Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

These youthful musicians give me hope July 23, 2014

Songs of Hope performers present a selection from India.

Songs of Hope performers present a selection from India.

IF EVER YOU DESPAIR in today’s young people, consider the youth participating in Songs of Hope, a six-week St. Paul based performing arts summer camp that is part of Sounds of Hope, Ltd.

Labeled suitcases were placed on the grass to inform the audience of the culture featured.

Labeled suitcases and stands denote countries of origin during featured songs.

Consider these young people who travel from all over the world—places like Vietnam, China, Italy, Turkey, Israel and Guatemala—to spread messages of peace, hope, understanding and more via song and dance.

As the sun sets, performers in traditional Vietnamese attire present selections from Vietnam.

As the sun sets, performers in traditional Vietnamese attire present selections from Vietnam.

These musicians lifted my spirits during a 90-minute outdoor concert last Saturday at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault.

Ready to perform in traditional Chinese attire.

Ready to perform in traditional Chinese attire.

They give me hope that, despite the unrest in the Gaza Strip, the tense situation in the Ukraine, the continuing war on terror in Afghanistan, the situation along the U.S. southern border, and, yes, even the gun violence in Chicago, we can resolve our differences, overcome cultural and other barriers, and live in peace.

Participating youth from all over the world paint their names on the underside of boxes upon which they perform.

Participating youth from all over the world paint their names  and hand prints on the underside of boxes upon which they perform.

Hope, though sometimes an elusive word, is worth believing in.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Featuring Albania...

Featuring Albania…

Waiting to perform.

Waiting to perform.

Song and dance from Vietnam.

Song and dance from Vietnam.

After the concert, goods from various countries and more were available for purchase. The young woman on the left is a native of Argentina who works as an opera singer in France. She's in the U.S. for a month with Songs of Hope.

After the concert, goods from various countries and more were available for purchase. The young woman on the left is a native of Argentina who works as an opera singer in France. She’s in the U.S. for a month with Songs of Hope.

A sample of the merchandise being sold.

A sample of the merchandise available for purchase.

From Italy...

From Italy…

FYI: Click here to learn more about Sounds of Hope, Ltd.

And click here to view my previous blog post on the Songs of Hope concert in Faribault.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Youth from around the world bring songs of hope to Faribault July 22, 2014

On a perfect summer night, Songs of Hope performed an outdoor concert at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault.

On a perfect summer night, Songs of Hope performed an outdoor concert at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault.

AS THE GOLDEN ORB of the sun shifted across the sky, as dragonflies dipped above the audience, as a distant train rumbled, Songs of Hope musicians performed before a rapt audience at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault on Saturday evening.

The performers focused on hope, like their name.

The performers focused on hope, like their name.

And the message they brought—in their dancing and in their singing—was hope.

Songs from Guatemala.

Songs from Guatemala.

Inspirational defines these performers who have been attending the St. Paul based international performing arts summer camp, Songs of Hope. Seventy musicians from 15 countries are currently on tour, presenting 33 concerts in 18 days.

Chinese youth perform as the sun sets.

Chinese youth perform as the sun sets.

Songs of Hope is “about people getting together and sharing culture and lives,” Program Director Tom Surprenant said as he introduced the group.

Performing outdoors at River Bend.

Performing outdoors at River Bend.

But with audiences, like the one in Faribault, they share so much more: possibilities, hope, peace, freedom, justice…

In nearly constant motion.

In nearly constant motion.

I was beyond impressed by these young people who sang with such force and enthusiasm and rarely stopped moving as they presented 90 minutes of songs spanning multiple nations from India to Jamaica to Guatemala to Italy to Russia and many other places.

The band provided upbeat music that made you want to dance.

The band provided upbeat music that makes you want to dance.

Even though I could not always understand, music bridges language and cultural differences.

Selections from Jamaica included "Linstead Market" and "Stand Up For Your Rights."

Selections from Jamaica included “Linstead Market” and “Stand Up For Your Rights.”

Truly, skin color, eye shape, height nor any other physical characteristic mattered as these youth performed.

Nevaeh, the daughter of friends, wore the perfect shirt for the concert.

Nevaeh, the daughter of friends, wore the perfect shirt for the concert.

They were to me just kids sharing a hopeful message through song and dance, showing us that we are all human beings who can get along if we make the effort, living in harmony and peace with one another.

Look at the fun these youth were having singing a song, "I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream" about ice cream.

Look at the fun these youth had singing “I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream,” a song about ice cream, a universal treat.

Especially moving was the group’s performance of “I Am Malala,” based on the experience of the young Pakistani girl who was shot simply for pursuing education. “Fight for what you believe in…for education…infinite hope.”

