Big South Choral Festival is Monday at Luverne

WORTHINGTON -- The second annual Big South Choral Festival takes place Monday at Luverne High School (LHS), with a culminating concert scheduled for 6:30 p.m.

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These WHS seniors will be among the 72 singers in the 2015 Big South Honor Choir at Monday’s conference choral festival in Luverne. Front (from left): Sopranos Paige Stewart, Rachel Koller and Marie Anderson; altos Meredith Moore and Erin Benz (missing from photo: Sarah Waldner). Back (from left): tenor Sebastian Licea, basses Cameron Jenson, Josh Majerus and Bryan Doeden; tenors Sammy Vallego and Scott Schnieder. (Submitted photo)

WORTHINGTON - The second annual Big South Choral Festival takes place Monday at Luverne High School (LHS), with a culminating concert scheduled for 6:30 p.m.
“Although this is only the second choral festival for the Big South conference, it’s the 47th year of conference choral festivals for schools in this region,” said Seana Graber, choir director at Luverne’s middle and high schools.
“It’s a really cool tradition, and one I participated in as a Luverne student myself, so it’s exciting to be able to pass this on to a new generation of students.”
Kerry Johnson, director of the Worthington High School (WHS) choirs, hosted the first Big South Choral Festival in November 2014; this year, she travels with her 86-voice Concert Choir to Luverne for the event.
“The kids and I are looking forward to it, because it’s a great chance to collaborate with other schools and directors,” said Johnson.
Leading off the day is a two and a half hour rehearsal for the Big South Honor Choir, which is composed of 12 select students from each of the six participating schools: Worthington, Luverne, Jackson, Fairmont, Blue Earth and St. James.
“With the move to the Big South, the choral festival divided the schools into two groups based on location, so the remaining Big South conference schools will be involved with a second choral festival on Monday in Marshall,” explained Johnson.
“We started with eight students per school in the 2014 Honor Choir, but decided that, in going from seven to six schools in our portion of the festival, having 12 singers from each school better rounded out the ensemble.”
Representing WHS in the Big South Honor Choir is an all-senior roster: tenors Samuel Vallego, Sebastian Licea and Scott Schnieder; basses Bryan Doeden, Cameron Jenson and Josh Majerus; sopranos Marie Anderson, Rachel Koller and Paige Stewart; and altos Erin Benz, Meredith Moore and Sarah Waldner.
Dr. Bradley Miller, director of choral activities at the University of Minnesota, Morris, will lead the Big South Honor Choir in two selections - the call-and-response style “Dereva ni Mungu” by Jake Runestad, and the expressive “Where Dwells the Soul of My Love” by David N. Childs.
The nearly 500-member Big South mass choir will be conducted by Joseph Osowski, who served as the WHS choir director from 2006-09.
Osowski will work with all of the choral students from 3 to 5 p.m. on three pieces: the Irish folk song “The Little Beggarman,” Jim Papoulis’ “Give Us Hope” and “Gloria in Excelsis” by Antonio Vivaldi.
“I’ve been an active clinician since 2010,” said Osowski, who currently is the choral director at St. Michael-Albertville High School and the artistic director of the East Central Minnesota Chorale.
“I really enjoy getting to see what other choral programs are working on and how they present their performances,” he added. 
“It’s thrilling to think that you can make a positive impact on so many kids in a relatively short period of time, and it’s great for me, as a working conductor, because I can implement some of the other directors’ ideas into my own teaching.”
In addition to their duties as conductors of the honor and mass choirs, Osowski and Miller will listen to and individually critique each of the six participating school choirs between 12:30 and 3 p.m. Monday.
“The feedback we get from the individual critiquing sessions helps us develop as our own choir, and that’s fantastic,” said Johnson, whose students will perform “The Music of Living” and “Can You Hear” both for clinician Dr. Miller in the afternoon and as their contribution to the evening concert.
Graber’s 85-member Luverne Concert Choir is slated to share “Requiem,” arranged by Craig Hella Johnson, and an a cappella African number by Victor C. Johnson titled “Kuimba.”
“I love that the students get to hear the other area choirs sing at the evening concert because it’s a great way for them to learn,” said Graber.
“Sometimes afterwards I’ll hear, ‘Oh, Mrs. Graber, now I know why you tell us to do this,’” she continued. “It’s hard to see things in themselves sometimes, but easier to observe in other people.”
The mass choir experience at the Big South Choral Festival tends to be the concert highlight, for directors, teachers and audience members alike.\
“It’s just amazing for the audience to see all those kids unified in one non-competitive effort,” said Graber. “The sound they can produce is really something.”
Noted Johnson, “Getting all these schools together in a mass choir setting gives some of the kids an opportunity they might not otherwise have, particularly if their schools don’t have, say, a large men’s section.”
Both Johnson and Graber are pleased their choirs continue to have the chance to participate in the Big South Choral Festival.
“It’s super gratifying that the schools and the conference support the arts in this way,” said Graber.
“We appreciate the conference’s sponsorship of this fine arts event, and that they recognize its value and make time for it in the midst of very busy sports and academic schedules.”

The Big South Choral Festival Concert is at 6:30 p.m. Monday in the gymnasium at Luverne High School, 709 N. Kniss Ave., Luverne. There is an admission fee payable at the door. The public is welcome to attend.

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