Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The Benson Family Singers: “To you, O Lord, I will make music” January 19, 2014

Benson Family Singers Rachelle, left,

The Benson Family Singers Rachelle, left, Aaron, Pete and David. Luke is also a member of the group, but did not perform in this song.

MIXING HUMOR AND SERIOUSNESS with music ranging from foot-stomping bluegrass to gospel, barbershop style and even rap, The Benson Family Singers of Faribault presented a wholesome family concert Saturday evening that has me singing their praises.

Posted on the bulletin board inside the church entry.

Posted on the bulletin board inside the church entry.

This family—Pete and Rachelle and sons David, 13; Aaron, 11; and Luke, 9—performed at St. Luke’s Church, Faribault, to raise awareness and funds for the Pregnancy Options LifeCare Center. Paul, 2, has yet to make his stage debut.

But if he’s anything like his brothers and parents, his musical talents, enthusiasm and confidence will shine during shows at churches, festivals and elsewhere.

The family will perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, February 1, at the Paradise Center for the Arts, Faribault, in what is billed as “the perfect family entertainment experience.” That it should be.

In today’s world, it’s truly refreshing to listen to musicians like the Bensons. You needn’t worry that they’ll say or sing anything remotely offensive. They are genuine, Christ-loving and family-focused with their music as their family ministry.

Their purpose, says Pete, is “preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ wherever we go. It’s the most important thing we can do in this life.”

So, in a break between songs, this father of four sons shared his faith with the audience at St. Luke’s.

The family balances its serious message with humor as Luke role-played Lars and Pete his counterpart, Ole, in several Norwegian jokes. Not too worry. All of their jokes are kid-friendly funny.

A rapt audience at St. Luke's.

A rapt audience at St. Luke’s.

The Bensons definitely reach out to kids with Sunday School songs like “This Little Light of Mine” and other selections that have young and old alike clapping in time to the music. Think a bluegrass tune from The Andy Griffith Show.

Listening to their barbershop style a cappella singing is an absolute auditory pleasure.

I especially enjoyed the old familiar hymns such as “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder” and “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.”

The Benson "boys" presented a rap version of "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms."

The Benson “boys” present a rap version of “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.”

But, by far, the hit of the evening for me, and I expect many in the audience, were the family’s numerous versions of “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” The family pulled out barbershop hats, sunglasses and other props to sing “Leaning” in styles from Johann Sebastian Bach to barbershop to doo-wop, Beach Boys, “clean rap” and music from the hills of Tennessee or Kentucky.

It felt good to laugh.

And it felt good, in the closing song, to join this talented family in singing the chorus of “There Is Power in the Blood.”

FYI: To learn more about the Benson Family Singers, click here. To learn more about their upcoming performance at the Paradise Center for the Arts, click here.

Information about the Pregnancy Options LifeCare Center was available at the concert.

Information about the Pregnancy Options LifeCare Center was available at the concert.

For info about the Pregnancy Options LifeCare Center, a pro-life organization dedicated to providing physical, emotional, social support and assistance to women by empowering them to make healthy, life-affirming choices, click here.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Delighting in a regional orchestra’s Nutcracker Ballet concert December 17, 2013

BACK-TO-BACK DECEMBERS, my husband and I have won tickets to holiday concerts from Faribault radio stations.

Last year Randy scored tickets from Power 96, KQCL, to see the Trans-Siberian Orchestra at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

This past weekend I won two tickets from KDHL to hear the Cannon Valley Regional Orchestra’s performance of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Ballet at the Northfield Middle School.

The two shared the commonality of a holiday theme. Otherwise they couldn’t have been more different with ear-deafening rock music at one to ear-soothing orchestra music at the other. I enjoyed both, in different ways.

Since I’ve already blogged about the Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert (click here), this post focuses on the CVRO’s two-hour long Sunday afternoon Nutcracker concert.

Versions of the Nutcracker play on screen while the orchestra performs.

Versions of the Nutcracker play on screen while the orchestra performs.

A Christmas classic, the Nutcracker shares the story of a young girl who receives a nutcracker from her godfather and then has a dream, according to Philip Spensley, who hosted and narrated the CVRO event. Spensley’s voice alone impressed me in that sort of sitting by the fireside listening to a well-spoken man vocalize in a mesmerizing and magical tone way.

Two nutcrackers were posted on either side of the orchestra.

Two nutcrackers were posted on either side of the orchestra.

The original Nutcracker was performed in 1892 with many revisions and interpretations since, said Spensley.

While the musicians played on Sunday, snippet versions of the Nutcracker showed on a big screen suspended above the orchestra, making this an intertwining visual and auditory experience.

I last saw the Nutcracker presented during a December 2012 figure skating show, “The Nutcracker on Ice,”  at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Faribault. (Click here to read that post.)

And many decades ago while in college, I was entertained by the ballet version on stage in the Twin Cities.

Photographed between Acts I and II.

Photographed between Acts I and II.

I come to concerts like CVRO’s with minimal musical knowledge. I can’t read a note nor do I always know what instruments I am seeing or hearing. I didn’t grow up with music, unless you count a toy accordion I got for Christmas one year and organ music at Sunday morning church services. Opportunities simply were not there for me to learn music or attend concerts.

Thus I am especially grateful for opportunities locally to hear the likes of the CVRO, a regional orchestra founded in 1979 and comprised of around 40 musicians, both professional and otherwise, according to member and cellist Rick Berge of Faribault who phoned me about my free tickets.

The gift of the nutcracker, one of many versions accompanying the musicians.

The gift of the nutcracker, one of many scenes shown on the big screen.

He noted that I should pay special attention to the celesta, an unusual instrument resembling a small upright piano. From my seat, I couldn’t clearly see the celesta, but I had a good view of the violins, or maybe they were violas—I don’t know the difference. When watching the violinists, I noted how, most often, they drew bows across strings like ballerinas gliding across a stage. Other times they moved their arms in short, jerky pops like leaping ballerinas. And then I noticed the musicians plucking strings with their fingers and whispered to my husband, “I didn’t know violinists played violins without bows.”

As I said, my musical knowledge is minimal.

The CVRO founder and long-time conductor, Paul Niemisto, comes to his position with vast musical experience. (Click here to read about his background.) He currently serves on the faculty at Northfield’s St. Olaf College, a college noted for its strong musical program. To retain that level of commitment to an orchestra for 33 seasons is remarkable.

Also commendable is the commitment of the volunteer CVRO musicians who come from around the area, gathering to practice and present four regional concerts annually.

I was delighted to sit in the audience at their holiday concert, wondering, as I always have, how ballerinas can dance on their tiptoes and how violinists know exactly how far to slide their bows.

Applause between acts for the Cannon Valley Regional Orchestra.

CVRO musicians prepare to take a break between acts.

FYI: To learn more about the Cannon Valley Regional Orchestra, click here.

Although I received two free tickets to this concert, I was not asked to write this post nor did winning the tickets influence the content herein.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Lenora, Minnesota: An historic stone church October 10, 2013

STUDYING THE BOOK OF PROVERBS the other evening with my bible study group, the discussion turned to the value of wisdom over silver, gold and rubies.

We all agreed that we’d rather have godly wisdom than wealth.

And then the talk somehow sidetracked to churches and whether monies spent to build ornate structures would better be used to serve the missions of the church. Eventually we concurred that, when done for the right reasons—to honor God, a physically beautiful sanctuary is God-pleasing.

The Cathedral of Saint Paul. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

The Cathedral of Saint Paul. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

The exterior of the 1865 Lenora United Methodist Church. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo from October 2012.

The exterior of the 1865 Lenora United Methodist Church. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo from October 2012.

I’ve been inside both, from the sprawling and ornate Cathedral of Saint Paul in St. Paul to the simple plainness of a country church with handcrafted pews.

Jeremiah Fowler Stevens built and donated the pews.

Jeremiah Fowler Stevens built and donated the pews in the Lenora church.

Like the pews in the Lenora United Methodist Church, the oldest church in Fillmore County in southeastern Minnesota. The congregation was established in 1856 by a pioneer circuit rider who led camp meetings there boasting attendance of 2,000 plus souls. The church closed in the late 1920s (as Lenora was bypassed by the railroad and dwindled in population) and today is open for special events and concerts and the occasional worship service.

Looking from the front toward the back of the church.

Looking from the front toward the back of the church.

The bible study exchange and the mention of the historic Lenora church by bible study member Jeff, who recently visited this church with wife Mandy, reminded me of my visit there a year ago and that I needed to share those photos here.

When I went online to research the church in preparing this post, I discovered that Brad Boice, an award-winning Elvis impersonator, will present inspirational and uplifting music along with his wife, JulAnn, from 3 p.m. – 5 p.m. this Sunday, October 13, at the Lenora church.

A simple touch of lanterns upon windowsills of the church.

A simple touch of lanterns upon windowsills of the church.

Now if there’s anyone who’s glitzy silver and gold and rubies rhinestones, it would be Elvis.

Brad Boice may be all that when impersonating the famous 50s singer. But he’s also a man of faith as evidenced in this online quote:

I thank Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior, for my family, friends and the talents that He has given me. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that God would take me to the places that He has.

Another view of the historic church.

Another view of the historic Lenora church.

Sunday afternoon that place will be inside the Lenora church along Fillmore County Road 23 in Lenora (near Canton).

Don’t expect silver or gold, rubies or rhinestones. Instead, expect inspirational spiritual songs within the confines of a simplistic house of worship on the National Register of Historic Buildings.

The rustic Lenora church doors.

The rustic Lenora church doors.

FYI: Click here to learn more about Lenora United Methodist Church.

And click here to learn more about Elvis impersonator Brad Boice.

Watch for a post tomorrow from Lenora, in which I introduce you to Fannie Miller.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

“I hated myself”: Journey to recovery through Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge April 30, 2013

A member of the Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge Choir sings a solo during a presentation on Sunday at Trinity Lutheran Church in Faribault.

A member of the Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge Choir rehearses his solo before a concert on Sunday at Trinity Lutheran Church in Faribault.

SHE’S FOUR MONTHS to graduation, this mother of four, this 13-year meth addict.

Jill speaks with passion, sharing her downward spiral into addiction and her remarkable recovery through Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge. Her voice raw with emotion, Jill reveals how, as a single mom trying to raise a son and a daughter, who had cystic fibrosis, she gave her girl up for adoption. That pushed her over the edge.

Later, she would marry, have two more children and, eventually, her husband would enter treatment at Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge, a faith-based recovery program for those with drug and alcohol addictions. “I watched him turn into a godly man,” Jill says. “Our lives are unbelievable. We love each other. It’s amazing what God can do when He’s in your life. He restores.”

Praise and personal testimonies highlighted the choirs performance.

Praise and personal testimonies highlighted the choir’s performance.

By age 13, James from my community of Faribault, was smoking crank out of a light bulb. The son of a teacher and social worker, he had no direction or purpose in life. He was using and selling drugs and breaking into places. By age 22, he’d been to prison twice, had a son. “You try to manage and have as much fun as you can before you get locked up again,” he says.

He also used heroin. Then his brother died. “They’re thinking they’re going to bury two kids in the same month,” James says of his parents.

In 2011 he graduated from the Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge treatment program. “I found God and feel God. I have the joy of the Lord.”

And then James shares more. He was once best friends with a 27-year-old Faribault man charged last week with first-degree attempted murder and first-degree and second-degree assault in an attack on his fiance, stabbed more than 30 times. She survived and is out of the hospital.

“Bad things happen…God sustains you,” this former addict says.

Heartbreaking and inspirational stories were shared.

A soloist performs with the choir.

Heidi, 22, the daughter of divorced parents and an alcoholic father, grew up in a small town. She started drinking, eventually wracked up two driving under the influence charges, was in and out of court-ordered treatment.

She turned to abusing prescription drugs, yet managed to go to college, even held a job in sales. She stole from her family, got into heroin.

By her admission, Heidi says, “I threw away opportunities in life…I hated myself…I was sitting in my apartment all day getting high.”

Then she overdosed, suffered a seizure.

Heidi is set to graduate in May from Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge. “I needed a relationship with God,” this young woman says.

IF YOU’VE NEVER attended a Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge presentation like the concert/personal testimonies I heard at my church, Trinity Lutheran in Faribault, on Sunday, I’d encourage you to do so. You will never forget the stories of these courageous individuals who have overcome so much to reclaim their lives and their families and forge new relationships with God.

Choir members line up and dish up at the potluck after the service and concert.

Choir members line up and dish up at the potluck after the service and concert.

At the potluck dinner after the concert, I sat with Tyler, a 20-year recovering heroin addict and father of two boys, 9 and 13. When his wife died two years ago, Tyler knew he needed to change. You’d never guess, just looking at and talking with this well-groomed and articulate young man, that he’d once been into drugs. He’s been in and out of treatment several times. But this time, in the longer one-year faith-based recovery program, Tyler’s succeeded.  He’s set to graduate soon, will start college and work, and get his boys back.

Tyler, Jill, James and Heidi and about 35 others, through primarily song and those few personal testimonials, brought their messages of hope, joy and recovery to my church through the center’s community outreach program.

Anthony Bass, who played for the Minnesota Vikings from 1998-2000 and is now the church relations manager for Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge and is planting a church in northeast Minneapolis, says the on-the-road programs are part of an effort to help fight heroin, meth and prescription drug addictions, showing “how God’s power has helped and restored.”

Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge has eight facilities in Minnesota—in Minneapolis, Brainerd and Duluth and one soon to open in Rochester. The name was changed last October from Minnesota Teen Challenge to Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge, more accurately reflecting the ages of program participants. Eighty percent are over age 18.

Bass also asked for prayers and financial support.

The Trinity Quilt Makers gifted the group with this stash of quilts.

The Trinity Quilt Makers gifted the group with this stash of quilts.

As I sang the hymn, “Who Are You Who Walk in Sorrow,” with the congregation and choir members, I considered how fitting these words:

Great companion on our journey,
Still surprise us with Your grace!
Make each day a new Emmaus;
On our hearts Your image trace!

FYI: Click here to learn more about Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

(Note that I may or may not have the correct spellings of names referenced in this story. I did not check the spellings. And, yes, I asked and was given permission, to photograph the Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge Choir.)

 

Country song March 11, 2013

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Somewhere along Minnesota Highway 19 west of Red Wing, Minnesota.

Somewhere along Minnesota Highway 19 west of Red Wing, Minnesota.

THERE’S SOMETHING about a pick-up truck on a gravel road and high-line wires (as I termed power lines in my youth) that stretch seemingly into infinity, and how the two mimic each other—the road and the wires—in strong horizontal lines.

There is something poetic and lonely and haunting in this rural winter scene, almost like the plaintive lyrics of a country western song or strings strung taut upon an acoustic guitar.

Is he destined to break her heart or has he already broken it?

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Montgomery, Part II: Entertaining & inspiring the folks of South Central Minnesota in an historic dance hall March 5, 2013

A sign just off Minnesota Highway 13 welcomes travelers to Montgomery.

A sign near the Minnesota Highway 13 and 21 intersection welcomes travelers to Montgomery.

IN RURAL SOUTHERN MINNESOTA, in the heart of Czech country, in a community with a fading welcome sign noting local Miss Czech-Slovak U.S.A. queens Connie David (1989-1990) and Marisa Schleis (1998-1999), you’ll discover an unexpected treasure.

The red-roofed building in the distance is Hilltop Hall.

The red-roofed building in the distance is Hilltop Hall.

Historic Hilltop Hall sits on the north end of First Street in Montgomery, past the library and chiropractic office, the eateries and bars, the newspaper and accounting offices, the antique shops, even farther than the bakery which bakes ethnic kolacky, just two doors up from the meat market, source of homemade sausage.

Hilltop Hall was "falling apart," John Grimm says of the building he bought in the early 1990s. He reroofed, gutted and reconstructed and/or restored the interior.

Hilltop Hall was “falling apart,” John Grimm says of the building he bought in the early 1990s. He reroofed  the hall and gutted and reconstructed and/or restored the interior.

The red-roofed 1892 brick structure on the National Register of Historic Places represents a center of culture in this self-proclaimed Kolacky Capital of the World, a farming town of nearly 3,000 notably proud of its Czech heritage.

A sign outside Hilltop Hall directs guests to the Curtain Call Theatre performance of "On Golden Pond." The area theatrical group also performs in neighboring New Prague.

A sign outside Hilltop Hall directs guests to the Curtain Call Theatre performance of “On Golden Pond.” The area theatrical group also performs in neighboring New Prague.

The community should also be proud of Hilltop, a rare small town gem which hosts once-a-year comedic performances by Curtain Call Theatre and monthly Hilltop Happenings Series variety shows in the second floor 75-foot by 45-foot vintage concert and dance hall. The main floor is home to the Montgomery Area Arts & Heritage Center—featuring rotating historic and artistic exhibits—and a floral/gift shop, Posy Pantry.

Native Wisconsinite John Grimm, 72, a retired airline pilot, entrepreneur and former Le Sueur County commissioner who has lived in the Montgomery area since 1992, represents the driving force behind this cultural center nestled into a hill across the alley from St. John’s Lutheran Church.

This composer and singer—by passion, not profession—and a team of equally enthusiastic musicians six months ago revived the variety shows which have been an irregular part of Hilltop since Grimm purchased and restored the building in the early 1990s. He bought the old hall, he says, “to save a significantly historic building” and “to create a place where local folks could perform.”

Except for a small section which was damaged by water, this wood floor is original.

Except for a small section which was damaged by water, this wood floor is original. Here volunteers stack chairs following the final performance of “On Golden Pond” while the cast enjoys pizza.

Now on Sunday afternoons, during the recently-resurrected variety shows, audiences ranging from 30 – 100 gather in the upper floor venue, feet planted on the restored wood floor, to hear next-door Lutheran pastor, Bob Kaul, strum his folk style guitar music or professional musician Craig Wasner of Northfield perform or Grimm present his Elvis impersonations (or other musical selections).

In a kicked back atmosphere where performers arrive two hours before the 4 p.m. – 6 p.m. show to rehearse, if necessary, and then sit among the crowd, the audience will hear a wide range of music from gospel to pop, folk, country, classical and more presented by regular troupe members from the Montgomery, Le Sueur, New Prague and Northfield areas.

Among the crowd favorites, Grimm notes, is 2012 Montgomery-Lonsdale High School (now Tri-City United) graduate Jesse Beulke, a gifted musician studying psychology and music at Minnesota State University, Mankato, with aspirations of becoming a professional composer. Beulke’s classical music selections on the piano have drawn standing ovations. “The audience recognizes his talent,” Grimm says.

Other regulars include musicians Wade and Mary Lou Fradenburgh, Maren Wasner and Wendy Zaske.

A view of Hilltop Hall's performance venue shows John Grimm and Fran Bohlke playing the lead roles in "On Golden Pond."

A view of Hilltop Hall’s performance venue shows the cast of “On Golden Pond.” John Grimm, center, plays the lead role along with Fran Bohlke of Shakopee, left in Curtain Call Theatre’s production. This marked Bohlke’s third time playing Ethel Thayer. She previously played the part during performances in Worthington and Luverne. Stenciling in the hall was either replicated or restored, depending on condition.

Grimm is planning to add original humorous skits to the monthly Sunday variety shows, tapping into his passion for performing. Fran Bohlke, who played Ethel Thayer opposite Grimm’s Norman Thayer Jr. in the Curtain Call Theatre’s recent performances of “On Golden Pond” at the Hilltop, will also sing at the March 24 show.

While Grimm and his troupe welcome guest performers, those entertainers must audition for what’s billed as “a unique mix of breathtaking talent, lighthearted entertainment and tasty snacks—all in one lovely historic place…that brings entertainment, enjoyment and inspiration to the folks of South Central Minnesota.”

Big Honza's Museum of Unnatural History.

Big Honza’s Museum of Unnatural History.

The snacks include freshly-popped popcorn from the popcorn machine tucked in the hall’s second floor corner kitchen and pizza from Pizzeria 201 just down First Street in the historic Westerman Lumber Company office and residence. Grimm also owns that 1895 building which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Next door you’ll find Big Honza’s Museum of Unnatural History, another project of the creative Grimm.

Big Honza' sprinkling can located near his museum.

Big Honza’ sprinkling can located nest to the Big Honza museum.

As Grimms tells it, the fictional Big Honza Giganticzech originated when he penned a musical for Montgomery’s annual Kolacky Days celebration, embellishing local history to create the town’s version of Paul Bunyan. That led to the museum where visitors will see items like Big Honza’s airplane/corn shredder, a chain driven concertina and more. The museum is open by appointment or ask the folks at the Pizzeria to let you in; they have a key.

A view of the set for "On Golden Pond" with Big Honza painted on the wall to the left.

A view of the set for “On Golden Pond” with Big Honza painted on the wall to the left.

At Hilltop Hall, a rendition of Big Honza is painted onto a wall of the stage where those Curtain Call Theatre comedies are presented each February. Grimm enjoys the intimate setting of the old dance hall which will seat about 100 during the dinner theatre shows. On a recent Sunday afternoon, dinner guests savored chicken breast with pasta and sauce, roasted cauliflower and fresh fruit in a meringue-topped shell catered by Pizzeria 201. Other audience members arrived later just for the show.

“People look forward to it,” Grimm says of the yearly winter plays first performed at the Hilltop in 1999 with “Bull in a China Shop.” Other shows have included “The Odd Couple,” “Moon Over Buffalo,” The Dixie Swim Club,” and more. “Bathroom Humor” is slated for February 2014.

Set requirements, due to limited space in the built-on stage area, are the biggest restrictions in selecting a play, Grimm says. He doesn’t worry about the number of performers as a spiral staircase hidden behind the stage allows actors and actresses to slip down to the first floor floral shop to await their cues. Grimm installed the staircase after removing the building’s original freight elevator, a decision he today regrets.

When Grimm purchased Hilltop Hall, site of a laundromat, he found 10 inches of lint covering these walls as dryers had been vented into the hallway. This hall runs between the heritage center and floral shop and leads to a stairway to the performance space.

When Grimm purchased Hilltop Hall, site of a laundromat, he found 10 inches of lint covering these walls as dryers had been vented into the hallway. This hall runs between the heritage center and floral shop and leads to a stairway to the performance space. The chandelier is not original to the building.

He’s never regretted, though, his decision to buy the old dance hall, although Grimm admits some people think he’s crazy. But his passion for singing and entertaining—he’s composed several hundred songs, made four CDs and authored a play, “It’s About Us”—for promoting Montgomery, and for offering this arts venue, drive him.

With annual taxes on the building at $10,000-plus and a monthly light bill of some $200, his Hilltop project is a “money losing situation,” Grimm says. He justifies the expense noting that he doesn’t take vacations, so his vacation money goes into his arts endeavor.

The ceiling plaster had crumbled, so an artist laid on his back to re-create this mural on sheetrock in the center of the performance space.

The plaster had crumbled, so an artist laid on his back to re-create this ceiling mural on sheetrock in the center of the performance space. The chandelier is antique but not original to the hall. The original lights could not be restored, Grimm says.

Grimm admits an ineptness at promoting and that Hilltop Hall is under-utilized. But he won’t compromise his conviction not to allow alcohol into the building which is also used for the occasional community meeting, piano recitals and exercise classes.

For now he’s focused on those monthly variety shows, bringing “pizza, performers & plenty of pizzazz” to the folks of South Central Minnesota at the historic Hilltop Hall in Montgomery.

These exterior doors open to the hallway leading to the performing arts center.

These exterior doors open to the hallway leading to the upstairs performing arts center. A handicapped accessible entry is at the rear of the building off the alley.

FYI: Upcoming Hilltop Happenings Series shows are set for 4 p.m. – 6 p.m. on Sundays, March 24, April 28, May 26 and June 30. Admission is free although donations are accepted to help defray production and overhead costs.

The 2013 billing promises “…popular favorites to concert hall classics; from costumes and comedy to inspirational gospel and harmonic collaborations.”

Hilltop Hall is located at 206 First Street North in Montgomery’s downtown business district.

To learn more about the people and places in this post, be sure to click on their highlighted names. I’d encourage you, especially, to click on Jesse Beulke’s link to hear two original compositions, “I Guess It’s Goodbye” and “Rise,” by this gifted young composer and musician.

CHECK BACK FOR MORE posts from Montgomery.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The Poetry Barn March 3, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 12:18 PM
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OFFICIALLY, IT’S CALLED Stoney End Music Barn.

But I call it The Poetry Barn.

Stoney End Music Barn, 920 State Highway 19, Red Wing, Minnesota

Stoney End Music Barn, 920 State Highway 19, Red Wing, Minnesota

Tucked into a wooded hillside just west of Red Wing, an aged sprawling barn draws the attention of travelers on Minnesota Highway 19. If not for the words, this barn might go unnoticed, blending into the rural landscape.

But there the barn stands, block print letters painted upon peeling paint.

Perhaps passersby ponder the poetry posted. Perhaps not.

I have photographed the barn on a sunny Saturday in March, just another person passing by en route to and from the Mississippi River town of Red Wing. Like so many others, I am in a hurry with no time to pause and explore this roadside attraction.

I have missed so much. Stoney End Music Barn, I later learn, houses a team of musicians who craft primarily harps—having made more than 7,000 since 1984.

The renovated barn is also home to the Hobgoblin Music Store and a third floor music loft/concert hall.

So you see, Stoney End Music Barn truly is a poetry barn, for music is poetry.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota Sinfonia comes to Faribault & I attend a classical music concert for the first time February 15, 2013

Cellist Dmitry Kouzov

Cellist Dmitry Kouzov

I WATCHED AS THEIR crooked arms worked the bows back and forth, mostly gliding, sometimes slowing in almost robotic jerks, across the violins tucked under their chins.

All the while the music flowed—soft and soothing, other times bursting into crescendos of triumph and power.

The rhythm, the tones, the movement mesmerized me as only classical music can.

For the first time ever Thursday evening, I attended an orchestra concert. And let me tell you, this performance by the Minnesota Sinfonia, with featured soloist Dmitry Kouzov on the cello, rated as outstanding.

Not that I have anything with which to compare the performance or even a musical background to rate it—I don’t play an instrument nor can I read a musical note. But that matters not. The music moved me, engaged me, transported me.

When Kouzov, an International Beethoven Competition winner, settled into his chair at the historic Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour in Faribault, his very presence commanded respect. Those of us in the audience knew we were about to hear something truly magical from this cellist who has performed with orchestras like the St. Petersburg Symphony and the National Symphony of Ukraine.

And we did. To watch Kouzov work his cello, to hear sounds ranging from almost ear-hurting shrills to the deepest of depths, impressed. I heard trilling birds and tin cans kicked along a rocky road and imagined immigrants journeying across the Minnesota prairie.

My husband, sitting next to me on the pew in this 150-year-old cathedral, thought cartoon music. I understand his perspective. But I tend to think more in poetic terms. That’s the beauty of music—it is open to interpretation based on individual experiences, personality and perceptions.

I was simply thankful the music and the brooding darkness and warmth of the sanctuary did not lull my husband asleep during the 1 ½ hour Valentine’s Day evening concert. That this chamber orchestra held the interest of an automotive machinist who prefers the likes of Fleetwood Mac, The Moody Blues and Charlie Daniels to classical music should impress you.

The Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour, shown here in a file photo, offers wonderful accoustics for a concert.

The Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour, shown here in a file photo, offers wonderful acoustics for a concert.

Mostly, I was thankful for the opportunity to attend a concert of this caliber in my community and at no cost. Minnesota Sinfonia, a non-profit whose mission is “to serve the musical and educational needs of the citizens of Minnesota, especially families with children, inner-city youth, seniors and those with limited financial means,” performs all concerts free of charge. The Sinfonia receives support in part from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Minnesota Clean Water, Land & Legacy Amendment.

Faribault’s Shattuck-St. Mary’s School and The Catherdral of Our Merciful Saviour collaborated to bring the Sinfonia to Faribault as part of Shattuck’s Fesler-Lampert Performing Arts series.

The historic Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour in Faribault. File photo.

The historic Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour in Faribault. File photo.

I appreciate that this group of professional musicians took their concert outside of the Twin Cities metro area. Outstate Minnesota needs more exposure like this to the performing arts. As I listened, I thought how much my 80-year-old mom, who lives in rural southwestern Minnesota, would enjoy a concert like this. And I wondered why my community of 23,000 could not fill this sanctuary to overflowing for this spectacular free concert of classical music. Next time…

FYI: Click here to learn more about the Minnesota Sinfonia.

The Minnesota Sinfonia will present two free concerts this weekend in the Twin Cities. A performance is set for 7 p.m. Friday, February 15, in Founders Hall at Metropolitan State University, 700 East 7th Street, St. Paul.

At 4 p.m. on Sunday, February 17, Minnesota Sinfonia will perform at Temple Israel, 2324 Emerson Avenue South, Minneapolis.

Early arrival is recommended at both venues. I’d suggest you search online for more info about these concerts if interested in attending.

(Because The Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour is especially dark and because photos were not allowed during the performance, I did not take my camera to the concert.)

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

And how did I like that classical music concert? December 30, 2012

A FEW WEEKS AGO, my husband phoned from work. He’d just won two tickets to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert at the Xcel Energy Center, compliments of Power 96, KQCL, a Faribault radio station. (Some of you may remember this from a previous post.)

Oh, my gosh, was I excited. I love classical music.

But as apparently everyone on this earth knows, except me, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra is a rock band. Who would have thought with a name like that?

So I figured I may as well confess my lack of musical knowledge, which I did in a December 12 post. For those of you who have not read that first amusing story, click here for a good laugh.

Secondly, you should know that I have not attended a rock concert in perhaps 30 years, the last one being a performance by The Moody Blues at the old St. Paul Civic Center.

Just sayin’ that I’m not exactly a music expert.

A view of the stage in the background and performers in the foreground elevated onto tiny platforms. I apologize for the horrible images, but DSLR cameras are not allowed into a concert venue and I don't own a compact camera. This image and the second were taken with my cell phone.

A view of the stage in the background and performers in the foreground elevated onto tiny platforms. I apologize for the horrible images, but DSLR cameras were not allowed into the concert venue and I don’t own a compact camera. This image and the second were taken with my cell phone. You can only imagine how many times I repeated, “I wish I had my camera.”

So what did I think of “The Lost Christmas Eve” concert by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra? In all honesty, I was more impressed by the light and pyrotechnics show than by the music or the storyline.

I know. I know. Those of you who really, really love the Trans-Siberian Orchestra will wonder, “What the heck? Did she attend the same concert as me?”

Apparently I prefer my music quiet, as in the outstanding “O Come, All Ye Faithful” solo by one of the band members versus the drum banging, steel guitar blazing mashed sound of a song I can’t even understand. I found it interesting that the reverent solo I most enjoyed received the loudest and longest audience applause of the concert.

Yes, there were a lot of gray hairs attending the show, along with a mix of other ages. Just sayin’, we may have favored Led Zepplin in our days (that would be you, Chuck, our concert neighbor), but now some of us wear ear plugs to rock concerts. My husband and I are raising our hands here. I bet the woman from Prior Lake sitting behind us wished she had brought hers, too.

