The Bubble Sisters – (from left) Candace Ross-Cleary ‘87, Ruby Kauffman ‘87 Hostetler and Wendy Noll Martin ‘86 – hadn't sung together for three decades, but reunited to sing in the alumni music celebration during Eastern Mennonite University's 2018 Homecoming and Family Weekend. They were accompanied by EMU's jazz ensemble directed by Robert Curry. (Photos by Andrew Strack)

Bringing Back the Bubble Sisters: Alumni concert highlights musical talent

“First it was ‘Yes,’ and then a few minutes later it was, ‘What in the world have we done?’ We haven’t sung together in 30 years!”

Despite initial reservations, the Bubble Sisters, EMU’s first female jazz vocal group, reunited to share their special piece of personal and university musical history at Friday evening’s alumni music concert during Homecoming and Family Weekend. [Read more weekend coverage here and view a Homecoming highlights video.]

Cantore members (from left) Robert Maust ’72, David Clymer, Jeremy Nafziger ’91, Don Bomberger ’72 and Sam Kauffman ’12.

Backed by EMU’s jazz band directed by Robert Curry, they sang Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and “Tico Tico,” a Brazilian tune covered by the Andrews Sisters. The selections were a metaphorical and literal homage to both the group’s origins and their somewhat edgy repertoire, considering that most female vocal groups in the institution’s history had been previously sung a cappella sacred music.

As Ruby Kauffman ‘87 Hostetler tells it, the Bubble Sisters took their name from the swing and boogie-woogie-singing Andrews Sisters and Don Ho’s classic lounge tune, “Tiny Bubbles.”

Kendra Good ’85 Rittenhouse leads “God of Grace and God of Glory” between ensemble performances.

Selected by audition with then music professor and jazz band director Stephen Sachs, the trio of Hostetler, Wendy Noll Martin ‘86 and Candace Ross-Cleary ‘87 performed with the jazz band, wearing cumberbunds and bow ties of varying shades of pink with their white shirts and black skirts (and sometimes Hawaiian shirts).

In addition to performances on campus, for civic groups and churches, they even went on a fundraising tour to Pennsylvania, which is no doubt how an church elder learned of – and directly questioned – Martin’s participation.

Shekinah members (from left) Joanna Souder ’04 Showalter, Ranene Schrock Ropp ’98, Caitlin Holsapple ’16 and Chelsea Mast ’09.

“I never told any of you about that,” she said this weekend in a pre-rehearsal interview, “but I guess we were kind of out there, for the time.”

The concert also showcased a cappella groups formed by local alumni – Cantore, Shekinah and Striking Accord – and the EMU student ensemble Emulate conducted by Professor Ryan Keebaugh.

Following opening remarks from alumni and parent engagement director Jeff Shank ‘94 and Encore president Heidi Bauman King ‘12, Professor David Berry performed his “jazz fantasy” arrangement of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” to resounding applause.

For the evening’s grand finale, the ensembles combined to perform “Puttin’ on the Ritz” under the direction of Professor Ryan Keebaugh.

Between acts, alumni and others led hymns, including “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” with accompaniment by Berry and led by senior associate director of development Karen Mosier-Shenk ‘73. Others included “God of Grace and God of Glory” led by Kendra Good ‘85 Rittenhouse, “Be Thou My Vision” led by Keebaugh, “Wonderful Grace of Jesus” led by assistant director of housing and residence life Matthew Hunsberger ‘02, “I Bind My Heart This Tide” led by Sam Kauffman ‘12, and, for the final hymn, “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow” led by Michael Bishop ‘81.

For the evening’s grand finale, Keebaugh led the combined ensembles in “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”

Read more about EMU’s musical history here.


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