Hands joined in hope.

Hands joined in hope.

After attending this concert, I am, indeed, hopeful.

My heart went out to this boy from Israel given the current situation there.

My heart went out to this boy from Israel given the current situation there.

And I expect so is the young soloist from Israel who sported a t-shirt reading “PEACE & HOPE from ISRAEL.”

FYI: CLICK HERE to see a schedule of the remaining performances in the summer concert schedule, which ends on July 27. The final concerts are in St. Paul, Roseville and Montgomery.

Please check back tomorrow for additional photos from the Faribault Songs of Hope concert. If you have an opportunity to attend a performance, do. Songs of Hope will inspire and uplift you.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Music and people-watching in Faribault’s Central Park July 2, 2014

The Minnesota State Band plays in the Central Park Bandshell in Faribault.

The Minnesota State Band plays in the Central Park band shell in Faribault.

WHEN THE OLDEST BAND in the state of Minnesota, The Minnesota State Band founded in 1898, performed in Faribault on a recent Thursday evening, the audience was bouncing and tapping and directing from benches and from their lawn chairs scattered across Central Park.

A snippet of the crowd listening to The Minnesota State Band.

A snippet of the crowd listening to The Minnesota State Band.

I love people-watching at concerts nearly as much as listening to the music.

To my right, an elderly man, hands waving, mouthed the words to Ferde Grofe’s “Over There Fantasie,” a World War I song otherwise known as “Ode to an American Soldier,” as the band kicked off its selection of half American and half British Isles tunes.

Before that, conductor Charles Boody bemoaned the loss of a time prior to and during WW I when folks would gather to sing. With the invention of the phonograph and radio, that musical era ended and he termed that loss “a shame.”

I expect that on this Thursday evening, more than a few of the mostly senior citizen audience members would have agreed with him.

As drums beat, feet tapped and swayed and I momentarily confused the drum beat with thunder. Rain threatened, but never fell.

Some audience members pulled out blankets.

Some audience members pulled out blankets.

The wind stirred a cool breeze through maple trees and forced some concert-goers to wrap wool blankets around themselves. Lily leaves seemed to dance to the music and a preschooler hip-hop-marched to the rhythm, Grandma keeping an ever watchful eye on her.

A few kids, like Emmett, attended the concert.

A few kids, like Emmett, attended the concert.

At the audience perimeter, Emmett’s sisters brushed chalk from the 20-month-old’s shorts after he plopped onto the sidewalk to roll his toy truck across chalk art created by children during Faribault’s recent Heritage Days.

And the band played on. Selections like “Chorale and Shaker Dance,” “Phantom of the Opera” and “”Knightsbridge March.”

Sirens wailed, more than a few times. A semi truck packed with caged turkeys rumbled by, destined for the Jennie-O Turkey Store blocks away. A biker zipped through the park and a walker walked the sidewalk around the park.

Barbara Sells of Mojoe 2 go prepares fresh lemonade for a customer.

Barbara Sells of Mojoe 2 go prepares fresh lemonade for a customer.

During a brief intermission, Barbara Sells of Mojoe 2 go squeezed lemons for fresh lemonade. It was her first time vending at the concert. She noted that her drive-through business, located by the Faribo West Mall at 190 Western Avenue Northwest, sells more than just coffee. You’ll find lemonade, too, and other cool summer treats. She’ll be back at the park.

Then the band played on.

When conductor Boody stepped up to introduce Arthur Sullivan’s music from the comic opera HMS Pinafore, the repeated shrill of a train whistle quelled his soft voice. He went with the moment, stating how much he likes trains.

Darkness began to fall as the band finished its performance around 8:30 p.m.

Darkness began to fall as the band finished its performance around 8:30 p.m.

And I appreciate evenings like this when I can take in the music of a fine band right here in my community as part of the free, yes, free, Thursday night Concerts in the Park series. The Faribault concert was partially funded by the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. The Minnesota State Band’s other performances are all in the metro. (Click here to see the band’s schedule.)

The New Prague Community Band plays in Faribault this coming Thursday, July 3, presenting traditional band and German band music at the concert which begins at 7 p.m. (To see the complete concert series schedule, click here.)

A free outdoor showing of the movie, Monsters University, follows that performance. Outdoor movies are new to this year’s schedule with The Lego Movie slated to show after the July 24 concert.

I’d like to see more families at these concerts. When my three kids were growing up, we’d come nearly every Thursday evening to listen to the music. A relaxed park setting offers the perfect opportunity to expose kids to music in a venue where they needn’t sit. I observed numerous concert-goers swivel their heads to observe an active preschooler, smiles spreading across their faces. There’s something about kids and music and the outdoors…

For a $20 donation to support the band, concert goers received a teddy bear.

