“It’s so nice just to go hear live music,” said Vern Fryberger, director of the Barton County Hilltop Singers. “This is kind of fun because it’s mostly big band music but there’s also some 50s and 60s and other more modern pieces.”
The Hilltop Singers were performing their song and dance routines at the annual Jingle Bell Swing dance at the American Legion in Great Bend Saturday night. They were joined by Barton County’s own local big band run by J.B. Webster, made up of many former and current area music teachers like Steve Lueth, Curtis Koch, Mark Webster, Joe Boley and their past and present students and other musicians from the area. Like many of the touring bands, the musicians tend to be older.
It takes years of experience to be able to make what they do look so effortless. Musicians have to be very strong, because they have to be good with sight reading, Fryberger said before the dance began.
“This is a band that doesn’t really need to practice, they can just sit down and play together,” he said. “If somebody buys a dance tonight, they’ll just sit down and play it.”
Today, he said, music is at the transition between one era and another. While the music at most dances today are handled by deejays, Fryberger feels there is still a place for live band music, and hopes that by getting a taste for it now, younger people will have a great experience.
Recently, Fryberger said, the college started a ballroom dancing class, which has turned out to be pretty popular, not only with BCC students, but also with community members. BCC Physics professor Timothy Folkerts teaches the class that meets once a week on campus. He talked briefly about swing dancing before the dance started.
The dance is the only fundraiser the Barton Community College Hilltop Singers puts on all year. They are an ambassador group for the college, and they help with recruiting efforts as they go out and sing for schools if they can. Funds from the dance help to cover some of the expenses they incur on their recruiting tours.
“We are more of a singing and dancing — we’re more singers than dancers,”Wade Honomichl said. He’s a member of the Hilltop Singers. “Unlike choir, we do more jazz and pop songs. We’re a smaller group overall, but we like to dance and sing and perform for everybody.”
He and the rest of the Singers arrived at the American Legion Post early in the afternoon to help set up the tables — which he recalled last year had to be moved to make room for people who wanted to dance.
The group has been to over 50 schools over the years, many of them multiple times, Fryberger said. They also do other events, like the holiday concert the college will be putting on Monday night.
This is the tenth year the group has been putting on the dance, and the turnout continues to get better, he said, recalling when they started, it was more of the World War II crowd. Now, it’s a pretty good mix, including former students and more younger people, the 20 to 40 year old crowd.
Songs were sponsored for $100 each. The band leader found clever ways to tie the name of the business with the song if whenever possible. For instance, for a wedding shop, they played “Tuxedo Junction,” or for a bank, they played “Pennies from Heaven.”
“You just don’t have dances with live bands anymore,” Fryberger said. “For a lot of our students, this is the first time they’ve ever gone to a dance with this sort of experience.”
Video footage of the event is available here.