ELY- High school choir members from Ely, International Falls, Mt. Iron-Buhl, Silver Bay, and the Vermilion Country School-Tower participated in what might be called a choir “boot camp” during the …
ELY- High school choir members from Ely, International Falls, Mt. Iron-Buhl, Silver Bay, and the Vermilion Country School-Tower participated in what might be called a choir “boot camp” during the Boundary Waters Choral Festival in Ely on March 2.
About 75 students participated in the all-day festival this year, traveling to Ely for a full day of musical workshops and small group instruction from three vocal music faculty members from the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
In addition, the entire group practiced under the direction of guest conductor Dr. Matthew J. Olson, performing three pieces they had been practicing individually with their school choir directors.
On festival day, the five choirs became one large festival choir, giving these small school choir members to chance to experience singing in a large group.
The group pieces were challenging, and included an original composition by Olson, as well as “Baba Yetu,” a Swahili adaptation of The Lord’s Prayer by Chris Kiagir.
“I try to choose contrasting pieces,” Olson said, “from different time periods and different parts of the world.” This year the students got a mix of classical European music, something more modern, and something “that expands our understanding of the world.”
Each choir also performed two pieces they prepared for the state choir music contest.
Olson has led choirs, orchestras, and taught courses ranging from music education methods to voice study at Carleton College, The University of Wisconsin – Superior, The University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Mich., and North Hennepin Community College. He regularly guest conducts high school honors choirs, choral festivals, competitions, and clinics throughout the upper Midwest. He is now a regular at the BW Festival, and said he enjoyed watching the choir students grow from year to year.
“The thing that really strikes me as unique about this festival,” Olson said, “is that so many festivals are considered honors festivals, and only the best singers from a choir can attend. This is just the opposite. It is all the singers, and the room for progress is enormous.”
This is Olson’s fifth year directing the festival choir, and it’s the second year that the faculty from UMD have participated: Rachel Inselman, Elias Mokole, and Alice Pierce.
“They add so much to the day,” Olson said. These teachers work with the individual section rehearsals for the festival choir in the morning, for example, with the soprano leading the rehearsal for the soprano section. In the afternoon they give brief voice lessons for singers who are working on pieces for the statecontest.
Olson said the choir directors do a wonderful job of preparing the students beforehand. He noted it is a difficult balancing act because the choirs are also preparing for contest at the same time.
“On festival day we fine tune the music and make some good music by evening,” he said.
A bonus of the day is having the students listen to the faculty perform.
“By evening they haven’t heard the faculty perform yet,” Olson said. “And many of these students have never had the chance to hear internationally-acclaimed classical and opera performers.”
“The students cheered them on like they were rock stars,” Olson said. “It’s a style of music they are not often exposed to.”
The group performed in concert in Ely’s Washington Auditorium that evening. Each school choir came dressed in their own set of robes, and performed their own “contest” pieces, as well as singing part of the group choir.
The concert also included guest performances by the three UMD professors as well as cellist Bryon Klimek, who also played during the group choir’s performance of Olson’s original composition. Ely’s own Irene Hartfield was the festival pianist.
“The goal of the festival is to come together as neighboring communities and make wonderful music,” said event organizer Billie Rouse. “We hope to foster a sense of cooperation and support. And it is one of our aims to provide a high-quality cultural experience for our students, and a networking opportunity for our teachers.”
The festival is made possible by a grant from the Donald G. Gardner Humanities Trust. In addition, local businesses made contributions to the event: Zup’s of Ely, Northshore Mining, The Timberjay, WELY, Hand-Done T-Shirts, Dairy Queen, ISD 696 Cafeteria and Maintenance staff, Ely Echo, Northern Lakes Arts Association, Ely Northland Market, Wells Fargo Bank, Ely Music Boosters, Front Porch Coffee and Tea, Plum Bun Bakery, Northern Grounds, ShopKo, Adventure Inn, Minnesota Power, and Lake Country Power’s Operation Roundup. Individuals who contributed this year included: Crystal Poppler, Kevin Abrahamson, Martha Rouse, Sue and Mark Edginton, the Grotenhuis family, Peter Kess, Billie Rouse, Heide and Helmet Buettiner, Megan Anderson, Anne Oelke, Frank Ivancich, and the Ely Class of 2018.