Performing in harmony
JACKSON -- More than 50 high school students from across southwest Minnesota gathered in Jackson Saturday for the eighth annual Youth in Harmony workshop and concert. Coordinated by the Windom Area Chordhustlers, the event brought in vocalists from the Twin Cities and Spirit Lake, Iowa, to work with students on a form of music they don't often experience -- singing without musical instruments to guide them.
"The main purpose is to educate the kids a little bit about a cappella singing and barbershop music," said Jay Imker, a Windom Area Chordhustler member and Youth in Harmony coordinator. "It's kind of an art form that is not too familiar with most kids in high school -- it's a little bit different style of singing."
The 51 students -- 35 females and 16 males in grades 9 through 12 -- volunteered their Saturday to learn from Twin Cities-based male quartet Vocality and Spirit Lake, Iowa-based female quartet Northern Lights, both of which have appeared in international contests.
"They have been here the last several years, along with Brent Graham, who works with the kids," said Imker, of Lamberton.
Tom Matchinsky, Vocality member from Edina, said his quartet wanted to "help the young men and women learn their music and have a lot of fun on stage."
"The goal today is to inspire a life-long love of singing," Matchinsky said. "We're living proof that you can keep singing your whole life, whether it be in a barbershop or singing in a church choir or community chorus or to your kids, whatever it is, keep singing your whole life long."
"We have a great time singing, so why can't they too?" added Vocality member David Boyd, Lino Lakes.
From the group Northern Lights, Judy Weipert of Spirit Lake said their quartet enjoys teaching the girls, which is why the group comes back year after year.
"The students received the music ahead of time and we polish them up and work on choreography," she said. "It's a different singing style and it's something they can carry on the rest of their lives."
The four women who make up the Northern Lights have been singing together for more than 25 years. In that time they have competed in three international contests, and they recently started a Young Women in Harmony group in Spirit Lake to increase participation in barbershop-style music.
"It's an opportunity to get young people involved," Weipert said. "Even if they don't carry on right now, it will be a seed planted for the future."
The Youth in Harmony event was established to pique the interest of the next generation in barbershop-style music. Imker said the Barbershop Harmony Society had encouraged the Chordhustlers to offer such a program several years ago.
"We have, over the years, brought in some students to the Chordhustlers (because of the Youth in Harmony event)," Imker said. "They come while they're in high school yet, but then they're gone for college."
The Windom Area Chordhustlers has about 30 members, and many of them were on hand for Saturday's workshop with the students.
After morning warm-ups the students broke into two groups with the girls working on two up-beat numbers, "At the Hop" and "We Go Together," while the boys practiced "All My Lovin'" and "Drivin' Me Crazy".
The students were brought together later in the afternoon to work on the eight-part harmony selection "Harmony" in preparation for a late afternoon concert at the Jackson County Central High School Performing Arts Center.
Zach Paulson, a 10th grader from Jackson County Central, was making his second appearance at the Youth in Harmony event.
He sings in both the main choir and the swing choir in school, but said Saturday's workshop was something different.
"We're learning how to better sing with other people and in different ranges," said Paulson. "With piano, you can hear your notes, but in barbershop, all you have is a pitch pipe -- it's harder."
Ninth graders Brandon Schmit of Jackson County Central and Elizabeth Schoenenberger of Windom were both enjoying their first time at the Youth in Harmony event.
"It's pretty fun," Schmit said, while Schoenenberger said she's learning how to harmonize with a group.
Mary Green, a Windom High School sophomore, said she wanted to come back for a second consecutive year because she just likes to sing.
"I'm really into music and singing and it's a lot of fun," she said.
Half of the students participating in Youth in Harmony hailed from Windom High School, with other schools sending students from Westbrook-Walnut Grove, Red Rock Central, Comfrey and Butterfield-Odin.
In addition to the five numbers performed by the students, the concert included performances by Vocality, Northern Lights and the Windom Area Chordhustlers.
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Reporter Julie Buntjer at 376-7330.