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Hoehn takes home another McKnight

Submitted Photo Noah Hoehn, a 1998 graduate of Worthington High School, recently received his third McKnight Fellowship, a prestigious award that supports performing musicians.

WORTHINGTON -- Noah Hoehn didn't waste any time applying for another McKnight Artist Fellowship for Performing Musicians.

Having won the prestigious award in 2003 and 2007 -- and consequently not eligible for four years between -- Hoehn filled out a third application, made it through the lengthy process -- and once again came away with the $25,000 prize last weekend.

"I knew it was coming up again, and like I did the other two times, I thought, 'What the heck, I might as well take a shot,'" said Hoehn, a Worthington native (son of Joe and Carol Hoehn) who now lives in the Twin Cities, during a phone interview. "The first time, it was just a shot in the dark. The second time I knew exactly what I was doing, how I wanted to approach it; the first round, the second round, the final round -- I had a strategy for each."

With financial support from the McKnight Foundation, each year the MacPhail Center for Music awards fellowships that recognize performing musicians. The fellowships are intended to "reward artistic excellence and to support performing musicians who have reached a critical point in their career development."

For the previous competitions, Hoehn applied as a solo artist playing one instrument -- the harmonica. For 2011, however, he "stayed true" to his artistry and direction and utilized the live looping show that has become a primary focus. Looping is a process in which digital hardware and software are used to record phrases of music -- loops -- that are then repeated and recorded over again to create a layered composition. Hoehn loops harmonica, marimba, percussion and his voice in a live performance.

The first two rounds of the fellowship competition are based on audio recordings, which unfortunately don't translate the complexity of the live looping process. He detailed all that in the written part of the application, but wasn't sure if it would be "too outside the box" for the prestigious panel of judges.

"I was pretty surprised when I made the finals again, and then it was off to the races on rehearsals, writing, finishing up a tune here and there specifically for the McKnight," he said. "I was starting to hate the music by the end of it. I rehearsed until my lips were going to fall off or my brain was going to blow up."

On the day of the live audition -- May 6 -- at the MacPhail Center for Music, Hoehn was allowed only 15 minutes to set up his equipment -- a process that usually takes several hours.

"I had my brother, Ben, and brother-in-law, Lance Hellstrom, help me, and we were able to use the lobby to assemble everything," Hoehn explained. "We were able to assemble the marimba, plug in the electronics, get things as ready as we could, and then we had everything on a furniture cart, a dolly, a flat-bed cart, and the marimba on wheels. From the lobby to the stage was one level, so we opened the doors, pushed everything in, and it was a mad scramble for me to connect everything."

Despite the frantic rush to prepare, the performance itself came off without a hitch.

"I could just sense that I was nailing it as I was going along," Hoehn related, adding that the judges and personnel from McKnight and McPhail who sat in on the live audition clapped at the end. "The other times, they've been very stoic, very formal, and they were clapping."

Hoehn's instincts were correct, and after a short deliberation among the judges, he was notified that another McKnight prize was his.

Winning the third fellowship is particularly gratifying, Hoehn said, because the previous fellowship provided the money that purchased the marimba and technology equipment for the looping show.

"I feel a sense of validation. Everything kind of came full circle for me," he said.

The prize money will sit in the bank for a while, Hoehn said, while he deliberates the best way to utilize it.

The McKnight fellowship caps off what have been an exciting few months for the musician. Shortly after an April performance in Worthington's Memorial Auditorium, Hoehn was featured in a segment on Twin Cities Public Television's "MN Original" series. He's in the process of signing with a Nashville agency that will book him for college performances and is also hoping to gain entry into the performing artist series circuit. He continues to perform on a regular basis at several Twin Cities venues.

"What I want to do is be playing in theaters, making that personal connection," said Hoehn. "I'm hoping I can figure out a way, leveraging the McKnight, to get out there. (The Worthington concert) gave me the feeling that this is what I want to do, that sit-down concert setting."

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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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