WASO welcomes Brulé for two holiday concerts
Brulé’s “Silent Star Night” with WASO is Nov. 23-24
WORTHINGTON — For the Worthington Area Symphony Orchestra, pairing with the award-winning Native American band Brulé for its annual holiday concert was a no-brainer.
“We are so excited to have WASO work with Brulé again,” said Melanie Loy, one of WASO’s four leadership team members.
“We performed a sold-out show with Brulé in 2015, and four years later we’re bringing them back in celebration of WASO’s 10th anniversary.”
Brulé’s distinctive “Silent Star Night,” featuring a few new musical selections, accompaniment by WASO’s 53 instrumentalists, Native American dancers and the added attraction of dancers from Kay Williams Prunty’s The Dance Academy, will be performed on two consecutive dates (Nov. 23 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 24 at 3 p.m.) at Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center.
“This marks the first time WASO has given two back-to-back performances, and also our first weekend concerts,” said Karen Pfeifer, a WASO violist and leadership team member.
“Our orchestra members are demonstrating an admirable commitment, and what an honor to be part of this powerful performance that blends familiar Christmas melodies with Native American rhythms and traditional dance.”
Brulé is led by Paul LaRoche, a Worthington High School graduate whose music career dramatically shifted gears about 25 years ago when the adoptee discovered his Native American heritage.
“This isn’t the exact same performance we did in 2015,” assured LaRoche.
“There are a few new songs and surprises. As a band, we change our repertoire all the time, but when you throw a new song into a Christmas concert with a 53-piece orchestra, that takes a lot of work; it’s about a six-month process to arrange the music, get it to the director and orchestra and rehearse.”
The orchestral accompaniment for Brulé’s “Silent Star Night” was arranged by Sioux Falls, S.D., musician Jeremy Hegg.
“We were selected to collaborate with the Sioux City Symphony Orchestra, and that went so well, we’ve performed it there three times over the past decade,” said LaRoche.
“Each time, we’ve added another piece of music and we now have a full 90-minute concert, with enough material that we can actually alternate some of the numbers.”
In 2015, Pioneer Public TV recorded WASO’s collaboration with Brulé, and that edition of “Silent Star Night” has been viewed by millions via national public television broadcasts.
“It goes well beyond having a good event under our belt,” said LaRoche.
“A collaboration between a symphony orchestra and any Native American artistic group is brand new. Brulé is one of maybe three or four other Native American groups to ever team up with a symphonic accompaniment," LaRoche continued.
“To this day, even after we’ve been doing this for 25 years, I can’t get the phrase ‘pioneering one of the last musical frontiers’ out of my head. But that’s exactly what we’re doing: Native Americans are just stepping out into the mainstream entertainment industry, which is startling but exciting.
“This performance in Worthington is still a benchmark within the world of arts and entertainment.”
Dr. Christopher Stanichar has conducted WASO through its entire 10-year history, and he is thrilled to once again be working with LaRoche and the entire Brulé band.
“It’s certainly challenging music that we want to play at our very best level in accompanying Brulé,” said Stanichar.
“We had such a great time in 2015, and over the past few years I’ve been approached numerous times by people who’ve said, ‘Hey, I saw you on TV,’ and they were always referring to our appearance with Brulé,” Stanichar added.
“That really added to WASO’s fame, because when you work with great musicians like Paul LaRoche and his band, it inspires you to also play and perform at a higher level.”
LaRoche has been a visible presence in Worthington over the past few months; he was the featured speaker at the King Turkey Day celebration, and he appeared with his wife Kathy at an Oct. 8 event at Phileo’s.
On Thursday from 5 to 6:30 p.m., Paul and Kathy LaRoche will attend the Chamber of Commerce Mixer that WASO is hosting in the Memorial Auditorium lobby, and on Friday, Brulé will perform two educational programs for students from Worthington Middle School and St. Mary’s School.
A generous grant from the Southwest Minnesota Arts Council has made possible LaRoche’s appearances and WASO collaboration, and LaRoche is motivated by what he calls a renewed effort to work on his mission.
“Part of our goal is to bridge the gaps between art and minority cultures, and that is a difficult process,” observed LaRoche.
“As we’ve taken Brulé across the United States and to many foreign countries, performing over 100 shows annually for many years, we told our story — but we couldn’t seem to get to the impoverished Indian reservations because they lack the resources and infrastructure,” he said.
“Not that financial aid doesn’t come in, but school kids are often at the very bottom of the list.”
LaRoche is in the process of creating a foundation — and he is considering making Worthington its headquarters — that would be used to help children, bridge cultural gaps and involve music.
“Music is still a wonderful medium to get out your message and work on your mission,” said LaRoche.
“Wherever there is a community that has underprivileged youth, we’d like to bring cultural, educational, motivational and educational pieces to it, especially for school-age children, because including members from different communities is very important to us.
“The idea of working with multiple cultures is really an interesting challenge.”
That notion will be on display when The Dance Academy dancers join Brulé’s Native American dancers for “Carol of the Bells.”
“We get to represent our 10 dancers’ diverse cultural backgrounds,” explained Kay Williams Prunty, who said her performers are eager to be involved in the production. “We’re all in the same costumes at the beginning, then we add pieces depicting our dancers’ ethnic backgrounds, which include Latin, Asian, European, Middle Eastern and Scandinavian roots.”
Next weekend’s WASO/Brule performances of “Silent Star Night” are showing promise of being sell-outs, following in the footsteps of the 2015 show.
“It’s very new for our orchestra to do a double-header like this, but that’s a win-win for the musicians and the audience,” said Stanichar.
“It allows more opportunities for people to see the group, and it’s a great chance to celebrate Native American culture.
“Dance is vital to the show as well, so people are in for a visual and sonic treat—the costumes, the culture and the music make it all very uplifting, and a wonderful way to celebrate 10 years of music-making in southwestern Minnesota.”
Brulé and WASO combine for “Silent Star Night” at Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center on Saturday, Nov. 23, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 24, at 3 p.m. Tickets are available at the box office from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. weekdays, by calling 376-9101 or by visiting friendsoftheauditorium.com. A WASO-sponsored Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce mixer takes place from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 21, in the Memorial Auditorium lobby.