendar for this year, including the Alumni Awards Ceremony and the Legacy Society event, and are meeting with a UofL theater group with the hopes of creating a collaborative holiday production. They also hope to tour elementary schools and performing arts schools throughout the community and to start a mentorship program.
“From middle school to about 10th grade, there is a negative stigma of men who sing,” Bolding said. “This is an avenue for these guys to help kids get past that. It’s very special.”
So far, everyone who participated and who is eligible is coming back this year.
“Nobody wanted the year to end last year,” Bolding said.
In addition to increasing appearances and collaborations for the Cardsmen, one of Bolding’s other goals is to start a similar group for women.
“When I first interviewed for the job here, I mentioned that I wanted to start a men’s group and a women’s group,” Bolding said. “There is just something really special about a men’s group. I think we can do something special if we get a women’s group started, too.”
Watch the Singing Cardsmen’s video from the “Sing for Survivors” contest below: