Claire Kruesel devotes 16 years to ISU choir


Courtesy of Claire Kruesel

Claire Kruesel (left) has sung in the Cantamus choir for 16 years.

Katelyn Squiers

A lone vehicle rumbles along a gravel road as it approaches a house sitting in a valley. In the background, the lingering rays of a setting sun cast shadows across the sloping hillside. From the outside, the scene is quiet, but inside the car, a young girl and her father are singing a melodic tune. 

“You’re a grand old flag; You’re a high-flying flag….”

Claire Kruesel, the undergraduate coordinator for the department of biochemistry, biophysics and molecular biology, has been singing in the Iowa State Cantamus choir for 16 years. 

Her first memory of singing is a performance of “You’re a Grand Old Flag” by George M. Cohan in the car with her dad. 

Kruesel entered Iowa State in the fall of 2002 as a chemical engineering student and later transferred to biochemistry. She planned to focus on her STEM courses but found herself joining Cantamus before the end of her first semester.

“Halfway through that first semester, I thought, ‘I’m losing my mind. I need to be in music because I’ve been singing my whole life,’” Kruesel said.

Kruesel has been singing since the age of 2. Though her dad first introduced her to her love for singing, her musical upbringing is also influenced by a member of her church and the experiences gained during her time there. 

“I only realized once I became an adult that he had such high standards for music that he brought to our church,” Kruesel said. 

Kruesel participated in her church’s handbell choir and vocal choir and starred as Joseph in a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. She continued choir throughout middle school and high school. 

For Kruesel, the most exciting part of Cantamus is the community aspect of perfecting a shared performance to present to an audience. 

“There’s nothing like being in a live concert,” Kruesel said. “To give your audience that gift of like, immediacy, and shared meaning and transcendence. I know it sounds dramatic, but there’s just nothing like it.”

One of Kruesel’s favorite Cantamus performances took place at the 2013 National American Choral Directors Association Convention in Dallas, Texas. It was the first time an Iowa State choir had been invited to the convention. 

“It was so exhilarating to thrill and delight an audience that actually cares about music as much as you do,” Kruesel said. 

Kruesel also favors Cantamus’ performance of “Northern Lights” by Ēriks Ešenvalds during an exchange with St. Olaf College in 2014. 

The song required the singers to mimic the sound of the northern lights by rubbing their fingers against the rims of wine glasses filled with varying levels of water. 

“It was so cool to feel the visuals in your body through sound,” Kruesel said. 

Throughout her time in Cantamus, Kruesel has watched many students join and leave the choir. 

“Creating that intimacy with people around you and then seeing them move on is hard,” Kruesel said. “But it’s kind of like a microdose of grief. Like learning to say goodbye to people.” 

Kruesel believes her time in Cantamus is a healthy way to practice saying goodbye to those around her. She values music’s ability to help people process their emotions and experiences.

This was especially true for Kruesel when she lost her fiancé, Rob Stupka after he was struck by a bus in 2005. Stupka was an undergraduate student studying biochemistry at Iowa State. 

“When I lost him, it gave me comfort to continue singing in choir and to know that even if my life was falling apart in every other way, and I missed him all the time, maybe he was getting that music somehow,” Kruesel said. After her choir class, 

Stupka would meet Kruesel outside the music hall to bring her food he had snuck out of the dining halls. Stupka did not sing in any of the choirs, but he would always come to Kruesel’s concerts to support her. 

“Music transcends generations and transcends death,” Kruesel said. “It’s used to celebrate, and it’s also used to mourn, and it let me get my emotions out.”

Kruesel has 16 years of memories with Cantamus, but she does not plan to leave the choir any time soon.

“[Joining Cantamus] was one of the best decisions I ever made,” Kruesel said. “The program here is just so amazing, and it really balances out my life.”