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Boundary Waters Choral Festival to feature 125 voices

10th Anniversary concert takes to the stage on Friday, March 1

Jodi Summit
Posted 2/20/19

ELY- High school singers once again take the stage at Ely’s Washington Auditorium on Friday, March 1 at 7 p.m., for this year’s Boundary Waters Choral Festival. This annual event gives area high …

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Boundary Waters Choral Festival to feature 125 voices

10th Anniversary concert takes to the stage on Friday, March 1


ELY- High school singers once again take the stage at Ely’s Washington Auditorium on Friday, March 1 at 7 p.m., for this year’s Boundary Waters Choral Festival. This annual event gives area high school students the chance to sing as part of a larger festival choir, as well as to participate in a full day of workshops, rehearsals, and specialized choral instruction with college music professors from the University of Minnesota-Duluth. The performance is free and open to the public, but freewill donations are welcome to help cover the expenses.

This is the 10th year the choir festival has been held, and each year the event has grown in professionalism and style. Most of these students are in school choirs that may number fewer than 20 singers. Singing in a large choir is a once-a-year opportunity for them.

Special guest this year is Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer. The BWCF Choir will perform three of her compositions: “Room at the Table”, “Lean In Towards the Light”, and “A Gathering of Spirits”, the theme song for this year’s BWCF.

Ely choir teacher Mike Rouse and his wife Billie are lifelong fans of Newcomer’s music. Newcomer will also be leading a singer-songwriter workshop for BWCF students who are interested in songwriting, the night before the festival.

“It is not every day that aspiring high school composers in our area have the opportunity to be guided and coached by a Grammy Award-winning composer!” said Mike Rouse. “This will be a great kick off to the festival.”

Concert day includes a full schedule for the students. Some of the choirs will be leaving their home schools as early as 5 a.m. in order to make it to Ely Memorial High School for the beginning of rehearsals at 9 a.m. The choral students from Ely Memorial, Eveleth-Gilbert, International Falls, Mt. Iron-Buhl, North Woods, and Vermilion Country high schools will spend the day rehearsing the festival music selections, which they have been practicing as individual choirs, and by the end of the day, under the direction of Dr. Matthew Olson, they will become one unified 125-voice choir in a performance you will not want to miss. This will be Olson’s sixth year as festival conductor. As the talent of the students has grown year to year, he is able to select more difficult and beautiful music for the group to perform.

The concert will include individual choir performances; most will sing the two selections they will be performing the following week at the Minnesota State High School League Choral Music Contest. Then the choral students from all six schools will combine into a 125-voice “festival choir.”

Under the direction of Dr. Matthew Olson, the festival choir will join voices to perform “Jenga Imani” from the kwaya music tradition of Tanzania. Israel Kagaruki composed the piece as a song of encouragement. With the number of lives lost or those living with AIDS in Africa, this piece is intended to encourage those struggling to keep going and never give up, even in the midst of their hard times. The text is in Swahili. They will also be performing “Somewhere” from West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein. Sometimes referred simply as “There’s a Place for Us” … it is a wonderful song of inclusion … pleading against prejudice, separation, and injustice.

“It takes a village to offer an opportunity like this to our area choral students,” said festival organizers Mike and Billie Rouse. “We wish to thank the Mesabi Symphony Orchestra for their kindness and willingness to be our fiscal sponsors.” This event is made possible through the generous contributions of its major donors: the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council thanks to appropriations from the Minnesota State Legislature’s general and arts and cultural heritage funds, the Donald G. Gardner Humanities Trust, Essentia Health Community Contributions, Dr. Crystal Chopp, Northshore Mining, Lake Country Power, MN Power Positively Powerful, Shopko, Adventure Inn, as well as countless private donations.

In addition to those supporting the BWCF through their donations, this day would not be possible for the choral students without the hard work and dedication of their local choir teachers who prepare them for this day. They are Reida Forsman, Eveleth-Gilbert; Kathy Tompkins, International Falls; Karin Schmidt, Vermilion Country School; Raye Roettger, North Woods; Susan Lindmeier, Mt. Iron-Buhl; and Mike Rouse, Ely Memorial.

“This event is a chance for students to come together, not to compete, but rather in the spirit of cooperation to accomplish something bigger than any of them can attain as individual choirs,” said Mike Rouse.

And, Billie Rouse added, “Maybe the biggest winner in all of this is the communities involved who have the opportunity to attend an incredible choral concert and witness the talent and passion of these wonderful singers and students!”

Guest instructors and soloists

During the day, students will get to work with college music instructors from UMD. Rachel Inselman, soprano, is a Professor of Voice at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. She has performed numerous opera roles as well as appeared as soloist with symphony orchestras throughout the United States including the Cleveland Orchestra, Baltimore Chamber Orchestra, Toledo Symphony, and Lincoln Symphony Orchestra.

Alice Pierce, soprano, is an Instructor of Voice and Director of Opera Studio at UMD. She received a BM and MM in Vocal Performance from Indiana University. Early in her career, she served on the faculty at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington and the North Carolina School of the Arts. During these years, she was a Metropolitan Opera Regional finalist twice, singing often in concert and opera.

Elias Mokole, baritone, serves on the faculty at UMD and is equally at home in recital, musical theatre and orchestral concerts, as well as opera. Praised by both Opera News and the Washington Post for his “powerful, rich warm baritone,” Mokole’s performance highlights include: Germont in La Traviata, Enrico in Lucia di Lammermoor, Sharpless in Madame Butterfly, Scarpia in Tosca, Ford in Falstaff, as well as Elijah in Elijah, Juan Perón in Evita, the title role in Gianni Schicchi, and soloist for the Brahms Requiem.

Matthew Olson is Artistic Director of Oratory Bach Ensemble, a professional chamber orchestra and choir based in Minneapolis. He also serves as: Assistant Conductor of the 40-voice professional choir, The Singers; Instructor of Voice and Music at North Hennepin Community College; and Director of Choirs at Westwood Lutheran Church. He studied choral and orchestral conducting at St. Olaf College, The Oregon Bach Festival, Michigan State University, The Canford Conducting School (U.K.), and The University of Minnesota.


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