For a $20 donation to support the band, concert goers received a teddy bear.

And there’s something, too, about band members like trombone player Patricia Ireland, whom we applauded after conductor Boody noted that she’s been with the band for 50 years. Remarkable. The Minnesota State Band is the only remaining state band in the country. While once a state-funded group, the band today operates as a non-profit with all-volunteer membership.

And because we clapped with enthusiasm, the band played an encore while a helicopter thump-thump-thumped overhead, aiming toward the hospital.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Going strong for 122 years: Good old-fashioned Fourth of July fun in North Morristown July 1, 2014

JULY FOURTH in North Morristown is like a step back in time, a true grassroots celebration in the heart of rural southern Minnesota farm land.

A large crowd enjoys a free afternoon concert by Monroe Crossing.

A large crowd enjoys a free afternoon concert by Monroe Crossing on July 4, 2013. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Since 1892—that’s 122 years if you’re counting—Trinity Lutheran Church and School have observed our nation’s birthday, giving it the distinction as the oldest Fourth of July celebration in Minnesota.

The country church and school, and a cluster of several farm sites, are North Morristown, set among fields of corn and soybeans in Rice County west of Faribault.

The event is held at the North Morristown picnic grounds in southwestern Rice County.

The Fourth of July celebration is held at the North Morristown festival grounds, pictured here, in southwestern Rice County. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

At 9 a.m. on July 4, stands and games open at the festival grounds across from Trinity. The grounds remain open until after the 10 p.m. fireworks.

This is an event which offers a day of good old-fashioned fun and memory-building for all ages, including the 10 a.m. parade that runs a block, or maybe two.

An overview of the novelties shoppe and games and rides building.

An overview of the novelties shoppe and games and rides building. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

I can’t recall how many times I’ve been to North Morristown on the Fourth. But enough that I’d recommend this celebration to anyone, especially those seeking a sense of simplicity, community, history, patriotism and Americana. All define the Fourth of July here.

A peek inside the ice cream shoppe.

A peek inside the ice cream shoppe. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

From the parade to the flag raising to the patriotic program, medallion hunt, bingo, music, kids’ games and rides, silent auction and, let’s not forget the delicious homemade food, you’ll find it all.

Enjoying a pork sandwich and a beer.

Enjoying a pork sandwich and a beer at the 2013 Fourth of July celebration. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

The homemade pies are to die for as are the BBQ pork and hot beef sandwiches.

Blueberry pie.

Homemade blueberry pie. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

Just a tip. Don’t wait too long to order your slice of pie or you may not get the type you want. Pie sells quickly.

The vintage car ride for kids.

The vintage car ride for kids. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

I love everything about this celebration, but especially the kitschy kids’ rides that appear to have been around forever. I expect second and third generations are riding these rides. This event is definitely family-oriented.

The bluegrass band, Monroe Crossing, has performed at North Morristown the past seven years, presenting two concerts at the celebration.

The bluegrass band, Monroe Crossing, has performed at North Morristown the past seven years, presenting two concerts at the celebration. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

Music comprises a major part of the festivities. The well-known bluegrass band, Monroe Crossing, is slated to perform at 1 p.m. and again at 5 p.m. on the main stage. Also on the main stage will be the Roe Family Singers at noon and 4 p.m. and the Mountain Lake Gospel Singers at 7 p.m. There will also be music in the beer garden.

Zinghoppers, a band focused on entertainment for the preschool and elementary-aged crowd, performs at 2:30 p.m.

The bingo callers.

The bingo callers. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

To see a complete schedule of the day’s events (because I can’t possibly list them all here), for directions to North Morristown and more, click here.

Visitors stopping by the ice cream shop can drop donations for the entertainment into a drop box.

Visitors stopping by the ice cream shoppe could drop donations for the entertainment into a drop box at last year’s celebration. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

Just a few other things you should know: Parking and entertainment are free, although I’d suggest you buy a $1 celebration button and/or donate monies to support the festival. Bring a lawn chair, just in case. There are picnic tables and bleachers but those can fill quickly.

Hot pork and beef sandwiches and cold beverages are served from this stand.

Hot pork and beef sandwiches and cold beverages are served from this stand. Burgers and other foods are also available.

Keep your food and alcoholic beverages at home as they are not allowed onto the church or festival grounds. There’s plenty of great food and drink available for purchase. Lock your vehicles. This may be in the middle of nowhere, but…

Homemade pies and ice cream are served from the pie building.

Homemade pies and ice cream are served from the pie building. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

And did I tell you to order a slice of pie?

© Copyright 2014 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

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:48 AM
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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

 

 
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