WORTHINGTON — Prepare yourselves: 265 sixth- through 12th-grade vocalists from Worthington Middle and High schools are eager to burst into song at the first choral concert of the 2021-22 academic year.
At 7 p.m. Monday in the WHS gymnasium, choral directors Kerry Johnson and Madeline Peterson will lead their students in celebrating a musical return to normalcy, of sorts.
“We’re working with the theme ‘Unbroken,’” said Johnson, director of choral activities at WHS since 2009. “The songs we’ve selected speak to resilience, rebuilding and rebirth, to not letting ourselves be broken by the challenges we face in life.”
Varsity Choir, Concert Choir from WHS
To that end, the 45 singers in Johnson’s Varsity Choir will deliver “Tshotsholoza,” a call-and-response South African folk song whose text translates literally as “go forward.”
“They’re also doing Eric Whitacre’s ‘Sing Gently,’ a piece he wrote during the pandemic,” said Johnson. “I’m excited to be introducing the Varsity Choir to Whitacre this year. ‘Sing Gently’ was recorded virtually last year with 17,000 singers from around the world. It’s a cool piece that specifically addresses the isolation we felt during the pandemic shutdown and how people still found ways to make music.”
Comprised of 55 mostly upperclassmen, the WHS Concert Choir has prepared Susan Brumfield’s version of the traditional camp meeting song, “No Time,” plus the Swahili “Baba Yetu.”
Noted Johnson, “‘No Time’ talks about rebirth and building something great before we run out of time.”
It features these stirring lyrics: “I really do believe that just before the end of time we’ll hear the angels sing in that morning.”
After Monday’s concert, the Concert Choir has more to anticipate; WHS will host a modified version of the annual Big South Choral Festival on Nov. 8.
“There was no Big South festival last year, and there won’t be the usual honor and mass choirs this year, but it will be a day for other area choirs to come and have clinic sessions,” said Johnson, noting that Dr. Andrew Robinette, associate director of choral activities at South Dakota State University, will serve as the event’s choral clinician.
In addition to the WHS Concert Choir, groups from Luverne, St. James and Blue Earth are expected to participate.
“There will be an evening concert for the choirs to perform at and hear each other,” said Johnson.
Between next Monday’s concert and the upcoming Big South Choral Festival, Johnson is glad music is back on track.
“It’s just so good to be with my choirs again, and to see how resilient the students are and how genuinely concerned they are for each other,” she said. “Their desire to be back making music is inspiring, and they’re willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen and keep everybody safe.”
WMS director debuts with 6th-8th grade choirs
Madeline Peterson, a 2021 magna cum laude vocal music education graduate of St. Olaf College, makes her debut as the new WMS choral director. Peterson, who also teaches general music at WMS, succeeds longtime director Cindy Anderson in the role.
“Cindy created a strong program and fostered a love and respect for music here,” praised Peterson. “The administrators really help with recognizing the importance of music in the schools, too.”
With her 80 eighth graders, Peterson presents “Pamoja,” with origins in an African proverb.
“It’s a joyful song with rhythmic energy, and the lyrics mean ‘We work together, we reach together, we grow together, we go far,’” she said.
Her 43 seventh graders are planning to present two numbers — a traditional German canon entitled “Music Alone Shall Live,” featuring soloist Isabella Kouame, and the upbeat “Joy in My Heart,” based on two traditional spirituals.
Sticking with that theme, Peterson has 42 sixth grade singers sharing a slower, lyrical version of “This Little Light of Mine.”
“That has a really beautiful piano part,” Peterson said of the arrangement, noting accompanist Sylvia Andersen and a cello solo by high schooler Austin Barber.
The sixth graders’ second piece is the lively, danceable “Jambo, Karibu Kwa Afrika,” which is Swahili for “Hello, welcome to Africa,” Peterson explained.
Although she was new to Worthington in August, Peterson’s positive connections with past Worthington residents convinced her she was making a good career move.
“I grew up in St. Michael-Albertville and had (former WHS choral director) Joe Osowski and Brandon Berger (a 2011 WHS graduate) as my high school choir teachers,” she said. “They were my biggest supporters, and everybody said great things about Worthington, the school system and the music program here.”
Peterson has dived headfirst into the community; a former All-State Choir soprano, she is singing with the Worthington Chamber Singers this season and conducting the choir at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in her free time.
Besides being grateful for her WMS music colleagues — Morgan Rukstales, Mike Andersen, Zac Paulsen and her assigned mentor, Jeanette Jenson — Peterson is pleased with her students’ effort and, as Johnson emphasized, their resilience.
“The students have had a lot taken away from them due to COVID, and the eighth graders miss Cindy (Anderson) a lot, but all of the grade levels have been working hard,” Peterson said. “Having a concert and allowing them to see everything culminate into something tangible is really going to be good for them.
“In the past year it was all work, work, work and no play, and this is an opportunity for them to finally get to show off their hard work.”
The WHS and WMS choirs are in concert at 7 p.m. Monday, in the WHS gymnasium. There is an admission fee; District 518 students are admitted free with student ID.