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Praises & patriotism: Music of the Church festival supports local troops

JACKSON -- Both Ron Harder and Jeff Johnson hope there will be a packed house for the 15th Music of the Church festival Sunday at the JCC Performing Arts Center in Jackson.

A large crowd will mean more people to appreciate the talents of the musicians slated to perform at the event as well as more money to be donated in support of troops from southwest Minnesota.

The festival begins at 3 p.m. Sunday at Jackson's new auditorium facility. As organizer, Harder looks at the festival as a way to showcase the region's many musicians.

"I just wanted to put a festival of music together on a Sunday afternoon, you know, to give people a chance to sing outside their churches -- quartets, soloists, choirs -- so they could stretch their wings in front of an audience, a different type of audience," he explained about its origins. "It's progressed throughout the years, got more sophisticated as far as the groups we have coming down and singing."

As organizer, Harder is in charge of lining up the talent for the show and has gotten to the point where he now has a waiting list of people and groups who are willing to perform.

"This year, there are about a dozen groups," he said of the program. "We have two groups coming from Minneapolis this year. We have a young songwriter and singer, Scyler Shearer, who is originally from Jackson. He arranges his own pieces and sings and accompanies himself. We also have a group coming from Estherville, Iowa, called Northern Lights. It's a barbershop women's quartet that's utterly fantastic. They will really be a treat to hear."

In past years, Harder has himself taken part in the singing, in several groups, including the quartet Four of a Kind and the Windom Area Barbershop Chorus. Due to some health concerns, Harder will sit on the sidelines this year.

"Some years, I think I sang in three quartets plus the larger groups," he recalled.

Harder's absence from the musical slate isn't the only change in the festival. Previously, the event was a fund-raiser for Jackson's Good Samaritan Center. When that organization opted not to participate this year, Harder didn't have to look far to find another worthy cause.

"When I was trying to think about what we were going to do, I was talking with my former pastor, John Holt, who has not moved to Albert Lea," Harder explained. "We used to sing together in a group we called Three Revs and a Ron. I asked him, 'What would be your ideas?' and he came up with the idea of supporting the troops."

Harder ran the idea by Jim Keul, Jackson's economic development coordinator, who connected Harder with Johnson, the veterans service officer for Jackson County. Johnson thought it would be a great way to show support for the area soldiers who have recently been deployed and their families, utilizing the Family Readiness Group. Members of National Guard Bravo Unit of the 1-125th Battery B field artillery, based in Jackson and Fairmont, are currently training in Camp Shelby, Miss., and are scheduled to depart in March for Iraq.

According to Johnson, the unit includes soldiers from counties throughout southwest Minnesota, making the Music of the Church festival even more of a regional event. Money raised from the concert has been earmarked for specific purpose.

"We want to get them breathable undergarments, one set for each of the troops who are being deployed," explained Johnson. "And if we're fortunate, and make enough money through this thing, then there's the possibility of getting even a couple of impact wrenches, which they can use on their trucks if they get a flat tire and get it changed quicker. So the money will go specifically toward these needs of the deployed troops."

Johnson estimates that meeting those needs will cost approximately $7,000.

"We've had another effort going on through the local banks for cash donations to come up with the funds needed to get these items," he added.

As the name implies, the concert is intended as a celebration of church music -- hymns, gospel songs and the like. But with the focus on supporting the troops, the musical groups have also been encouraged to add patriotic tunes to their selections this year. In keeping with the patriotic theme, there will also be a speaker -- Major General Larry Shellito, adjutant general of Minnesota.

Harder stressed that the concert will feature quality music, sung by many talented musicians.

"There are so many groups, and not a dog in the bunch," he said with a laugh.

Seating in the auditorium is limited to 500 people, so Harder suggested that people buy their tickets in advance. Tickets can be purchased at the Veterans Service Office, Harder & Associates, the Jackson and Fairmont armories, United Prairie Bank, Bank Midwest and Livewire Printing Co.

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at http://lagniappe.areavoices.com/.  

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