Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Embracing Shattuck-St. Mary’s outreach into the Faribault community May 4, 2018

An arch frames Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Faribault, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

THURSDAY EVENING I ATTENDED a free concert by the Minnesota Sinfonia. At Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Faribault.

This evening, if I choose, I can attend “The Wizard of Oz on Ice.” Again, at no charge and on the campus of Shattuck, a prestigious private prep school in Faribault. The Shattuck-St. Mary’s Figure Skating Club show begins at 7 p.m. in the SSM Sports Complex.

 

The Shattuck-St. Mary’s Crack Squad performs in the 2015 Faribault Memorial Day parade. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Then, at 1 p.m. Sunday, I can attend a Town Drill. Again, at no charge, at Shattuck and at 1 p.m. in Johnson Gym. The Wooden Soldiers Drill Team, celebrating its 100th anniversary, performs along with The Crack Squad. That precision drill squad first performed in 1882.

 

In the Shumway Hall entry hall, carolers sing for Christmas Walk guests. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I appreciate how Shattuck continues to open its doors to the community through free events like these and the annual Campus Christmas Walk and community Easter Egg Hunt. And I appreciate, too, the Fesler-Lampert and Acoustic Roots Performing Arts Series which brings musicians, theatre and more to this historic campus. I attended the St. Paul-based History Theatre’s “Sweet Land the musical” here in October. Had Shattuck not brought the production to Faribault, I never would have seen this show based on one of my favorite movies.

 

The Shattuck-St. Mary’s campus features beautiful stone buildings constructed in the 1800s, including Shumway Hall with its landmark bell tower. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

While the arts series events are typically pay-for shows, the Sinfonia concert on Thursday was free, as are all concerts by this Twin Cities-based orchestra. For someone like me who has only been to an orchestra concert several times in her life, this is an absolute gift. To listen to music ranging from soothing to barn dance raucous by professional musicians in such an historic theatre simply made me happy. Several times I tipped my head back to take in the wood-wrapped walls and ceiling, then turned to view sunlight streaming colors through clustered narrow stained glass windows. The cool of the evening wafted through open windows as did the chimes of the Shumway Hall clock tower bell. Musicians, in a quirky interruption, paused to let the chimes ring before continuing their concert.

 

The Chapel of the Good Shepherd on the Shattuck campus. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

As the Sinfonia director noted, Shattuck could be a setting for a Harry Potter movie. I agree. This place of massive, aged stone buildings has that look. It feels more like a college campus than a prep school excelling in academics, the arts and sports. I am grateful for its presence in Faribault. And I am grateful for a school that welcomes the community onto its campus.

If you’ve never been to Shattuck, I’d encourage you to attend an event there, to take in the historic beauty of this place on Faribault’s east side.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Holy Smoke, what talented musicians & what great food July 18, 2017

 

TWO TURKEY VULTURES rode the wind high above the church on the hill. Dipping, circling, gliding.

 

Sweet Potato Jackson performs.

 

Far below in the grassy side yard of Christ Lutheran Church, Sweet Potato Jackson and the Todd Thompson Band entertained with foot-tapping bluegrass, pop, country, gospel and other tunes. Adults settled into lawn chairs and listened. Kids ran—to the playground and back. A wee girl swayed to the rhythm of the banjo, the guitar, the mandolin and other string instruments.

 

The Todd Thompson Band gets up close to the audience.

 

I sang the lion sleeps tonight, only 10 feet from the quartet performing the catchy tune I remember from decades ago. My husband and I were front row with the Todd Thompson Band, four guys standing on the lawn and performing music with an unbridled passion. I could see their love for song in the rapid movement of their fingers across strings, hear it in their enthusiastic voices.

 

 

They exuded joy during this event billed as Holy Smokes! by the host Lutheran congregation. One Wednesday evening a month during the summer, this church on Faribault’s east side offers a free concert as a community outreach. The music is served up along with savory homemade pizza and smoked pork and brisket sandwiches and sides available for purchase. Proceeds from the meal benefit people in need in the community.

 

The hilltop location offers a wide view of Faribault and beyond.

