Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The joys of a July concert in the park July 24, 2017

The book on my lap wasn’t open for long before I focused on the concert and my surroundings.


UNDER THE CANOPY FRINGES of a locust tree, book in hand, I settled onto a lawn chair for an hour of music performed by the Owatonna Community Band at Faribault’s Central Park.

On this Thursday evening, as the sun lowered, a bandshell packed with musicians played a variety of tunes—The Entertainer, the best of Queen, a patriotic collection, Italian Feast, John Philip Sousa marches, 76 Trombones and more. Among my favorites, Prairie Dances, dedicated to the Old West Railroad and to those with an affection for Laura Ingalls Wilder and the prairie. That would be me. When the band began to play, a train whistled from across the city. Perfect.



Such detailed moments claim my attention, making an event particularly memorable. I observed the rise and fall of a small dog’s body in the declining heat of a hot and humid July day. Nearby another larger dog temporarily escaped its owner and then returned, leash in mouth. I laughed.

It’s important in life to grasp these moments for the joy they bring. I tipped my head back to a view of those locust leaves shadowed against the evening sky. Peace descended.

I watched as a widower unfolded his lawn chair then helped his lady friend with hers. Such old-fashioned manners impress me. Only minutes earlier, Randy carried my lawn chair across the park and opened it.



Several times I snapped photos with my smartphone, wishing for my Canon DSLR camera, currently tucked away due to my broken right arm/shoulder. Still, I could manipulate a few snapshots. I turned my camera phone toward the sun slanting through the trees in the golden hour of photography. I’ve always loved this time of day, of transition from light to dark, of busy to quiet.

And I love these summer evenings in the park, book on lap, if opened only briefly. Not even the words of New York Times bestselling author Karen White could compete with the beat of the band or the beauty of this July evening in my southeastern Minnesota community.

TELL ME: Does your community offer free outdoor summer concerts in a park? If yes, do you attend?

FYI: The Gold Star Band, a group of six Mankato-area musicians, will present a concert of classic and current music from 7 – 8 pm Thursday, July 27, during the Concerts in the Park series at Faribault’s Central Park. Two of the band members are in the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame. The Community Cathedral Cafe will serve free root beer floats prior to the concert.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


The music of poetry comes to Rochester February 15, 2017

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

Poetry on Stoney End Music Barn, 920 State Highway 19, Red Wing, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

POETRY. Do you throw a mental roadblock the instant you encounter that word? Or do you embrace poetry? And, yes, you can be honest. I realize poetry isn’t for everyone. Just like science fiction or fantasy. I don’t read either. But I do read and write poetry.

The most unusual place my poetry has been published, on billboards as part of the Roadside Poetry Project in Fergus Falls.

The most unusual place my poetry has been published, on billboards as part of the Roadside Poetry Project in Fergus Falls in 2011. This is the fourth billboard with the posting of my poem: Cold earth warmed/by the budding sun/sprouts the seeds/of vernal equinox. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

My poems have been published in newspapers, magazines, anthologies, in poet/artist collaborations, on signs along recreational trails and on billboards. I’ve also read my poetry at events and for radio. But now my poetry will be showcased in another way—in a song to be performed at two concerts.

My poem initially published in In Retrospect, The Talking Stick, Volume 22, an anthology published by The Jackpine Writers' Bloc based in northern Minnesota.

My poem initially published in In Retrospect, The Talking Stick, Volume 22, an anthology published by The Jackpine Writers’ Bloc based in northern Minnesota.

Rochester, Minnesota, composer David Kassler selected my poem, The Farmer’s Song, for inclusion in a project that pairs his original music with poetry by seven regionally and nationally-recognized poets. In other words, my poem became the lyrics for his song. It’s part of a set, Minnesota Rondos.

I nearly flipped when I saw this toy accordion, just like one I had as a child. I loved my accordion and it is the only musical instrument I've ever played.

The only instrument I ever learned to play was a toy accordion exactly like this one, photographed several years ago in a Mankato antique shop. I received the accordion one childhood Christmas.  Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

The irony in all of this is my inability to read a single note. I never had the opportunity growing up to take piano lessons, to participate in band or anything musical. I ad libbed my way through required school music classes. So to now have my rural-themed poem set to music is, well, remarkable for me personally. I am honored.

Connie, right, and I posed for a photo after a 90-minute presentation in which poets read their poems and artists talked about how their art was inspired by the poem. Note Connie's "Pantry Jewels" painting just above my head to the left. If I could buy this $490 watercolor on aqua board, I would in a snap.

Connie Ludwig, right, created a painting, Pantry Jewels, based on my poem, Her Treasure, as part of a 2012 Poet-Artist Collaboration at Crossings at Carnegie in Zumbrota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

I am especially honored to be in the company of poets with incredible resumes of teaching, leadership, advanced degrees, publication of their own poetry collections and more. Featured poets include Jana Bouma of Madison Lake, Meredith Cook of Blue Earth, the late Janelle Hawkridge of Winnebago, Robert Hedin of Red Wing, John Reinhard of Owatonna and Michael Waters of New Jersey.

Randy has enough musical knowledge to play a short tune.

In downtown Mason City, Iowa, home of The Music Man, pianos sit outdoors for anyone to use. Here my husband plays a simple tune during a visit several years ago. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Kassler, who teaches music at Rochester Community and Technical College and is the music director at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Rochester, received a $5,000 established artist grant from the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council to help fund the project that includes two concerts. A 30-member chamber choir of collegiate and professional musicians conducted by Kassler with piano and cello accompaniment will perform the choral works.

I attended and read my poem, "Wednesday Night Bingo at the Legion," at an invitation only Poetry Bash at The Rochester Civic Theater on Tuesday evening.

Two years ago I read my poem, Wednesday Night Bingo at the Legion, at a Poetry Bash at The Rochester Civic Theater. Two of my poems published that year in an anthology compiled by my regional library system. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I am excited to hear the music my poem inspired. Concerts are set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 24, at Rochester Community and Technical College. Tickets are $7.50 and will be sold at the door; Kassler needs to recoup an additional $2,000 of his own monies invested in the project. He’s that dedicated to this.

The second concert, and the one I plan to attend, is set for 3 p.m. Sunday, March 26, at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Rochester. A free-will offering will be taken.

A lone musician performs.

A Shattuck-St. Mary’s student plays the cello at the Faribault school’s annual Christmas Walk. Stephen Pelkey will play the cello at the Kassler concerts in Rochester. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2016.

If you’re so inclined, attend either concert. Please seek me out if you come on Sunday. But, most of all, enjoy this opportunity to hear poetry set to music. Because really, when I consider it, all music is poetry.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Experience holiday festivities this weekend in Faribault December 8, 2016

Mike Fuchs guides his team or horses southbound on Central Avenue in historic downtown Faribault late Saturday afternoon.

A scene along Central Avenue during the 2015 holiday season. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

THE SPIRIT OF THE SEASON blankets Faribault this weekend with holiday events ranging from a figure skating show to a kids’ Christmas party to concerts to a home-grown theatrical production and much more.

Dark wood and stone define the cathedral interior.

Dark wood and stone define the sanctuary at The Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

When I started jotting a list of events, even I was astounded. I could schedule my entire weekend around enjoying myself rather than focusing on holiday prep. If I wasn’t donating blood on Friday evening, I could kick my weekend off by attending Handel’s Messiah, presented at 7:30 p.m. by the Cannon Valley Regional Orchestra at The Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour, 515 Second Avenue Northwest.

Some of the cast members of "Wrapped in Love & Glory" pose inside the Faribault Woolen Mill. Photo by Edward Brown.

Some of the cast members of “Wrapped in Love & Glory” pose inside the Faribault Woolen Mill. Photo by Edward Brown and courtesy of The Merlin Players.

I already have tickets for The Merlin Players performance of “Wrapped in Love & Glory,” an original play written by Faribault native Michael Lambert. “The show weaves together the letters, history and music of the women working in the Faribault Woolen Mill to make blankets for the troops fighting overseas during WW II,” according to a TMP press release. Twenty-six songs from that era are incorporated in to the production.

The show opens at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Paradise Center for the Arts, 321 Central Avenue, with additional evening performances set for December 10 and 15 – 17. Sunday shows are at 2 p.m. on December 11 and 18. Click here for more information or call (507) 332-7372.

This jar of veggies carries the perfect name, "Summer in a Jar."

Canned produce sold at the summer Faribault Farmer’s Market. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Also at the Paradise are the creations of area artists. Perfect for holiday giving. Additionally, from 1 – 4 p.m. Saturday, the Winter Farmers’ Market opens inside the Paradise with local vendors selling everything from eggs to maple syrup to soap, baked goods and more.

Historic buildings in downtown Faribault are decorated for the holiday season.

Historic downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Historic downtown Faribault will be one busy place Saturday as Faribault Main Street also hosts its second annual Holiday Snack Contest from noon – 3 p.m. While you shop, you can sample tasty treats at local businesses. All through-out the downtown, local shopkeepers (and even a pop-up shop) offer a variety of goods—shoes, home décor, antiques, electronics, specialty gifts, baked goods, cheese

We wanted to sample all of the beers on tap, so we ordered a flight.

A sampling of flight offerings at F-Town. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

And let’s not forget the beer. Drink it on-site at F-Town Brewing, just off Central, or purchase a growler to take home. Or check out a local liquor store for F-Town beers.

The cast, with the little Snowflakes on the right as audience favorites.

