LOCKPORT – When the 70-voice West Point Glee Club takes the stage at 7 p.m. Saturday in the Historic Palace Theatre in Lockport, a city resident will be among the U.S. Military Academy cadets doing the singing.
Kelsey Wohleben, a junior at the academy, is in his third year as a member of the vocal group. He is the son of Lockport Common Council President David R. Wohleben.
Kelsey Wohleben said he sang in the chorus for four years at Newfane High School, so he was glad to try out for the glee club when he arrived at West Point. He and his father had long hoped that the group could be booked to perform in Lockport.
“My father and I talked about it back in my freshman year,” the younger Wohleben said. This year, the glee club was booked to travel to Rochester, but that performance fell through, and Lockport was a handy replacement.
The Palace had to pick up the $10,000 travel costs for the group, he said.
Christopher Parada, executive director of the Palace, said about $8,000 of that cost was for busing the group from West Point. The singers are staying with local host families to further cut down on expenses.
Parada said there are sponsorship opportunities for businesses connected with the performance. Tickets are priced at $10 for adults, $5 for children and military veterans.
In addition, Parada said, students from DeSales Catholic School in Lockport will be taking field trips to the Palace for a special glee club performance at 10 a.m. Friday.
“Kelsey went to DeSales and he did a lot of our shows here,” Parada said, referring to DeSales’ musicals, which are held in the Palace.
Kelsey said about one-fourth of the program will be patriotic music, but there are a lot of classical pieces in the glee club’s repertoire, too.
A small group, called the Knightcaps, sings “modern music,” he added. The full glee club includes 25 to 30 women and a touring piano player, Kelsey said.
Being in the glee club enables Kelsey to get around the country for performances.
The policy is that they take a bus unless the trip is more than 400 miles from the academy, in which case they fly.
“We have usually 10 or 12 events every year that require traveling,” he said. “Last semester we went to Fort Lauderdale. This year we went to Delaware. We went to Tuxedo Park, right outside New York City. We go to New York City a lot.”
Among the memorable gigs were a performance at the 9/11 Memorial in Manhattan, and singing at the Super Bowl pre-party last year with country star Blake Shelton.
Last year on spring break, the glee club headed for northern California and recorded a CD in the studio at Skywalker Ranch. “We saw everything connected with ‘Star Wars,’ ” Kelsey said.
His father served in the Air Force, and Kelsey absorbed the military atmosphere. “I kind of grew up with that background and I saw the kind of lifestyle,” he said.
David Wohleben recalled, “I think he was probably in the eighth grade when he saw something about the military academies and he asked me about them and how they worked.” The elder Wohleben explained that academy students have their educations paid for in full by the federal government, and in exchange, they owe military service after graduation.
“He looked at me as an eighth-grader and said, ‘Well, who wouldn’t do that?’ ” his father recalled.
Because the elder Wohleben was an Air Force veteran, his son was entitled to apply for a presidential nomination to any of the academies.
Kelsey said he chose West Point because it was closer to home than the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“He thought about us traveling to see him,” David Wohleben said. “He thought this would be a better fit.”
Kelsey made sure to point out that he never considered the Navy.
“When I talked to him about the Air Force Academy, he said, ‘I don’t want to fly,’ ” David remembered. “Funny thing, as time went by, he ended up flying. Now he’s going to fly helicopters.”
Kelsey will graduate as a second lieutenant and attend flight school for two years before beginning his required five years of active duty and three years in the Army Reserve.
He said that besides the performances at the Palace, the glee club will sing the national anthem at Thursday night’s Buffalo Sabres game in First Niagara Center, and have dinner at Pearl Street Grill & Brewery unless the Sabres come up with enough game tickets for the group.
Parada said the singers also are booked for a skating party in Cornerstone Arena after the Friday school performance.
Ellen Roth, a Palace board member, said another Western New Yorker is in the glee club: senior Gregory Momberger of Westfield.