 

The descriptive words holy smoke fit both the food and the featured musicians. And the setting. This is a tranquil location overlooking this southeastern Minnesota city and beyond. Wind blowing a cool breeze through trees after a hot and humid day. Shifting white clouds in a blue sky. Lovely. Kids and music and the occasional adult conversation blending in a soothing harmony.

 

 

I delighted in the carefree feel of this event, of watching children run and play like kids should on a summer evening as perfect as they get in Minnesota. I was reminded of bygone years when my extended family gathered to visit and we cousins played without adult direction, without any planned activity.

For a few hours I forgot about the problems of the world, about the challenges in life. I simply was—enveloped in Holy Smokes!

 

FYI: The next Holy Smokes! concert is set for 6 – 9 p.m. Wednesday, August 9, at Christ Lutheran, 1200 NE First Street (along Minnesota State Highway 60), Faribault. Bring lawn chairs or blankets and an appetite for great food and equally great music by Sweet Potato Jackson and Sarah Crissinger.

Note: I’ll rephotograph Holy Smokes! (including the food) once I’m healed from my shoulder fracture and able to shoot with my Canon DSLR camera.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In concert from Rochester: “The Farmer’s Song” & six other poems April 1, 2017

 

IT IS MY PLEASURE to present to you a video that includes “The Farmer’s Song,” my poem performed last weekend at two concerts in Rochester.

Click here to listen to a Choral Song Cycle by David Kassler on Texts of Minnesota Poets. I read my poem at about 39 minutes followed by a Chamber Choir singing “The Farmer’s Song” with cellist and pianist accompaniment. This concert was held at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church.

To Rochester composer David Kassler and to all of the musicians, thank you for this gift of an artsong. Fueled by your musical passions and talents, you took my poem and crafted a moving tribute to the Minnesota farmer I remember. To share my rural roots in this way has been a truly joyful experience. And to be in the company of six other gifted poets was also an honor.

Thank you.

The Farmer’s Song

Out of rote he follows the path from house to barn,
from barn to shed, steel-toed boots beating a rhythm
upon the earth, into this land which claims his soul.

He reaches for the paint-chipped handle,
his grease-stained fingers connecting with worn metal
like hammer to nail in the movements of his day.

Farming defines the lyrics of his life written upon hands
that have measured yields, directed tractors, pitched manure,
stroked calves, performed seasons of backbreaking labor.

Inside the shed, as he latches wrench to bolt,
he ponders the final verses of his years, the songs he’ll sing
when age frays his memory, grips his hands in a hallelujah chorus.

 

FYI:  If you are a choral conductor interested in having this music performed by your ensemble. please contact David Kassler. He will work with you. Like Kassler, I would love to see these artsongs reach an even broader audience.

Click here to read my initial blog post about the concert.

A special thank you also to Park Rapids-based The Jackpine Writer’s Bloc for originally publishing “The Farmer’s Song” in the anthology In Retrospect, The Talking Stick, Volume 22.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Featuring poetry in original songs at a Minnesota concert & I’m in March 28, 2017

 

INSIDE THE SANCTUARY of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Rochester, voices rose in poetic song while the composer/director focused with eyes intent, arms rising and falling in a mesmerizing rhythm.

From my aisle seat chair, I watched and listened, swept into details of the concert—the shape of a singer’s mouth, the hands of the cellist gliding bow across strings, the strength of the piano in a place with wonderful acoustics.

 

 

I listened, too, to the strong voices of poets who read or recited poetry with the practice of seasoned writers. I was one of them, reading my poem, “The Farmer’s Song,” selected for inclusion in the weekend world premiere of “A Choral Song Cycle on Texts of Regional Poets” at two concerts in this southeastern Minnesota city.

Rochester composer David Kassler crafted music for seven selected poems written by myself, Jana Bouma, Meredith Cook, Janelle Hawkridge, Robert Hedin, John Reinhard and Michael Waters. Mine was part of a Minnesotan Rondos trio: “The Famous Anoka Potato,” “The Farmer’s Song” and “The Old Scandinavians.”

 

 

To hear my rural-themed poem performed by an impressive and talented Chamber Chorale with accompaniment of an equally gifted cellist and pianist, was humbling and honoring. I am grateful for this unique opportunity as a poet.

