Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Black lives matter times three February 22, 2022

SAY THEIR NAMES NORTHFIELD INTERVENTION #32 chalk art activism at Bridge Square, Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

SUNDAY PROVED ENLIGHTENING, educational and reflective. And that’s a good thing because ongoing learning often makes us more informed, compassionate and caring individuals.

The scene from the Riverwalk along the Cannon River in downtown Northfield Sunday afternoon. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

The focus of my learning was not intentional, but rather a coming together of several elements. That began with a decision to follow the Riverwalk in Northfield on a rare February afternoon of sunshine and warmth in southern Minnesota. At 40-plus degrees, it was simply too nice to stay indoors. Northfield, only about a 25-minute drive, is a beautiful progressive river town, home to St. Olaf and Carleton Colleges, a thriving downtown historic business district, an active arts scene and more, including community activism.

Bridge Square with its monument and fountain, framed by a mosaic. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)
A statement by the artist activists. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)
Spread out before the Civil War Monument, Black Lives Matter message and names. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

On this Sunday, activism and engagement focused my initial attention as Randy and I exited the van across from Bridge Square, a mini middle-of-the-downtown park next to the Cannon River. As I pulled my camera strap over my neck, I noticed a group of young people chalking the sidewalk leading to and around the Civil War Monument and center fountain. I decided in that moment not to photograph them writing their messages as part of SAY THEIR NAMES INTERVENTION #32. I remembered the controversy over such chalk art at Bridge Square. I believe the City of Northfield enacted an ordinance banning the chalking of the public space, although I could not confirm that information online.

From the SAY THEIR NAMES NORTHFIELD Facebook page: “In honor of Amir Locke and many other Black persons killed by police.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Later, after we walked along the river and then along Division Street, we paused to read the messages printed by SAY THEIR NAMES NORTHFIELD participants who had now left the square. As in previous “interventions,” their words repeated that BLACK LIVES MATTER. All too familiar names were chalked onto the cement—George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, Jamar Clark, Daunte Wright… And new to the list, Amir Locke.

Too many names… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

As I photographed the names and messages, I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness at the injustices, the fact that this is 2022 and we are still grappling with racism and social injustice and many other issues related to race.

Promo for “The Summer of Soul.” (Photo credit: “Summer of Soul” Facebook page)

That evening, the same response repeated as I watched filmmaker Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s newly-released documentary “The Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)” on ABC. The film documents the Harlem Cultural Festival which brought some 300,000-plus people together in Harlem in the summer of 1969 for six concerts over six weeks. Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and other mostly Black musicians performed before a primarily Black crowd. The film, interspersed with concert footage and follow-up interviews with those who participated or attended, is a remarkable historic documentation of not only the music, but also of Black people, their culture, their connections in the community of Harlem and also the issues they faced in 1969. Issues which remain today.

I was especially moved by the joyful performance of “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” by Fifth Dimension, complete with audience participation and by the singing of “Take My Hand, Precious Lord,” Martin Luther King Jr’s favorite hymn sung at his funeral. All were performed against a stage backdrop collage of vibrant squares, rectangles and L shapes. (I’d love to have a poster of that artsy 1969 graphic.)

I felt a mix of sadness and concern that here we are, 53 years later, and just now this film footage has been released. Woodstock, the Apollo moon landing and more overshadowed the Harlem Cultural Festival in 1969. I appreciate the release of this film nominated for a 2022 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature and a 2022 Grammy Award for Best Music Film. It’s important I watched it for, among many reasons, the insights and perspectives gained.

A must-read book of historical fiction.

Before “The Summer of Soul” aired on TV Sunday evening, I’d begun reading Under the Tulip Tree, a historical novel by Michelle Shocklee set in Nashville following the stock market crash of 1929. Only a third into the book, I found it fitting of my unexpected Sunday focus on Black lives The main character is a young White writer interviewing a former slave. And, yes, although fictional, real-life stories weave into the book.

BROWN LIVES FOR BLACK LIBERATION is the message leading to the list of names. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

I feel grateful for all the elements—chalk art, a documentary and a book—which came together on a February Sunday in Minnesota to educate and enlighten me about many aspects of Black lives. To learn is to grow in understanding and compassion.

