After 24 years of teaching and directing choirs at Rolla High School, Jeff Sandquist retired, well ... sort of.

After 24 years of teaching and directing choirs at Rolla High School, Jeff Sandquist retired, well ... sort of.
He just got back from a 15-day, seven-country tour of Europe with 100 Missouri high school and college students, and now is ready to take on more of a leadership role for the Rolla Choir Arts Society, which he has been directing for close to a decade now.
When the award-winning singer, conductor and teacher arrived in Rolla 24 years ago to teach at the high school, he joined Rolla's community choir directed by Isabelle Estes, who Sandquist describes as the matriarch of local music.
"She was in her 80s when she retired and I was asked to take over," he recalled. "I asked how much the position paid, and they said it has always been a volunteer position. I told them that I did not go to school to be a volunteer."
Fast forward to 2006, when a number of people involved in the arts wanted to reorganize the choral music scene. They decided to form a non-profit organization called the Rolla Choral Arts Society (RCAS). It would serve as an umbrella group for five local choirs. Sandquist became the artistic director of the group.
Those five singing groups include: Rolla Community Children's Choir Young Singers, Rolla Community Children's Choir, Rolla Men of Song, Rolla Choral Arts Society Vocal Jazz Choirs and the Rolla Community Choir.
Steve Skelton has been a member of Men of Song since it began in 2004 under Sandquist's direction. The group is for male singers age 13 and up.
“This is a great group, great music and great fun. And let's not forget, great food,” Skelton said. “The budget includes doughnuts and bagels; I guess he (Sandquist) has to do something to encourage us to come at 7 a.m. on Fridays."
Sandquist directs not only Men of Song, but the community children's choir and the community choir.
"The kids get exposure to music that they do not receive at school," he said. "So, this is a great opportunity to do some upper level singing."
It is a diverse group as well. Sandquist said that the children's choir is made up of public school students, homeschool students and private school students.
"In the fall, we load up the singers in a tour bus and go and perform at all of the local grade schools," he explained. "In the spring we went to the veterans home in St. James and then down to Steelville. It gives not only the singers a chance to perform but it's a concert of music that most kids would not have an opportunity to hear."
As well RCAS comes together and performs several concerts throughout the year; some classic and more contemporary pieces. Sandquist noted with pride that the group successfully performed "Carmina Burana," which is the name given to a manuscript of 254 poems and dramatic texts mostly from the 11th or 12th centuries that have been put to music by German composer, Carl Orff.
"This was the most ambitious undertaking we have tried," Sandquist told the Daily News. "It involved all of our choral arts groups and choirs from Missouri S&T, and Fort Leonard Wood's 399th Army Band did the music."
Martina Baur has three of her boys in RCAS and cannot say enough about the group.
"The amazing thing is the level of musical quality that Jeff brings to this community. These groups could compete with any other choirs in St. Louis or even the state." she said."If you have never been to an actual concert, you really don't know what you are missing."
For anyone even remotely interested in singing, Baur said this is the place to be.
"The kids are exposed to a variety of music, and (singing) is a life-long skill. So what you learn now can be applicable when you are 40 or even 80. Its amazing."