 

 

When I consider music, I view it as poetry in the sound of instruments, in the lyrics, in the voices that sing, in the direction of the conductor, in the reaction of the audience. I received numerous positive comments on “The Farmer’s Song,” including that my poem reflects a way of life that is disappearing from rural America. It is. The small family farm and the intense backbreaking labor that once defined agriculture is mostly gone, replaced by automation, equipment and large farms.

 

Audrey Kletscher Helbling reading “The Farmer’s Song.” Photo by Randy Helbling

 

My inclusion in this particular project, funded through a Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council grant, is especially notable for me personally. I cannot read a single note of music. I never had the opportunity as a child growing up on a southwestern Minnesota dairy and crop farm to pursue anything musical. Yet, despite the absence of studied music in my life then, music was a part of the daily rhythm of farm life, expressed today in the poetry I write.

 

A scene from the 2012 Rice County Steam and Gas Engines Show. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

 

The Farmer’s Song

Out of rote he follows the path from house to barn,
from barn to shed, steel-toed boots beating a rhythm
upon the earth, into this land which claims his soul.

He reaches for the paint-chipped handle,
his grease-stained fingers connecting with worn metal
like hammer to nail in the movements of his day.

Farming defines the lyrics of his life written upon hands
that have measured yields, directed tractors, pitched manure,
stroked calves, performed seasons of backbreaking labor.

Inside the shed, as he latches wrench to bolt,
he ponders the final verses of his years, the songs he’ll sing
when age frays his memory, grips his hands in a hallelujah chorus.

 

FYI: The Friday evening “A Choral Song Cycle on Texts of Regional Poets” concert at Hill Theatre, Rochester Community and Technical College, was recorded and will be available soon for viewing online. I will share that link with you when it becomes available.

“The Farmer’s Song” originally published in In Retrospect, The Talking Stick, Volume 22, an anthology produced by Park Rapids based The Jackpine Writer’s Bloc.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Poetry in Minnesota beyond the classroom, beyond anthologies March 21, 2017

I EXPECT MANY OF YOU dislike poetry. You sat in a high school English class bored to death by the required reading of poems you didn’t understand. Or worse, you had to pen a haiku or a rhyming poem or free verse. And then you had to take a test. You couldn’t wait until the poetry unit was done.

You struggled. You didn’t care. I get it. I felt that way about math. But poetry I’ve always embraced. I am grateful for the educators who taught, and continue to teach, poetry to resistant students.

 

Sidewalk poetry in downtown Northfield. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

If you’re one of those non-poetry people, I hope you’ll give this literary art a second chance. Poetry is certainly less rigid and stuffy than years ago. It’s also much more accessible beyond a collection published in a book. Now you’ll find poetry creatively presented in videos such as Minneapolis-based Motionpoems; online in Gyroscope Review, co-founded and co-edited by a Minnesotan; imprinted in sidewalks in cities like Northfield and St. Paul and Mankato; and more.

 

A graphic I created for Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Cardboard walls that once held poetry inside an intellectual box have collapsed and been recycled. The result is poetry that maybe, just maybe, you will find approachable, understandable and enjoyable.

 

My poem, “Bandwagon,” posted in 2014 in Lion’s Park in Mankato as part of the Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride. The poems are changed annually. Each poem must be 18 lines or less with no more than 40 characters per line. They must also be themed to the area. “Bandwagon” was inspired by a Mankato TV show by that name. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Take the 2017 Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride. I’ll join other poets at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 23, at the Emy Frentz Arts Guild Gallery in Mankato for a poetry reading and awards reception. I’ll read my poem, “Cornfield Memories,” which won honorable mention. While that’s an honor, the truly exciting aspect of this project is the public accessibility and visibility of poetry.

Michael Torres, a CantoMundo fellow, creative writing teacher and co-host of art workshops for homeless and at-risk youth in the Mankato area, selected 29 poems from about 70 submissions for inclusion in the Poetry Walk & Ride. The poems will be posted on signs along recreational trails in Mankato and North Mankato. This endeavor brings poetry to people in parks, playgrounds and other outdoor spaces in an unassuming way. What a great idea. Poems cover a broad range of topics from experiencing the outdoors to Minnesota to water, says Erin Dorney, writer and project organizer.