FYI: Activism and art will theme an event on Thursday, March 3, offered through St. John’s Women, a Northfield-based group in its fourth year of sponsoring “Courageous Conversations” via monthly speakers and book studies. Carleton College Professor Cecilia Cornejo, an artist and also leader of the local SAY THEIR NAMES group, will talk about “Anti-Racism Activism Through Community-Engaged Art” at 7 pm via Zoom. Click here for more information.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Getting cultured in Faribault: From opera to Somali song to booyah September 7, 2021

A promo for Mixed Precipitation’s on-the-road performance. Graphic source: Mixed Precipitation.

IN ONE WEEK’S SPAN, I heard opera for the first time and then seven days later listened to an internationally-known Somali singer perform. Both right here in Faribault. In Central Park.

What a delight to experience these performing arts locally, to be exposed to something new to me.

And at 6 pm Friday, September 10, I’ll be back in Central Park, enjoying “Arla Mae’s Booyah Wagon,” a play presented by Minneapolis-based Sod House Theater.

If I’m sounding a bit giddy, it’s because I am. I love the arts and feel grateful for our local Paradise Center for the Arts. Yet, I often yearn to see more. But I don’t want to go into the metro. And, truth-be-told, there’s always cost to consider. Even in attending local arts events. I expect others in Faribault face the same barriers.

So I feel such gratitude for our long-running free summer Concerts in the Park series. And I feel thankful, too, for sponsoring groups like the City of Faribault Parks & Recreation Department and the Paradise Center for the Arts and the local businesses and residents who helped fund the special events I attended recently.

When Mixed Precipitation brought its The Pickup Truck Opera, Volume 1: The Odyssey to Faribault on August 26, I wondered how I would respond. I didn’t quite know what to expect. I needn’t have concerned myself as the adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey proved lively and entertaining with dancing and over-sized puppets and toe-stomping music. Plus opera. And it was performed on the grass, in front of the historic bandshell from the bed of a blue pickup truck. I felt like I was in a small village of yesteryear being entertained by a traveling troupe.

Dalmar Yare. Photo source: Faribault Parks & Rec Facebook page.

The feel was completely different on September 2, when I set up my lawn chair in Central Park to hear and watch Dalmar Yare, a Somali entertainer from Minnesota and with family ties to Faribault. He describes his music as a blend of traditional Somali styles with hints of western influence.

I quickly found myself swinging my crossed left leg to the tempo of the upbeat music. I didn’t understand what Yare sang in a language foreign to me. But I understood the joy I felt, the joy I saw. Throughout the park, local Somali children, teens and adults gathered to listen. Many danced, especially the kids. It seemed part concert, part celebration, part reunion. Simply joyful.

While I listened, I observed the crowd. I noted the open affection of Somali youth for one another. Young men draped arms over shoulders as did teen girls. Preschool girls in their flowing dresses and hijabs ran hand-in-hand across the park. I noticed, too, a stunningly beautiful 20-something layered in a golden dress and matching hijab, fashionable mini purse dangling from her shoulder. The vibrant colors and patterns of dresses and hijabs swirled like a kaleidoscope. An ever-changing gallery of art.

Dressed in my casual attire of jeans, a tee and a zipped sweatshirt with the hoodie occasionally pulled up to provide warmth and protect me from the rain, I felt under-dressed and conscious of my white-ness. And that’s OK; I needed to feel this. I only wish more long-time Faribault residents would have attended.

Photo source: Sod House Theater

Now this week I’ll learn about booyah, a rich and flavorful stew that is supposedly an Upper Midwest tradition, although I’ve never eaten it. Booyah will theme the Sod House Theater musical comedy about Arla Mae, a rural Minnesotan claiming to operate the state’s first food truck out of which she serves her famous booyah. The play aims to spotlight buying and eating fresh local food. Thus the involvement of James Beard Award-winning chef Ann Kim in creating a special booyah recipe for the production. So what goes into this stew, which is traditionally cooked outdoors in large kettles over a wood fire? You name it: a mix of meats and an assortment of vegetables—onion, potatoes, rutabagas, cabbage, carrots, celery, peppers…

I envision a collage of shapes and colors. Art in a kettle. Art that is new to me. Served to me. Right here in Faribault. In Central Park.

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NOTE: “Arla Mae’s Booyah Wagon” will also be performed in neighboring communities on these dates and at these locations:

Keepsake Cidery, rural Dundas, 6 pm on Thursday, September 23

Pleasant Grove Pizza Farm, rural Waseca, 6 pm on Friday, October 1

Northfield Central Park, Northfield, 6 pm on Thursday, October 7

© Text Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Not even COVID-19 can stop the music in Faribault August 22, 2020

Just a small portion of the people attending a concert in Faribault’s Central Park on Thursday evening.

