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Falling for music: Student musicians perform

WORTHINGTON - District 518 music teachers are serving up seasonal treats ahead of Halloween, with two concerts taking place next week featuring hundreds of Worthington High School (WHS) and Worthington Middle School (WMS) student musicians.

"Recent bouts of illness in the schools have made for some rehearsal challenges, but we are hoping everyone will be healthy," shared Melanie Loy, District 518 orchestra instructor. "We are optimistic everything will go well and we'll have good performances."

At 7 p.m. Monday, WHS choir and orchestra students are in concert at Memorial Auditorium, offering selections from master composers for the year's first program.

"The Trojan Choir and Concert Choir will each do music from different classical time periods, including the Baroque and Romantic," explained Kerry Johnson, director of choirs at WHS since late August.

Among the choral works to be sung Monday by the 127 WHS choral students are pieces by Vivaldi, Faure, Rachmaninoff, Haydn and Offenbach; students sing in English, French and Russian.

"The Concert Choir will end with 'The Neighbor's Chorus' by Jacques Offenbach, which is from a comic opera," detailed Johnson. "Offenbach paved the way for the modern day musical by making fun of the serious operatic form.

"This number is about super nosy neighbors who think they know what's going on with a man who lives nearby, but by the time they're done gossiping, they've come up with a totally atrocious story--it's very funny."

Johnson succeeds Joseph Osowski, who left Worthington in early August after three years here to assume a similar position at Anoka High School.

Johnson's teaching experience spans more than 13 years at schools in both South Dakota and Minnesota. A native of Brookings, S.D. and the daughter of two retired teachers, she holds a bachelor's degree in music education from South Dakota State University and a master's degree in education from Southwest State University.

"I love it here," said Johnson. "The kids are amazingly hard working and very talented and everyone has been so helpful and supportive. I couldn't ask for a better start to the year."

Loy, beginning her fourth school year at Worthington, will lead her 30-member WHS ensemble in Vivaldi's "Allegro for String Orchestra" arranged by Kathy Fishburn, featuring senior cellists Michael Harberts and Yunuen Velazquez. "Mantras," a contemporary piece by California composer Richard Meyer, highlights the viola section.

"This is the largest string group I've led so far at WHS, and they work well and enjoy making music together," expressed Loy. "And for the first time, the 10 string students who meet with me daily--we're calling them the WHS Chamber Orchestra--are playing Mozart's Symphony #15 in G major."

On Thursday at 7 p.m., the WMS choirs--250 students strong--will join the 47-member WMS orchestra in concert at the high school.

"We are so grateful the high school allows us to use their facility for this concert," related Cindy Anderson, WMS choir director and general music instructor.

Anderson's seventh and eighth grade choirs are each singing folk songs--a Hungarian one for the eighth graders, along with an American spiritual--and "Little Brown Jug" and the Hebrew "Havah Nagilah" for the seventh graders.

"The sixth graders are doing a rhythmic piece called "Alleluia" that's in three parts, with each section having its own melody line and rhythm," explained Anderson. "It sounds pretty cool when it's all put together."

Loy's middle-school orchestra students will lead off en masse with the national anthem, followed by the familiar "Edelweiss" from "The Sound of Music." Other selections include the rhythmic and contemporary "Nightrider" and "A Touch of Ireland," a medley of three Irish tunes.

This is just the start of a busy year for all District 518 music students and teachers. One big date looming for Johnson is Nov. 9, when WHS plays host to the Southwest Choral Festival. Approximately 550 high school choral students from seven area schools will gather at WHS for a day of singing on that day.

And those who enjoyed last year's first-ever madrigal dinner at WHS will be pleased to know Johnson has scheduled two settings of that meal and musical entertainment on Dec. 12 and 13.

"I'm hoping to continue and build on the choral traditions put in place by previous conductors," revealed Johnson.

This week's concerts will be an enjoyable warm-up for the local audiences, Anderson hopes.

Offered Anderson, "It's the first effort of the year as we're working to get on track, and all I can say is, 'Wow.'"

The WHS choirs and orchestras perform Monday at 7 p.m. at Memorial Auditorium; a free-will offering will be taken. The WMS choirs and orchestra perform Thursday at 7 p.m. at Worthington High School; the concert is free.