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Noah Hoehn demonstrates musicianship at WHS, stresses hard work

Noah Hoehn, originally from Worthington and now a Twin Cities musician performs a song for WHS students. (Tim Middagh / The Globe)

WORTHINGTON — When Noah Hoehn walked into Worthington High School yesterday, it was as if everything and yet nothing had changed since he graduated two decades ago.

“It’s been 20 years, but I feel like it’s been only a couple of weeks since I was here,” he confided to the 250-plus ninth- through 12th-graders before him.

Indeed, the band room where he was performing — courtesy of a Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant he’d received, allowing for music education events such as this — was new and more spacious than the space down the hall where he’d begun honing his skills as a student percussionist in the mid- to late ’90s.

Still, Hoehn appeared to feel right at home as he shared a few secrets of his live-looping skills with his teenage audience, grabbing their attention at the start of the hour-long “in school field trip” with his version of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’.”

Thereafter, he played an original composition with lyrics that perhaps spoke to the angst experienced by many high-schoolers: “Find me, find another me in this mess,” Hoehn crooned.

Hoehn is the son of Joe and Carol Hoehn, formerly of Worthington and now of Shakopee, and the son-in-law of Kim and Nancy Hellstrom, Worthington. Although he currently resides in Minnetonka with his wife Sarah and 6-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter, Hoehn easily related to the youthful crowd.

His experiences as a solo performer on the national college and university music circuit — he travels the U.S. for such gigs anywhere from 100 to 180 days annually — likely contributed to his comfort level.

“Why play music?” he inquired, receiving answers ranging from, “It’s fun,” and “It’s my passion,” to “I like being part of a group.”

Hoehn offered his own justification for having solidified his career as a professional musician.

“The power of music is in making people feel something,” he submitted.

It matters not, he said, whether that “something” is joy that causes people to dance, or sorrow and reflection that might spring from the harmonica rendition of “Amazing Grace” he expertly executed.

“Building your skills as a musician never ends,” Hoehn said. “And the more skills you have and can harness, the better chance you have of making people feel something.”

Between the teen-relatable contemporary pop songs Hoehn delivered (his set included Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You,” Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive” and Owl City’s “Fireflies,” among other numbers), he demonstrated how he made his live looping equipment work, introduced instruments like the Indian dhol drum and offered insight into his WHS background.

Saying that as an underclassman he was an “under-the-radar dude,” he shared that he had been a baseball player and cross country runner, speech participant and Section 8 BPA president during his WHS student tenure.

Above all, Hoehn took advantage of as many school music opportunities as he could.

“I did anything and everything that had to do with music,” he said. “I was in all the ensembles I could be in, and when I wanted to make All State Band I took lessons from a private instructor in Sioux Falls.”

And although he went to Augustana University with the intent of majoring in pre-law, he soon realized that wasn’t truly his goal.

“If I’m doing music, I’m happy,” said Hoehn, who nevertheless earned college degrees in business and finance that have aided him in advancing his music career.

He revealed that what has really allowed him to make a living as a professional musician is persistence, practice and a touch of perfectionism.

“I’d lock myself in a room and practice for two hours because I was determined to be the best at something,” said Hoehn. “I played until I was bleeding through my harmonica.

“You have to put in the work if you want to be good at anything, whether that’s wrestling, ceramics, poetry or the harmonica.

“A lot of things in life aren’t easy, but don’t limit yourself by having a thought process that says, ‘I can’t do that.’”

Hoehn advised the students not to fear failure but to set a specific goal and take steps to achieve it.

“Dedicate yourself to a plan, and when you fail, start over,” he said. “Most artists who are successful do a lot of hustling, but the reason I’m still doing music is because I’ve been adaptable — and I never quit.”

As Hoehn wrapped up his music and education session, WHS band director Jon Loy presented him with a gift of Trojan spirit wear. Then Hoehn launched into one last epic number — a fully fleshed-out “Thriller” — before sending his audience back out to the same hallways he regularly traversed over 20 years earlier.

“You learn something from everything you’re involved in,” Hoehn reminded before bringing them to their feet following “Thriller.”

“And you’re lucky, because the music program here is phenomenal. That’s cool.”