 

IN THIS SUMMER OF COVID-19 limitations, I feel fortunate to live in a community where at least one bit of normalcy remained—weekly Thursday evening concerts in Faribault’s Central Park.

 

People walk, bike and drive to the park in downtown Faribault.

 

With concert-goers spreading out throughout the block square park and wearing masks when needed, I am comfortable in the outdoor space listening to music. Randy and I missed only a few concerts, one due to rain, the other because we didn’t want to be in the park following the annual pet parade. I love kids. But they tend to forget about COVID and the need to keep their distance. Who can blame them? They’re just kids.

 

Jivin’ Ivan and the Kings of Swing perform in the Central Park Bandshell.

 

This past Thursday evening we went to the final scheduled concert in this summer series organized by the Faribault Parks and Rec Department. It was a lovely evening relaxing in our lawn chairs listening to Jivin’ Ivan and the Kings of Swing. Minus Ivan Whillock. The aging musician and noted woodcarver is being extra cautious during COVID and stayed home. Instead, we were treated to an audio of him singing. It was a nice personal touch, Ivan’s way of connecting with fans of his rich, golden voice. The Kings perform Golden Era swing music. Soothing. A journey back in time.

 

I’ve seen more families at this summer’s concerts than in recent years.

 

As I listen, I watch. And I observed children running, playing, painting, tossing hula hoops and multi-colored scarves, doing back flips. It all looked so normal. Just like any summer evening. Except for the face masks occasionally seen on kids and adults. And except for the lack of people mingling and visiting as typically happens at these summer concerts.

 

Art in the Park, an opportunity to paint, has been added to this year’s concerts. Here Paula creates.

 

Professional artist Kate Langlais paints during the concert.

 

A young concert-goer creates art.

 

I also noted the size of the crowd, much larger than in past summers. That comes as no surprise given many of us in the aging demographic are limiting who we see and what we do. And this is the one event we can attend because it’s outdoors and people (mostly) follow safety protocol.

As the evening closed in on 8:30 and the bandshell lights switched on, the air chilled and some concert-goers began leaving. But my friend Valerie didn’t leave before we met up. She’d texted earlier wondering if I was at the concert. I haven’t seen her in forever, long before COVID started. And so we stepped to the side of the crowd, both in our face masks and caught up. It was so hard not to hug one another. But we didn’t. And even though I couldn’t see Valerie’s smile, I could see the smile in her eyes. In our brief conversation I felt reconnected, overjoyed, as if COVID exited and we were just two friends chatting with each other on a summer evening.

I can only hope that by this time next summer, COVID-19 will be history and we will all be vaccinated and life back to normal, whatever that may be.

 

Art in painting. Art in music.

 

But for now, for this summer, this is life. Masks and social distancing. Few or no social activities. Except for these concerts in the park—with an encore concert set for 6 pm Thursday, September 3, featuring instrumentalist Doug Madow and vocalist Barb Piper. To that announcement, the crowd reacted with raucous applause. One more evening of music to help us sort of forget about this global pandemic.

ENCORE TWO: Minnesota-born singer, songwriter and guitarist Mark Joseph performs at 7 pm Friday, September 11, in Central Park. Sponsored by the Caron family, this blues concert benefits the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault via a suggested free will donation of $10.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Faribault: Concerts in the Park Series continues during COVID-19 July 20, 2020

Three members of the Long Time Gone band perform during the July 16 Faribault Concerts in the Park Series.

 

MUSIC SPEAKS a universal language. Especially during this global pandemic. It brings people together, yet not together. It brings moments of joy in rhythm and words. It channels thoughts to memories or into the moment, into foot-tapping, circling in dance or simply listening.

 

A snippet of the crowd attending the concert.

 

Each Thursday summer evening, music draws folks to Central Park for the free Faribault Concerts in the Park series based in the historic bandshell. Hundreds spread out across the block-square park on benches, lawnchairs and blankets. Social-distancing. Some wearing face masks, others with masks in hand to wear upon arrival and departure.

These months of COVID-19 concerns are unprecedented in social isolation, in the need to be cautious to limit the spread of this disease. Cases and the positivity rate in Minnesota continue to climb. Today the Minnesota Department of Health reported the first death of a young child (only nine months old and with no underlying health conditions) in Clay County. The upward trends in Minnesota and nation-wide are unsettling as is the continuing reluctance of way too many, at least here in greater Minnesota, to wear face masks.

 

More members of Long Time Gone.

 

Nearly every summer event—from crowded county to state fairs, from community to family celebrations, from all those connective activities we take for granted—have been canceled. And they should be. So to have this outdoor concert series continue, with safeguard practices in place, is such a gift. I am grateful to the Faribault Parks and Rec Department for organizing and to the sponsors and musicians who make these concerts possible. And to the concert-goers for respecting guidelines and distancing and doing everything necessary to keep this event safe and low risk.

 

A view of concert goers sitting near the bandshell. I used a telephoto lens to shoot this and all other images as I sit way back from the bandshell.

 

Randy and I have attended these weekly Thursday summer concerts for decades, from the time our children were little to now as empty nesters. Last week we joined others to hear the classic bluegrass of Long Time Gone, a talented group of musicians, some of whom are in the Minnesota Rock/Country Music Hall of Fame.

 

I looked up to this beautiful view while at the concert.

 

While we listened, a breeze, cool enough at times for some in the audience to wrap themselves in blankets or jackets, stirred through the trees. I tilted my head back to observe the canopy of trees and the golden hue of sunset tinting the sky.

 

Rocco

 

I smiled at Rocco the dog, lying nearby, clearly loved by his engaging owner.

 

Dancing with baby.

 

Near the bandshell, youngsters tossed yellow hula hoops high into the air, the circles spiraling motion. And, on the opposite side, a young mom twirled with her baby in joyous dance.

 

Art created during the concert.

 

I saw, too, several children with paintings created at the limited Kids Art in the Park event during the concert.

 

A couple circles themselves with rope to keep others at a distance.

 

If not for the masks, the definite social distancing, the circle of distancing rope around one couple’s lawnchairs, this scene may have looked like any other Thursday summer evening at Central Park in Faribault. Except it wasn’t and isn’t. I long for the day when I don’t do a mental checklist that includes mask and handsanitizer before leaving the house for something as simple as a concert in the park. I long for those ordinary summer evenings, pre-COVID…

 

FYI: The Everett Smithson Band, featuring traditional blues and funky roots music, performs at the Thursday, July 23, concert beginning at 7 pm. Bring your lawnchairs, your masks, your handsanitizer and your stay safe/care-about-your-neighbor mindset. 

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Just another reason to appreciate Northfield, Minnesota August 6, 2019

On a corner along Division Street in historic downtown Northfield, Minnesota.

 

WE ARRIVED IN NORTHFIELD to find the city abuzz. Or rather abuzz and resounding with the sound of music.

Randy swung the van into the first open parking spot, surprisingly just off Division Street and a short walk from Bridge Square, headquarters for the Vintage Band Festival. On this lovely August early evening, we headed toward the sound of music, rounded the corner by the post office and observed an audience packing the square and spilling onto the closed street. At that moment I wished for lawn chairs. These obvious seasoned fest attendees brought theirs. Without chairs, we settled onto the curb just a door down from the former First National Bank (now the Northfield Historical Society), site of the famous Jesse James-Cole Younger Gang bank raid. We listened to a few songs before deciding we couldn’t sit like this any longer. Maybe if we were younger…

 

Territorial Brass performs in Armory Square’s green space.

 

From there we aimed toward our destination, Reunion, a new restaurant in town. But first, we decided to check out another concert, this one in the Armory Square green space. Here, Arizona’s official historical brass band performed territorial period music. Territorial Brass band members, dressed in period attire, replicate the music of vintage brass bands in Arizona and New Mexico. And bonus, a vocal soloist, “Violet,” sang along with the instrumentalists. What a delight to hear the band, among some 40 performing during 100 concerts over the four-day Vintage Band Festival.

 

Soloist and band spokesperson, “Violet,” walked through the crowd while singing.

 

After listening for awhile, we left to dine at the new eatery. But, once inside Reunion, we learned the wait would be 45 minutes. I was disappointed, too hungry to wait. Had we known this, we would have reserved a dining spot earlier and awaited the text that our table was ready. Live and learn.

 

Among those listening to Territorial Brass.

 

Anyway, no matter, we appreciated the vintage music that added another reason to stop in Northfield on a beautiful Minnesota summer evening.

TELL ME: Have you ever attended Northfield’s Vintage Band Festival or a similar vintage band festival?

© Copyright 2019 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

 

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