Again, a bad photo, but at least it gives you some idea of the amazing light show and fabulous showmanship of this concert.

Again, a bad photo, but at least it gives you some idea of the amazing light show and fabulous showmanship of this concert.

For awhile there, until my eyes and brain adjusted, I also wondered if I should have brought sunglasses. Those strobe lights were pretty intense. But, once I settled in, I was enamored by the light show and the fire. The flames were so high and intense that the heat wafted to the back of the auditorium where we were seated.

About those seats…we were directly facing the stage; the location could not have been better. But who planned the width of these seats and the leg room? Honestly, I felt wedged into my chair and worried about knocking our large-sized $9.25 shared beer from the cup holder.

I worried, too, a bit about the performers who were elevated onto tiny towering platforms both on-stage and near our end of the concert venue. I bet they really felt the heat when fiery jets flamed near them. That was pretty cool even if it was hot. Got that?

All in all, my husband and I reached this conclusion: The Trans-Siberian Orchestra presented a good concert. Our tickets were free. We were happy.

But would we pay to see this group perform again? Probably not.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Go ahead, laugh at this Trans-Siberian Orchestra story December 12, 2012

MY HUSBAND PHONED from work one morning last week to tell me he’d just won two tickets from a local radio station to see the Trans-Siberian Orchestra in concert at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

I was thrilled. I love classical music and have never attended a professional orchestra concert.

This album cover has nothing to do with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra except the location, New York City. Joe Krush created this cover photo for Joseph Kuhn's 1958 "Symphony for Blues"  record album cover. I recently purchased 10 vintage records at the Faribault Salvation Army for the cover art. If I own a record player, I'm not sure where it's stored or if it works.

This album cover has nothing to do with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra except the location, New York City. Joe Krush created this cover photo for Joseph Kuhn’s 1958 “Symphony for Blues” record album cover. I recently purchased 10 vintage records, including this one, at the Faribault Salvation Army for the cover art. If I own a record player, I’m not sure where it’s stored or if it works.

“Are they were from Siberia?” I asked, noting the orchestra name.

“No, New York, I think,” Randy responded.

It didn’t matter. I was excited about the upcoming concert. Since Randy needed to get back to work, I didn’t ask for additional details.

Later, I shared the news with our oldest daughter. The conversation went something like this:

Daughter: You do know that the Trans-Siberian Orchestra is a rock band, right?

Me: Uh, no. I thought it was a classical orchestra. Oh, oh. Maybe now I don’t want to go.

Daughter: Bring your ear plugs.

And that is how I learned that my husband and I, who last took in a rock concert (by The Moody Blues) at the St. Paul Civic Center decades ago before children, would not be hearing the lovely and soothing classical music I imagined.

Instead, we’ll be bombarded by steel guitars, so I’m told by someone who’s twice heard the Trans-Siberian Orchestra in concert. The few token string instruments in the band are, he claims, barely audible above the rest of the instruments. Still, he says, we’ll see and hear an outstanding performance which also includes pyrotechnics.

Alright then. Fire and loud rock music. Cool.

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra Christmas concert includes a touch of Broadway. Again, unrelated except for the Broadway element, here's another vintage record album I recently purchased for the graphic arts element.

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra Christmas concert includes a touch of Broadway. Again, unrelated except for the Broadway element, here’s another vintage record album I recently purchased for the graphic arts element.

The band’s 2012 holiday tour marks the debut performance of their rock opera, “The Lost Christmas Eve,” fusing elements of rock, classical, folk, Broadway and R & B music. I doubt Randy is aware of the “opera” tag.

The performance tells a story that “encompasses a run-down hotel, an old toy store, a blues bar, a Gothic cathedral and their respective inhabitants all intertwined during a single enchanted Christmas Eve in New York City.”

Cool. I appreciate a good story, even if this one’s not set in a quaint Siberian village.

Even the actual albums themselves are a beauty to behold, including this one featuring Wayne King and his orchestra. I bet the Trans-Siberian Orchestra sounds nothing like King.

Even the actual albums themselves are a beauty to behold, including this one featuring Wayne King and his orchestra. I bet the Trans-Siberian Orchestra sounds nothing like King.

FOR ANY OF YOU who may be wondering, yes, my spouse was fully aware that the Trans-Siberian Orchestra is a rock band. Hey, I’ve never claimed to know much about music.

Have any of you attended this band’s holiday show? If so, should I bring ear plugs and what’s your review of the performance?

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 
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