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Prairie Star: Lodine to receive SMAC honor

Emily Lodine

It sounds like the plot for a romance novel or chick flick:

A big city opera singer boards a plane headed overseas and finds herself seated next to a bachelor farmer. They strike up a conversation, talking all the way across the Atlantic Ocean. It turns into a long-distance romance, and they eventually marry. The opera singer moves to a farm in rural Minnesota, where fish-out-of-water scenarios ensue.

But that story isn’t fiction. It’s pretty much what happened to Emily Lodine 18 years ago. When she moved from Chicago to a farm in rural Magnolia, Emily, a mezzo soprano, carved a niche for herself in the area arts community and is being recognized for her efforts with Southwest Minnesota Arts Council’s 2014 Prairie Star Award.

Musical beginnings

Emily is a native of Evanston, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, where she grew up eight blocks away from Northwestern University. Her father was a renowned organist, so her early years were spent in a musical household, although her parents divorced when she was quite young.

“Our house had four pianos, and my dad also had his own organ set-up,” she recalled. “I remember sort of singing around the house when I was 4. I sort of liked it, but I was sort of shy.”

With Northwestern so close to home, that was her first choice for college, but her father had other ideas about her education.

“I wanted to go there, and my dad wouldn’t let me,” she explained. “He told me, ‘You need to get out of town.’”

So instead Emily attended Indiana University, which just happened to have a music program that attracted aspiring opera singers and had connections to The Met — The Metropolitan Opera company in New York City. Emily majored in music theory and honed her vocal skills in Bloomington.

After graduation, she returned to Evanston, not sure what she was going to do next.

“I was able to get in with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chorus,” she said. “It’s really one of the best in the world.”

The group’s founder and first director, Margaret Hillis, took Emily under her wing.

“She said, ‘You really have something,’” credited Emily. “She took me four or five times to different places in the country when she needed a mezzo.”

Through the connections she built, Emily performed around the country and even internationally, and she also began teaching voice. One of the highlights of her professional career was singing Handel’s “Messiah” at New York’s Carnegie Hall.

Chance meeting

Emily was en route to a performance in London, England, when she found herself seated next to Gary Overgaard, a farmer from southwest Minnesota who was on his way to Copenhagen, Denmark. At the end of the flight, Gary gave Emily his phone number.

“I was there for 10 days, and then I think I called him when I got back,” she remembered. “I think he had already come back.”

Soon, Emily and Gary were talking regularly, and it became apparent that the relationship they built over the phone was more than a friendship.

“He said, ‘Why don’t you come out and see what it’s like here?’ and I did,” related Emily. “It was nice.”

Emily also introduced Gary to her world, taking him along to an opera gig in Anchorage, Alaska. She recalled with a laugh that he was more intrigued with the mechanics of the set than with the actual performance.

Any reservations Emily might have harbored about marrying a farmer from Minnesota were dispelled by her mother’s approval of Gary and encouragement about moving to southwest Minnesota.

“My mother thought he was a doll,” Emily related. “The biggest thing was my mother. She liked him. And I’d forgotten that she had gone to school in North Dakota — Jamestown College, and then she taught in Sioux Falls, at the Episcopal church there, for two years, so she knew the area.”

Emily admits that “it took a while” for her to get used to life on the farm, but she came to enjoy the rural life.

“It’s all very weird when you’re from Chicago,” she said.


Current pursuits

Emily continues to travel quite often for her singing career, most notably performing with a renowned professional choral group, Conspirare, in Austin, Texas.

“I started with them about 2002,” she said about the Grammy-nominated ensemble. “It’s a fabulous group, very well-known. I usually get down there four times a year. The guy in charge of it, Craig (Hella Johnson), is incredibly known and is so sweet and funny. There’s actually a rider in our contract that you have to have laughter to be part of it.

“I love Austin,” she continued. “... People are open to just about anything, and Craig has a marvelous way of picking out music.”

Additionally, Emily teaches voice at both Augustana College in Sioux Falls and Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall. She also tries to perform in the region as much as possible.

“I really want to have my students watch me do things,” she explained.

If she’s not traveling or teaching, Emily might be preaching. She is currently the deacon at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Luverne, and is soon to become a full-fledged Episcopalian priest.

Emily was raised in the Episcopal tradition, following in the footsteps of her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, and when she moved to Magnolia she paid an initial visit to Holy Trinity.

“That first time I came here, there were maybe three ladies and one guy,” she said, relating how as she put down the kneeler and prepared to pray before the service, she was surrounded by eager members. “It was too much pressure. It was about five years before I came back.”

But come back she eventually did, and Emily soon found herself marshalling the community’s small band of Episcopalians in an effort to keep the small congregation viable and the church’s doors open.

“It’s the right thing to do,” she said, looking around the compact sanctuary, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. “And this little church is absolutely beautiful. It’s not big, but it sure is pretty.”

To prepare for becoming a priest, Emily has worked with a mentor. Depending on how quickly the paperwork and other formalities are accomplished, she expects to complete the process sometime early next year.

Also on the horizon for Emily are several regional performances during the Christmas season, and she plans to perform a couple of numbers during the Southwest Minnesota Arts Council annual Celebration event, set for Sept. 13 at the Marshall Country Club. She will be presented with the Prairie Star Award that evening.

While she still travels frequently to perform, for the most part Emily says her life is “pretty normal.” She’s grown to appreciate the landscape and people of southwest Minnesota.

“This part of the world is really wonderful, and a lot of people don’t get to see it,” she said. “For me, I like where I am.”

Daily Globe Features Editor Beth Rickers may be reached at 376-7327.

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  

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