 

My poem initially printed in In Retrospect, The Talking Stick, Volume 22, an anthology published by The Jackpine Writers’ Bloc based in northern Minnesota, has been crafted into a song by Rochester, Minnesota composer David Kassler. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

The next day, at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 24, poetry will also be showcased publicly, this time at a concert. My poem, “The Farmer’s Song,” is among seven being sung by a chamber choir at the Hill Theater at Rochester Community and Technical College. Admission is $7.50. The same concert will be presented for a free-will offering at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 26, at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Rochester. I’ll attend that Sunday concert and read my poem. A reception follows the Sunday concert.

I appreciate that Rochester composer David Kassler invested considerable time in creating choral settings for selected poems. It’s just one more way to bring poetry to the people of Minnesota in an inviting public way. Please join me and other Minnesotans in celebrating poetry at either or both events.

TELL ME: What’s your attitude toward poetry?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Beyond the music: A photo essay from a summer band concert in Faribault July 18, 2016

The Bavarian Musikmeisters, a 35-member band, perform on July 14 at Faribault's Central Park.

The Bavarian Musikmeisters, a 35-member band, perform on July 14 at Faribault’s Central Park.

CONCERTS AND SUMMER pair like music and dancing, paint and a brush, rain and an umbrella.

 

Concert in Central Park 091 - Copy

 

All defined a recent performance by the Bavarian Musikmeisters at Faribault’s Thursday evening summer Concerts in the Park series in Central Park. To an appreciative audience ranging from youth to elders and all ages in between, the Twin Cities based group presented traditional German band music. Waltzes. Polkas. The Schottische. Edelweiss crooned.

It's always fun to photograph dogs.

It’s always fun to photograph dogs.

For 130 years, my community has hosted these free summer concerts. I’ve attended sporadically, more often now that I’m an empty nester. I typically bring my camera because, if I didn’t, I would regret leaving it home. There are always optimal photo ops both on and off stage. I challenge myself to discover new ways of photographing familiar scenes.

Colorful umbrellas popped when the rain started.

Rain chased a few concert-goers home, but not many.

It's been awhile since I've seen a rain cap like this worn by a concert-goer.

This is my favorite photo of the evening, a portrait of a concert-goer in an old-style rain cap. I lover her sweet smile, the character lines in her face…

On this evening, I photographed between raindrops and showers, cognizant of protecting my Canon DSLR. Umbrellas popped and some folks scurried under the shelter of a tree when clouds showered rain.

Faribault artist Dana Hanson paints a portrait of Bob Dylan. She's painting Minnesota Music Hall of Fame members Prince, Judy Garland and Dylan.

Faribault artist Dana Hanson creates a portrait of Bob Dylan. She’s painting Minnesota Music Hall of Fame members Prince, Judy Garland and Dylan.

Using a photo as her guide, Dana works on her Dylan portrait.

Using a photo as her guide, Dana works on her Dylan portrait.

One artist slid her art under a picnic table to protect it from the rain.

One artist slid her art under a picnic table to protect it from the rain.

En plein air artists, protected under a tree, continued creating in the rain. They are part of the concert series artgo! group, started last summer. It’s a wonderful addition, this mixing of art and music.

 

Band concert, 42 band & director

 

When the sun re-emerged, concert-goers refocused on the music of lederhosen clad men and of women dressed in festive dirndls and blouses.

 

Band concert, 55 arms linked

 

At one point, musicians directed the crowd to lock arms and sway to the music.

 

Band concert, 100 dancing

 

Later a couple danced solo in each other’s arms.

 

Band concert, 38 young family

 

Music brings so much joy and togetherness. Smiles prevail. Feet tap a rhythm. Parents wrap kids in their laps.

 

Band concert, 47 man with ear flap cap

 

In typical Minnesota fashion, though, people groused about the unseasonably cool weather, cold enough for one man to pull on his ear flapper cap.

