Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Comfort in music August 30, 2017

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Raindrops on hosta. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

ON AN AFTERNOON WHEN TEARS rushed in rivers down my cheeks, when my heart ached with grief for my friends, when the reality of life seemed too overwhelming, my compassion and love not enough, I took comfort in the words of contemporary Christian singer Laura Story.

‘Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

Story’s Blessings has uplifted me in the past, carried me through angst and worry and difficulties. Music holds healing power when used in a positive, inspiring and memorable way. It is a gift, a prayer. From those who write it, to those who hear it (as I did on Twin Cities based Christian radio station KTIS) and to those who experience comfort within the lyrics.

FYI: To listen to Blessings, click here.

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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

 

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

 

The B’s have it with bargain books, bluebirds, Big Bang Boom & beer April 21, 2017

I LOVE BOOKS. And I love a bargain.

Combine the two and you have a used book sale. This week and next, book lovers in my area have opportunities to shop two used book sales.

The first, the annual Faribault American Association of University Women’s Book Sale opened Thursday at the Faribo West Mall and continues through April 25. Hours are from 10 a.m. to mall closing on April 21 – 23 and then from 3 p.m. – 7 p.m. April 24 – 25. There’s an added activity—a Kids’ Karnival from 9:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. on Saturday.

 

Books I selected from the “Minnesota table,” albeit Prairie Perpendicular (one of my all-time favorite fiction books) is set in small North Dakota farming community and written by a North Dakotan. I bought these at a past AAUW Book Sale. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I try to shop this sale every year, looking primarily for vintage and Minnesota-themed/authored books. But now that I have a one-year-old granddaughter I likely will also spend more time in the children’s books section.

 

Books my son purchased at a past AAUW sale. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

When my son was still home—he’s 23 now and living in Boston—he would haul home bags of fantasy and science fiction titles. He’s a voracious reader.

Just up the road about 15 miles, the Northfield Hospital Auxiliary is hosting its 56th annual book sale from April 25 – 29 at the Northfield Ice Arena. This is a mega sale where you can easily spend hours perusing books, puzzles, DVDs, CDs and vinyl. Hours are from 5 p.m. – 9 p.m. April 25, from 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. April 26 – 28 and from 8:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. April 29. Books are free from 1 p.m. – 3 p.m. on the final day.

 

I found this vintage (perhaps 1960s) booklet at last year’s AAUW Book Sale. I love the graphics. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I appreciate the efforts of the many volunteers who collect, haul, organize and sell these used books and more as a service to the community and as a way to raise monies for scholarships, community projects and more.

TELL ME: Do you shop an annual used book sale? Where? What draws you there?

 

Promo courtesy of the Bluebird Recovery Program.

 

NOW ABOUT THOSE BIRDS…the Bluebird Recovery Program of Minnesota holds its annual expo from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. Saturday at the Northfield Middle School. If bluebirds interest you as much as books interest me, then consider attending this event. Click here to learn more about “bringing back bluebirds for future generations.” Expo registration cost is $15 or $25 for registration and lunch.

 

Big Bang Boom. Photo courtesy of the Paradise Center for the Arts.

 

IT WON’T COST YOU anything to attend a concert at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Paradise Center for the Arts, 321 Central Avenue North, Faribault. The free concert by the pop/rock music trio Big Bang Boom is geared toward families.

 

Faribault artist Rhody Yule (now deceased) created this oil painting of the Fleckenstein Brewery in 1976. The building, and the brewery, no longer exist. The 20-foot Fleck’s beer bottle on the right side of the painting sat near the brewery entrance. Children often had their pictures taken here when their parents took a brewery tour. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

ADULTS WITH AN INTEREST in Minnesota brewing history will want to attend the Fleckenstein Brewery Walking Tour in Faribault on Saturday. Sponsored by the Rice County Historical Society and led by local Fleckenstein historian Brian Schmidt, the popular tours will be offered at 10 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. Good walking/hiking shoes are a must. Click here for more info and/or call 507-332-2121 to reserve a tour spot. The tours are filling quickly; don’t expect to get in if you just show up.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

I know that my Redeemer lives April 16, 2017

WE FILED INTO THE BALCONY of St. John’s Lutheran Church, Sunday School children clunking up the stairs in our shiny patent leather shoes. I felt a tinge of nervous energy fueled by too much chocolate taken from Easter baskets and eaten for breakfast.

 

My vintage 1960s purse, reclaimed years ago from my mom’s toy box.

 

I was dressed in my Easter finery—lacy anklets tucked into shiny shoes, lime green skirt skimming my knees below a sleeveless floral shirt accented by a matching lime green jacket. I carried a lime green purse. I looked as fashionable as a skinny Minnesota farm girl can in a homemade ensemble topped by an Easter hat with ribbons tailing down the back.

 

 

If my childhood Easter memories were nothing more than those of fashion and of candy, I would feel shallow and lacking in my faith. But I am thankful to have been raised in a home by loving Christian parents who got me to church every Sunday to learn of, praise and worship God. After the service, I clunked down the narrow basement stairs to Sunday School. And there I learned the song that, each Easter, I still sing from memory:

I know that my Redeemer lives! What comfort this sweet sentence gives! He lives, he lives, who once was dead; He lives my everliving head!

 

Art of the risen Lord photographed inside St. Mary’s Catholic Church, New Trier, Minnesota.

 

In the balcony of that rural Minnesota church, I sang with enthusiasm and joy of my Redeemer. Eight verses. The voices of farm girls and boys singing with such gusto. Every Easter. The words are still imprinted upon my memory more than 50 years later: I know that my Redeemer lives!

And I still sing them with joy.

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MY DEAREST READERS, may you be blessed with a joyous Easter.

© 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