A scene from the 2012 ice skating show at Shattuck. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

If you’re out and about with your family, drive to Faribault’s east side for Shattuck-St. Mary’s School’s annual Christmas Walk. The free community event begins with a “Christmas Spectacular on Ice” show at noon in the SSM Sports Complex. Festivities continue thereafter until 4 p.m. on the Shattuck campus with musical performances; activities for kids in Morgan Refectory; visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus (from 1:30 – 4 p.m.) in The Inn; and a 3:30 p.m. holiday concert in The Chapel of the Good Shepherd.

Kids worked on holiday crafts in the dining hall.

Kids worked on holiday crafts in the dining hall at Shattuck. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

On Sunday, there’s more family-oriented fun, this time at the Faribault Eagles, 2027 Grant Street, as the club hosts its annual free Kids Christmas Party from noon to 3 p.m. for kids 12 and under accompanied by an adult.

Nearby at the Faribo West Mall, shoppers can take in a 3 – 3:30 p.m. Sunday concert by the Faribault High School Orchestra followed by the Faribault Area Community Band’s “A Christmas Concert for Busy People.” That concert title seems especially fitting given the season and all that’s happening in Faribault. These pre-Christmas weekends are busy ones in my southeastern Minnesota community.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Melding music & art at Faribault’s Central Park July 28, 2015

The Lakelanders Barbershop Chorus performs in the Central Park bandshell on July 23.

The Lakelanders Barbershop Chorus performs in the Central Park bandshell on July 23.

WHILE BARBERSHOPPERS CROON, artists create. Music and art. Art and music. It seems the perfect mix for the annual summertime Concerts in the Park series held each Thursday in Faribault’s Central Park.

Pat Johnson has been at the concerts every week with her easel and paints.

Pat Johnson has been at the concerts every week with her easel and paints.

Last week I attended a concert for the first time this season and delighted in the en plein air artists scattered around the park with their easels and art supplies. They are new to the concert evenings, an idea of Jeff Jarvis, Faribault Park & Rec Enrichment & Communications Coordinator.

Pat Johnson paints en plein air.

Pat Johnson paints en plein air.

Jeff tells me the addition this year of artists injects even more spirit into the evening, provides an educational experience for concert goers and assists artists in developing en plein air painting skills in an openly musical and public setting. To keep the selected artists focused in the moment, they’re required to create music-themed artwork.

A vintage enamelware tray holds Pat Johnson's oil paints.

A vintage enamelware tray holds Pat Johnson’s oil paints.

Pat Johnson of Morristown was dipping brushes into oil on a vintage enamelware tray when I paused to watch her create a portrait of a young woman she’d previously seen at a concert. An artist for sixty years, she says painting is her passion. She’s happy to sit at the park, listening to the music and visiting. “I have been blessed with the people I’ve met,” she smiled.

Artist Tami Ochs

Artist Tami Resler

Tami's tools lie at her feet. Years ago, Tami designed the greyhound tatoo inked onto her leg in Vegas.

Tami’s tools lie at her feet. Years ago, Tami designed and got the greyhound tattoo in Kanub, Utah, after attending the Greyhound Gathering there. The Gathering raises monies for greyhound rescue.

Barbershopper details in Tami's art.

Barbershopper details in Tami’s art.

To the side of the bandshell, Faribault artist Tami Resler was surrounded by her “fan club,” a cluster of family and friends there to support her and enjoy an evening together. She was drawing with Sharpies and pencils—snippet details of a park sign, a trash barrel. Later I returned to see the faces of the Lakelanders Barbershop Chorus flared into the corner of her art piece.

Irina Mikhaylova works on a portrait of the couple in the background.

Irina Mikhaylova works on a portrait of the couple in the background.

Irina at work with her pastels.

Irina at work with her pastels.

Irina's pastels.

Irina’s pastels.

Nearby, Irina Mikhaylova used pastels to color the sketch she’d done of two elderly concert goers settled into lawn chairs. It was sweet, a lovely capture of older folks who primarily comprise this audience. There is something sweet, too, about Irina, about the thick accent that traces to her native St. Petersburg, Russia. She now lives in Morristown. Because she cannot work in the U.S. as a mechanical engineer—her former profession—she has thrown herself into her art.

Shadows and light play on Barb Bruns as she works.

Shadows and light play on Barb Bruns as she works.

Some of Barb's corralled pastels.

Some of Barb’s corralled pastels.

Barb's in-progress interpretation of the Central Park bandshell.

Barb’s in-progress interpretation of the Central Park Bandshell, in the background to the right.

On the other side of the park, Barb Bruns talked to me about blogging as she worked pastels across paper to recreate the bandshell, and the pet parade mural thereon. She is more than an artist. In Morristown, Barb operates Barb’s Custom Framing & Gift Shop with a local gallery at the front of her shop. It features the work of 27 local artists.

Artist Dana Hanson

Artist Dana Hanson

The sun shadows Dana's hand across her art as she paints.

The sun shadows Dana’s hand across her art as she paints.

Dana's dancer.

Dana’s dancer

A stone’s throw from Barb, the sinking sun spotlighted the mesmerizing art of Dana Hanson who, by freelance trade, creates art for her Lord Warmington Studio. Her grandmother, Frieda Lord, helped found Faribault’s art center. By day Dana works as a baker/cake decorator at Fareway Foods, just across the street from Central Park. On this evening, her art danced as she brushed oils into the shape of a hooded dancer in halal, the Hebrew word for praise.

Praise seems a fitting response for the addition of artists to the concerts. Jeff Jarvis confirms the enthusiastic reception. “Youngsters have emerged from the crowds to sit with ‘real’ artists—they even come back with their own art supplies to join in,” he cites.

Jeff, himself a visual artist, understands the financial and other challenges artists face in getting their work out there. “I wanted to elevate the status of visual artists by paying them to perform alongside the musicians,” he says. He accomplished that by securing a grant through the Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.

In addition to Jeff and the five artists I interviewed, Nicole Volk, Linda Van Lear and Julie Fakler have also been among the Concerts in the Park artists. Jeff selected local and emerging artists who enjoy working outdoors. The best works of each artist will be featured in a capstone exhibit September 8 – 11 at the Buckham Center Commons area with the opening reception from 7 p.m. – 9 p.m. on Tuesday, September 8.

the sun sets behind the bandshell as the barbershoppers sing tunes ranging from "Sweet Caroline" to "God Bless America."

The sun sets behind the bandshell as the barbershoppers sing tunes ranging from “Sweet Caroline” to “God Bless America.”

FYI: The Concerts in the Park series continues for four more Thursdays with the Copper Street Brass Quintet performing July 30; Bend in the River Big Band on August 6; Jivin’ Ivan & The Kings of Swing on August 13; and The Bandshell Brass on August 20.

Please check back tomorrow for a story about a young entrepreneur who set up shop at the July 23 Concerts in the Park event. Plus, I will show you a few more concert images.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


People-watching at a Minnesota State Band concert July 31, 2010

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WHENEVER I ATTEND A CONCERT, I tend to people-watch as much as I musician-listen.

Take Thursday evening when my husband and I arrived more than a half hour late for an outdoor performance by the Minnesota State Band in Faribault’s Central Park. I immediately noticed our friend Howard dozing in a lawn chair next to a tree next to the drinking fountain.

Randy and I exchanged smirks as we walked by and later, when Howard opened his eyes, my husband greeted him with a cheery “Good morning!” Our friend, who also happens to be a distant relative, claims he wasn’t sleeping, just resting his eyes. Uh huh.

Then I observed the guy lounging sideways on the grass, belly hanging out of his red t-shirt. Yeah, well, that was more like a quick glance, turn-away-the-head type of look.

I wondered about the woman wearing pants topped by a long sleeve shirt topped by a short sleeve shirt. Wasn’t she hot in pants and double layers on this warm, breezeless summer night?

But mostly, I like to watch the kids because they are, for lack of a better word, cute. They dance. They frolic. They sway, uninhibited, to the music. While I didn’t see any dancing kids at this concert, I have in the past. Just watching them makes me smile, makes me happy.

At this concert, I had to settle for observing a fair-haired toddler who, hands clenched by older siblings (or maybe cousins or neighbors) walked back and forth along the sidewalk, occasionally straying to the grass. He was just too cute.

Lest you think I ignored the music, you would be wrong. Randy and I listened to exactly four songs performed by the Minnesota State Band (remember, we arrived late), which I had to research afterward because I’d never heard of the group. They are, according to the band Web site, the official band of the state of Minnesota. In existence since 1898, this non-profit is comprised of volunteers and is the only remaining state band in the United States.

I’m no music person, meaning if a band misses notes or isn’t quite in sync, I typically won’t notice. Howard told us later that the band’s lack of joint practice, as noted by the director, showed a few times. The musicians fooled me because I thought the songs sounded just fine.

We listened to a march, then the melancholy Irish melody, “Danny Boy,” then another song I don’t recall and, finally, a familiar, inspiring patriotic march that I only could place as a John Philip Sousa piece.

“What’s that song? I know that song,” I whispered to Randy as my flip-flopped foot flip-flopped back and forth to the tempo of the music.

“They play it on the Fourth of July,” he answered. “Ask Howard, he’ll know.”

And, indeed, our friend knew that the Minnesota State Band, on this perfect summer evening in the heart of a mid-sized Minnesota community, had performed “Stars and Stripes Forever” before an appreciative and alert (well, mostly alert) crowd.


THE MINNESOTA STATE BAND returns to the Faribault area on Sunday, August 8, when they will present two concerts at the Vintage Band Music Festival in neighboring Northfield.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling