WHS Concert Choir chosen for 'Bridges' festival at UMM

Invitation-only festival uses music to build intercultural bridges

WHS Concert Choir members warm up their voices at a rehearsal this week. They will sing next Tuesday at the Bridges Choral Festival at the University of Minnesota Morris. (Jane Turpin Moore / The Globe)

WORTHINGTON — If, as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once wrote, music is the universal language, then a gathering of choirs might be the perfect place to communicate and connect with others.

Next Tuesday, the 68-voice Worthington High School Concert Choir will do just that with participation in the University of Minnesota Morris’s Bridges Choral Festival.

Initiated by Dr. Bradley Miller, UMM’s director of choral activities, the festival aims to unite high school music students from disparate backgrounds.

“Dr. Miller heard our choir perform at the Minnesota ACDA convention last fall and liked what we presented,” explained Kerry Johnson, WHS choral director.

“His concept is to pair a school with a high percentage of diverse students with one that is more homogeneous so they may have an opportunity to learn from each other.”


In addition to hearing the Barnesville High School choir perform and interacting with those students throughout the day, the WHS choristers will be critiqued in a clinic setting by either Miller or guest clinician Dr. Scott Glysson, director of choral activities at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, Calif.

The local choir will also learn two Kenyan folk tunes with Glysson and the UMM Concert Choir, and attend a presentation with Liz Thomson, UMM’s director of equity, diversity and intercultural programs and assistant chancellor for student affairs.

The day culminates in an evening concert where each choir will perform individually and in a massed ensemble.

“It will be similar in format to the Big South Choral Festival,” said Johnson, noting that WHS is slated to host that traditional festival on Nov. 4.

On Tuesday, Johnson’s choir will sing a pair of numbers she was inspired to select for this fall after a “hard summer for the community connected to WHS,” as she put it.

“I began exploring ideas to let kids process that a little, but also to stress the idea of community, of standing together and supporting each other,” Johnson said.

Thus, “Stand by Me,” in the stirring arrangement by Mark De-Lisser that The Kingdom Choir sung at the May 2018 wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, is on the WHS Concert Choir’s program, as is Minnesota composer Jake Runestad’s “Please Stay.”

“These pieces send the message that everyone should know they matter, that their voices matter, that their place in this world matters,” said Johnson.


Worthington audiences will have two opportunities to hear the WHS students sing the songs; first, at the Oct. 28 fall choral concert in conjunction with the Worthington Middle School choirs, and again at the Nov. 4 Big South Choral Festival concert when several other area school choirs will also perform.

Senior Sarah DeSmith and junior Ericka Lo are featured soloists.

Coincidentally, DeSmith’s older brother, Matt DeSmith, is a 2017 WHS alumnus who happens to be a current member of the UMM Concert Choir.

“We’ll have an opportunity to reconnect with some WHS alumni, like Matt, who are at UMM, and our students will get to explore the campus and work in a college visit as part of this event,” said Johnson.

“It’s an honor to be invited to this UMM festival, and we really appreciate Dr. Miller’s efforts to celebrate diversity — because, as we know here, diversity enriches our lives — and incorporate it into a choral music setting.”

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