 

Band concert, 34 huddling under Twins fleece blanket

 

Others wrapped themselves in fleece throws.

 

Band concert, 50 dog on lap

 

Dogs warmed owners’ laps.

 

This pin belongs to Lis, pictured several photos above in the fuchsia jacket.

This pin belongs to Lis, pictured several photos above in the fuchsia jacket. Oma is the German word for grandma.

And one woman, especially, warmed my heart after I photographed a World’s Greatest Oma button pinned to her colorful bag. Lis’ fuchsia lips curved into a smile as she shared in a still detectable German accent that she has 21 grandchildren. She came to the U.S. 61 years ago after marrying an American serviceman.

En plein air artist

En plein air artist Irina Mikhaylova uses pastels to capture the other artists at work during the concert. I especially like how she’s sketched her right hand into the drawing.

These are the moments that delight me—these connections, this meeting new people. And all because music brought us here. Together on a July summer evening in southeastern Minnesota.

This Faribault resident and novice watercolor painter set up in the southeast corner of Central Park, from the crowd so he could work solo.

This Faribault resident and novice watercolor artist set up in the southeast corner of Central Park, far from the crowd so he could work undisturbed. I didn’t notice him until the concert nearly concluded, just as he wanted, not to be noticed.

FYI: The next Concerts in the Park concert at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 21, features the Owatonna Community Band.

On July 28, Red Bank ReUnion/Orphan Brigade Band will perform Civil War era music in Faribault’s Central Park as part of the Northfield-based Vintage Band Festival. That fest features 30 bands giving 100 concerts in four days in outdoor and indoor settings. While most concerts will occur in Northfield, some are also planned for Faribault, Owatonna, Nerstrand, Cannon Falls and Red Wing. Click here for more information.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Summertime in Minnesota: A boy & his lemonade stand July 29, 2015

Cooper Soderberg opened his lemonade stand in Faribault last week.

Cooper Soderberg opened his lemonade stand/snack bar in Faribault last week.

THERE’S SOMETHING INEXPLICABLY grassroots wonderful about a kid and a lemonade stand.

Lemonade stand details, misspelling and all.

Lemonade stand details, misspelling and all, and likely intentionally.

Last week, 11-year-old Cooper Soderberg decided he wanted to earn a little money for a new computer and also contribute to the Wounded Warrior Project. Half of his profits are going to help soldiers’ families.

Cooper is selling chips, candy and lemonade.

Cooper is selling chips, candy and lemonade.

So he and his grandma dug a handcrafted Kool-Aid stand—the one his mom used 37 years ago—out of her basement, spruced it up and set up a snack shop. His first day open on Division Street near the Faribault Senior Center, Cooper made $30. He got lots of tips.

Cooper tends his business while the Lakelanders Barbershop Chorus performs in the Central Park Bandshell.

Cooper tends his business while the Lakelanders Barbershop Chorus performs in the Central Park Bandshell. His grandma assists.

Thursday evening he parked his stand at Central Park for the weekly Concerts in the Park performance. Business didn’t appear especially brisk. But that didn’t seem to phase this young entrepreneur vending lemonade, chips and candy.

Preparing for customers.

Preparing lemonade for customers. You can find Cooper’s business along Division Street by the Faribault Senior Center.

I interviewed him and photographed him. Then, after I shot my last frame, Cooper strode over and shook my hand, a sure sign of a confident businessman destined for success.

BONUS PHOTOS from the concert:

This year's concerts also feature en plein air artists. These are Pat Johnson's brushes.

This year’s concerts also feature en plein air artists. These are Pat Johnson’s brushes.

Irina Mikhaylova created this pastel of a concert going couple.

Irina Mikhaylova created this pastel of a couple at the concert.

In the casual atmosphere of the park, some concert goers bring their dogs.

In the casual atmosphere of the park, some concert goers bring their dogs.

Dana Hanson's oil paints.

Dana Hanson’s oil paints.

A concert goer poses with a caricature created by Irina Mikhaylova.

A concert goer poses with a caricature created by Irina Mikhaylova, right.

FYI: Click here to read an earlier post about the artists who were part of the July 23 Concerts in the Park evening.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling