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WORTHINGTON -- Nearly 500 high school singers from the seven Southwest Conference high schools will gather Monday at Jackson County Central High School for the annual Southwest Choral Festival.

Hours of professional instruction and rehearsals will culminate in a 6:30 p.m. concert.

"This event gives our students an opportunity to sing in a mass choir setting and to work with an All-State-caliber conductor, which is not something many area choir kids would otherwise get a chance to do," said Kerry Johnson, director of choral programs at Worthington High School (WHS).

Johnson, who coordinated and hosted the festival three years ago at WHS, said the day-long event is something her choral students eagerly anticipate.

"It always seems to be the point in the year when the Concert Choir starts to really gel, and the kids like to share who they are with the other Southwest Conference schools," she said.

The 78 members of Johnson's Concert Choir will attend Monday's festival.

"The expectation is that the top choir in each school goes," she explained. "In some cases, there is only one choir, but there are a few in our conference with more than one, and we're fortunate here to be among those."

Each participating choir is treated to a half-hour session with one of the 2012 festival's two clinicians --Dr. Paul Nesheim, recently appointed director of The Augustana Choir and an associate professor of music at Augustana College, and Dr. Christopher Aspaas, director of the Viking Chorus and the St. Olaf Chapel Choir at St. Olaf College.

"We will work with Dr. Nesheim on the two numbers we'll perform in the evening's concert -- 'Jabberwocky' by Sam Pottle and 'How Can I Keep From Singing' by Gwyneth Walker -- then it's on to the mass choir rehearsal," Johnson said.

Aspaas will lead the mass choir as they rehearse and perform Susan Brumfield's "No Time," which Johnson said is a favorite of her choir students, and "Walk in Jerusalem" by Rollo Dilworth.

"They'll rehearse for about two and a half hours, then return after only a brief break for the concert at 6:30 p.m.," Johnson said.

Those selected for the festival's Honor Choir will have even more of a workout, as they will begin rehearsing in the morning with Nesheim on two selections --"Zigeunerleben," or "Gypsy Life," by Robert Schumann, and the traditional South African freedom song "Go Forward."

WHS students named to the Honor Choir are sopranos Jordan Gieselman and Whitney Coriolan, altos Cheniqua Johnson and Emma Jirele (the lone WHS All-State choir representative this year), tenors Peter Scholtes and Alex Hayenga, and basses Nathan Landwehr and Gordy Moore. All are current seniors.

"The Honor Choir will perform as part of the evening concert, too," Johnson said.

While the Southwest Choral Festival gives choral students from the seven Southwest Conference schools (Pipestone, Windom, Luverne, JCC, Marshall, Redwood Falls and Worthington) the opportunity to interact and hear each other's choirs, it is also a time for the schools' directors to get in touch with each other and gain something, as well.

"The day is mostly about the kids, of course, but it's always good to get together with the other directors and bounce ideas off of them," Johnson said. "It's great to have the chance to watch two of the best conductors in this region work with our students, and hopefully take home some ideas from them."

The Southwest Choral Festival concert is 6:30 p.m. Monday at Jackson County Central High School. The public is welcome to attend; there is no admission fee.

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