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Singing Lutheran: Kayli Kuhl is latest local to join ranks of MASLC

Kayli Kuhl

WORTHINGTON -- When Kayli Kuhl begins her 11-day concert tour on Saturday as a member of the 2010 Minnesota All-State Lutheran Choir (MASLC), she will become part of a Minnesota institution that boasts more than 1,400 alumni who have collectively shared sacred music and Christian witness at 150 Lutheran churches since 1969.

"When I walked in to the audition, I was super nervous, so I reminded myself, 'It's OK if I don't get in -- but I'd really love to make it,'" shared Kuhl, a consistent A-honor roll student who recently wrapped up her sophomore year at Worthington High School (WHS).

"For the audition, we had to do some sight-reading, tonal memory and a range check," detailed Kuhl, who auditioned in Windom a few months ago. "I also had to sing the National Anthem so the judge could listen for quality of pitch and vocal clarity, and the whole time she was writing and grading me.

"The letter of acceptance said 'several hundred' Lutheran high schoolers had tried out, and there are 40 of us who were chosen for this year's choir," revealed Kuhl.

As an eighth-grader, Kuhl was confirmed at Worthington's St. Matthew Lutheran Church, where she remains involved in youth activities and as a sound system assistant during some worship services.

She will sing the alto line with MASLC and is usually an alto in the WHS concert choir and select Bel Canto group, although her range allows her to be more versatile when required.

"I can sing almost any part, which is pretty cool," smiled Kuhl.

A music enthusiast, Kuhl credits District 518's strong music program -- and her musical family -- with helping her lay the foundation that led to this adventure.

"I feel really lucky because I know a lot of schools don't offer as many opportunities," expressed Kuhl.

Besides her WHS choral activities, Kuhl began playing the viola as a fourth-grader under the tutelage of Beth Habicht and has continued in the WHS orchestra with director Melanie Loy.

In addition, she is an alto saxophonist in the WHS band and, during marching band season, is a color guard member. She also studied piano from first through eighth grade, and has found her keyboard skills valuable as she spent time during the last few weeks learning the 13 musical numbers, plus the 20-minute musical based on biblical parables, "He's a Story-Telling Man," the MASLC choir will perform in the days ahead.

"I'm grateful to Ms. (Kerry) Johnson, the WHS choir director, because she helped me several times as I was learning the music," added Kuhl, who will be a co-section leader of the WHS Concert Choir's alto II section next fall. "She was so excited to hear I'd made it into MASLC."

Kuhl, however, is hardly the first Worthington student to qualify for MASLC; in fact, she's not even the first in her family. The fourth child of Burdell and Jolene Kuhl of rural Rushmore, Kayli was preceded as a MASLC member by her brother, Amery, who sang tenor in the group several years ago, and later by her elder sister, Kristi, who was a two-year soprano participant in MASLC.

"I went to one of Amery's MASLC concerts where he introduced me to all of his new friends -- he was having a great time," recalled Kuhl. "And when Kristi came back, she'd been changed so much through the music and the whole idea of singing for God that she'd decided to become a church youth director," said Kuhl, noting Kristi has just finished her second year of studies toward that goal at Concordia University, St. Paul.

"Amery had a straight-A average at the South Dakota School of Mines -- he's now a mechanical engineer -- and I think it was MASLC that brought him a lot closer to the need to keep God as the focus of his life," mused Kuhl. "He always said he never missed a Sunday of attending church all through his college years."

Kuhl's other sister, Mindy, is a 2010 WHS honors graduate who will continue playing her viola while pursuing a degree in social work at Winona State University in the fall.

Kyle Fleming, a 2008 WHS grad, is another MASLC alum whose time with the program was life-changing. A MASLC bass from 2006-'08, Fleming recently completed his sophomore year as a music therapy major at Wartburg College.

"Kyle grew so much as a singer through MASLC," said his mother, Pam Fleming, adding that their family's home church is First Lutheran of Worthington. "He credits a lot of his singing ability to his MASLC experience."

Kyle Fleming also made it into the Minnesota Music Educators Association's All-State Men's Choir after his junior year of high school, and he observed there were nine other members in that group who had been MASLC singers, as well.

"MASLC is an excellent opportunity for Lutheran kids who sing," offered Pam Fleming, whose son also plays the bass violin, piano, percussion instruments and has begun studying the organ. "It's such an overall religious and musical experience."

The MASLC format has changed little since Worthington Middle School teacher Rich Besel, a native of St. James, was a MASLC participant in 1970 and 1971; the students gather for a week at Mount Carmel Ministries Camp on Lake Carlos in Alexandria to polish the music and bond socially and vocally before embarking on a nearly two-week concert tour of Lutheran churches throughout Minnesota. Singers, always in pairs, stay with host families from the local churches they serenade.

"MASLC was one of the highlights of my life in terms of my growing-up years," said Besel, who remains active as a musician: he plays trumpet in the Worthington Brass and the Amazing Worthington City Band, conducts the Chancel Choir of Worthington's American Lutheran Church and sings bass in the Worthington Chamber Singers.

"In MASLC, I was able to meet different people and travel around the state, basically making connections with people and God through music," shared Besel, whose son, Jon, was also a MASLC bass in 1997. "MASLC has a spiritual focus and really matches a lot of areas where kids need attention as they're growing up. It's a very high- quality, respected program."

Kuhl is happily anticipating the good things Besel, the Flemings and her older siblings have told her about MASLC.

"I'm really excited to see all the towns, and I've never been to northern Minnesota before," confided Kuhl. "I hear the trees are beautiful."

If Kuhl's MASLC experience is anything like that of other area alumni, the scenery will be only one of the things she will find to treasure.

"When people come to a MASLC concert, they're usually impressed by how much these kids have accomplished in a short time," stressed Besel. "It's a terrific vehicle for them to use and share their talent in a positive way."

The 2010 MASLC concerts scheduled closest to Worthington are 7:30 p.m. June 22 at Redeemer Lutheran Church in New Ulm; 7:30 p.m. June 26 at Hope Lutheran Church of Minneota; and June 27 at the 9:30 a.m. worship service of First Lutheran Church in Marshall. For more information, go to