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FNR Faces in the Crowd: Steven Kelly, Glee Club

Steven Kelly with a shark at Marine Biology PracticumSteven Kelly grew up near the beach in Delaware. His family moved to Indiana when he was 10 years old to be closer to family, but his interest in the ocean and biology was already well established.

“I grew up in Delaware, right on Rehoboth Beach, and we went to the beach all of the time and I always thought that was interesting,” the senior aquatic sciences major recalled. “I remember going to state and county fairs in Delaware and that you could pet a dogfish or look at diagrams of fish. That grabbed my interest pretty early on. I’ve always had a lot of different interests, including nature, and growing up in Delaware definitely influenced that.”

When it came time to go to plan for a career, Kelly considered becoming an author as he had always been interested in art and storytelling. At Purdue, he began with a major in exploratory studies to give himself time to find his place.

“I spent an unusually long amount of time in exploratory studies,” Kelly explained. “Part of it was that I was just indecisive, but also part of it was that the year that I came in was right before the pandemic, which started my first spring semester. That threw a wrench in things and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, so I took a little extra time to figure out what I wanted to do. I took some earth science classes and realized that oceanography and earth sciences and the processes that the earth works under really interested me. At the time, I wanted to have a major that was more scientific focused because at the time I was still leaning towards writing, but I didn’t like a lot of my liberal arts classes. I wanted to do more scientific-based things, because I liked my science classes and thought they were all really interesting.”

Once he decided to make the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources his home, he chose forestry as his major. However, once he was in the FNR sphere, he realized that what he actually wanted to do was more in line with the aquatic sciences major.

Not wanting to waste anytime gaining career experience, for the past two years, Kelly has worked for the Hamilton County Parks Department, doing invasive species control and general maintenance work.

“I like the government atmosphere, because you get quite a bit of benefits and all of the people that work in it are really put together and it is managed well,” Kelly said. “There is a very clear path that you can build through and I like working outside. I wish there was more academic stuff involved. I think that is my goal career-wise. I want to do more management focused stuff or observation stuff like the things I have been studying.”

Steven Kelly and classmates catch and measure turtles at Summer PracticumKelly has been fully immersed in the FNR experience over the past year, first attending Summer Practicum in May and then traveling to Marine Biology Practicum in August, both of which provided him hands-on exposure to what working in the natural resources field is like.

“Going to Michigan and down to Florida all in the same summer was wild,” Kelly shared. “For Marine Biology Practicum, we went down to Cedar Key in Florida, which was a really interesting atmosphere compared to Indiana. I am not used to working with marine species and it was very hands on. We were out on the water every day and were constantly collecting specimens and going over different techniques for collecting things. I was shocked with the diversity of organisms I saw there: a lot of rays and sharks and crazy invertebrates I wasn’t used to and strange and interesting fish that I had never heard of that were really cool looking.”

The Marine Biology Practicum experience not only taught Kelly techniques useful for field work, but exposed him to the day-to-day challenges that type of career can bring.

“It showed me that I am a good fit for this field, but also what things I don’t like dealing with,” Kelly said. “Honestly, I’ve always been a cold guy, and Florida in the summer with limited AC (air conditioning) is pretty rough, so I either need to be more well prepared or I need to be prepared to work somewhere like Delaware, where it is pretty temperate. I think it would be cool to work in Alaska, studying things and working with biologists there because Alaska is so beautiful. I like the cold, so I think that would be a good Steven Kelly with a turtlefit for me, doing the same type of work, but in a different environment. Honestly, I am fairly open to whatever career opportunities may come. Practicum opened my eyes to a lot and I feel like I have the techniques to be versatile in any field that I end up in.”

One constant for Kelly throughout his time at Purdue has been music, namely his participation in the Purdue Glee Club, an audition only, all male chorus, which is one of the oldest clubs on campus, founded in 1893. In its nearly 130-year history, the Glee Club has performed at five presidential inaugurations and traveled to six different continents.

According to its website, “As part of Purdue Musical Organizations, the Glee Club shares the mission to make music that fosters camaraderie among students as they learn, rehearse, travel and entertain. As Purdue’s official ambassadors of song, their accomplishments are even more impressive in light of the fact that Purdue has no school of music.”

Kelly sings baritone, which is between bass (the lowest part) and tenor two, which is “kind of like pop singer range.”

Throughout his four years as part of the Glee Club, Kelly and his fellow members have logged thousands of hours in rehearsals and performances.

“In a typical year, we perform every other weekend,” Kelly explains. “We meet up and rehearse for one hour every day and then we have independent rehearsals, depending on what part you sing or what year you are. New members have new member rehearsals and each part has sectionals, and there are subgroups within Glee Club, which are special ensembles, and those groups have their own songs and rehearsals as well.”

Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, the ensemble had online rehearsals and managed to put together one official concert at the end of the year and also performed at former Purdue president Steven Beering’s funeral. The group also was part of the all-digital version of the Purdue Christmas Show.

“We still kept working on our music and we all met up and sang together,” Kelly recalled. “That was definitely a saving grace for me that year, because that was one of the only in-person things I was able to do.”

The Glee Club has taken Kelly to several states and allowed him several memorable experiences.

“One of my favorite performances was with a very elite professional orchestra and former Broadway singers in Northern Indiana,” Kelly said. “We also sang with the Morehouse Glee Club, which is a historically black college from Georgia, and that was a really good concert. Since then, we’ve been to New Steven Kelly with fellow Glee Club members in New York CityYork and Florida. We sang in St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Riverside Cathedral in New York, which are both world-famous cathedrals and very beautiful spaces. This spring, we will be performing in San Francisco and that will be really exciting. We’ve also sang in other places like Iowa, Illinois and Michigan.”

Typically, Glee Club members also take an international trip, but Kelly will miss out on that opportunity due to the pandemic. Since 2008, the group has been part of 11 European tours as well as trips to Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, China, the United Kingdom and South Africa.

One experience that Kelly will not miss out on, however, is the annual PMO Christmas Show, the next edition of which is set for Dec. 3-4, 2022.

“They start planning the Christmas Show in January each year,” Kelly explains. “There is probably only a two-week period when they aren’t planning the Christmas Show. In the Glee Club, we start learning Christmas music in October and we stop all of our other touring performances and just have a lot of rehearsals where we are focusing solely on Christmas music. We have two songs that we are performing for the Christmas Show and then we have five or six songs that we are singing for Vocalis, which is where all of the Purdue Music Organizations sing more serious Christmas songs together after the Christmas Show. During the first half of the Christmas show each group presents their own songs and does flashier numbers, then the second half (Vocalis) is more traditional Christmas music that we all sing together.”

In addition to regular vocal rehearsals, preparations for the Christmas Show require rehearsals for choreography and costuming and also practices with the orchestra as well as with Voctave, a professional a cappella group based in Central Florida which will guest with the PMO students in 2022.

“There are a lot of different elements and different rehearsals leading up to the Christmas Show; it takes a lot of effort,” Kelly shared. “I would definitely say that Glee Club has given me better time management skills. I have gotten really good at estimating how much time each assignment will take, and when I need to do what to organize my free time. We also have study groups in Glee Club that help us stay on top of things academically. Academics are a big focus in PMO. I have always done it and I don’t know how to do it any other way.”

Kelly has been singing since middle school and participated in show choir and other organizations, but that isn’t the case for all Glee Club members.

“Interestingly enough, a lot of people in Glee Club don’t have a lot of that traditional music background,” Kelly explained. “Some people don’t know how to read music at all and they’ve been in the club for a while. There are varying levels of experience but everyone is very talented and definitely has what it takes to fit in the group. Glee Club has definitely made my experience at Purdue better. All of my friends outside of academics at Purdue are in Glee Club. It has given me a rigid friend group and a firm layer of support. Despite all of the time commitment and the things I have had to do to stay in Glee Club and PMO, it is 100 percent worth it to me.”

Steven Kelly at dinner with fellow Glee Club membersBesides the Christmas Show, Kelly has a lot to look forward to in his final semester this spring, from Glee Club performances, including the one in San Francisco, to graduation and a career beyond that.

“I’m really excited to finish up my senior year performing all over the place,” Kelly said. “I think the performance of music is really important. I’ve seen a lot of people at concerts come in completely disinterested or with their thoughts clearly a different way, and they come out happy and excited. Music is a great tool for helping people get through their rough lives and helping people disconnect and forget about things for a while. That is always my goal when I am performing, to make people’s days better. Glee Club has definitely allowed me to do that. It brings me a lot of joy. I love connecting with the music and improving and hanging out with my friends. There is so much I get out of the club and singing that I wouldn’t do it any other way.”

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