University A Cappella groups to perform in benefit for Tolono music programs

Four of the University’s a cappella groups will perform in a “benefit concert Saturday”: for the music departments for Unit 7 schools in Tolono.

The 7th annual “All Out A Cappella” concert will feature the Other Guys, the Xtension Chords, the Rip Chords and No Comment. This year, the event had to offer a second show because in previous years, concert-goers were turned away, said Bonnie Woolard, event co-chair.

Woolard said the concert is a major fundraiser for the district’s music program, one that has built up over the years as a result of the concert.

“When we started this, our chorus was about 22 kids,” she said. “Now we have a high school chorus of over 50. Band was down to less than 25 students, and now the band has probably over 70. It certainly got people interested in music again.”

Woolard said the money taken in from the concert allows students in Unit 7 to have musical opportunities they would not have otherwise, such as biannual trips to see major productions, and field trips to Krannert Center for the Performing Arts for the elementary school. Additionally, much of the funding goes toward scholarships for music students.

“(Unity Music Boosters) have given out 91 music camp scholarships totaling $23,000 over the past seven years,” she said. “It’s due to the success of concert.”

This year, a cappella groups from St. Louis University and Illinois State University will perform at the 8 p.m. concert, while two groups from Unity High School will perform at 5 p.m.

When Woolard moved to the Tolono area 12 years ago, she became aware of the district’s lack of fine arts funding because of her three children, she said.

“Kids didn’t have a lot of options,” she said. “It’s taken a lot of hard work and…the administration buying into this too. They had to be convinced that ‘if you build it they will come.'”

This is now the fourth year of a marching band at Unity High, after 20 years without one. The marching band now has new uniforms and is beginning to compete.

Additionally, Unit 7 now has plans to build a fine arts wing for the use of the high school and junior high, Woolard said.

Woolard said the district will continue building its music program for generations to come, including for her 12-year-old daughter, with the help of the annual concert.

“We are really grateful to the U of I groups,” she said. “It’s been an amazing relationship we’ve built. Without this it just wouldn’t happen.”