WHS choirs, orchestra to share concert stage

WORTHINGTON -- The tempo picks up again this Thursday when music students at Worthington High School (WHS), who are in the midst of a busy fall schedule, present a 7 p.m. concert in the WHS gymnasium.

WHS Choir
brian korthals/daily globe Worthington High School choral director Kerry Johnson leads the high school's Concert Choir in rehearsal Nov. 2 in preparation for its Nov. 4 concert at the school.

WORTHINGTON -- The tempo picks up again this Thursday when music students at Worthington High School (WHS), who are in the midst of a busy fall schedule, present a 7 p.m. concert in the WHS gymnasium.

The school's roughly 120 choristers and 24 string players will join forces for a Masterworks performance their directors assert is sure to impress.

"Usually we've been at Memorial Auditorium in the fall performing with the choir, but with the ongoing construction there, we'll be on our own campus," explained Melanie Loy, District 518 orchestra director.

"We have two wonderful but separate and diverse projects to share, and it's an exciting concert program," said Loy, noting the orchestra will play Beethoven's Symphony No. 1 while the combined Trojan and Concert Choirs will sing Robert Ray's "Gospel Mass."

Both Loy and choral director Kerry Johnson have taken special steps to prepare their students and extend the learning process.


Last Friday, Johnson arranged for the director of the Twin Cities Community Gospel Choir, Sandra Hodges, to spend several hours with her vocal students as a clinician.

"She worked with both the Trojan Choir and the Concert Choir individually during their usual school periods, then spent time with our 12 soloists between 3 and 4 p.m. before the two choirs returned to learn with her from 4 to 8 p.m.," detailed Johnson.

On Tuesday afternoon, Loy's orchestra students traveled to Sioux Falls, S.D., for a rehearsal with the Augustana College Orchestra.

"Dr. Christopher Stanichar, director of orchestral activities at Augustana, asked us last spring about doing a concert together," revealed Loy. "It was a wonderful invitation, and they did this just last week with the Brandon Valley High School orchestra."

As a result, Beethoven's Symphony No. 1 will be performed by the WHS and Augustana orchestras together, while the WHS strings will play two additional pieces on their own: "Clash and Roar" by Larry Clark and "Plink, Plank, Plunk" by Leroy Anderson (best known for his perennial December favorite, "Sleigh Ride").

"There have been lots of good challenges and opportunities for our orchestra students this fall," attested Loy, adding that 10 of her high school musicians are also involved with the new Worthington Area Community Orchestra under the direction of Dr. Stanichar.

"Dr. Stanichar's mission is to provide an outreach for Augustana and also grow high school orchestras around this area," she said. Matthew Tims, a 2008 WHS grad who is now a junior at Augustana, is one area alumnus involved with the concert as a percussionist.

Johnson described "Gospel Mass" as a "unique blending of the original mass idea with Gospel music," explaining it premiered in 1978.


"The 'Gospel Mass' composer, Dr. Ray, incorporated all the standard parts of a choral mass -- the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Acclamation, Sanctus and Agnus Dei -- but the style of music he chose to use is Gospel, which has a lot of syncopated rhythms and tight chord structures.

"There's so much energy in this music, and even though the mass as an art form began in Europe, it's obvious this is an American rendition, with the text taken directly from the traditional Latin and sung in English."

For example, text from the Agnus Dei portion translates to "Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us."

Johnson and Loy acknowledge their students have put in a large quantity of time and effort to learn the works for this concert over the past few months.

"These WHS music kids are very involved all across the board," observed Loy, with Johnson commenting, "They've really been working hard. I don't know if they all really liked 'Gospel Mass' at the beginning, but over time it's grown on them, and they really enjoyed the experience with Ms. Hodges last Friday and came out of that re-energized, with a new appreciation for the music."

Hodges is a sought-after soloist in the Twin Cities and beyond, having performed in the past with artists including Aretha Franklin, Prince and Jermaine Jackson.

"She explained that while the history of Gospel music stems from slavery in the United States, you don't have to be a descendent of slaves to embrace this music," related Johnson. "Sandy (Hodges) told the kids that we all have something to bring to this type of music, and that seemed to free their minds and make it ok for them to enjoy it.

"The biggest thing Sandy said that resonated with them is that Gospel music has to come from the heart--the message is not something you can fake, but you have to really connect with it."


Johnson is confident her students, who travel on Monday to Pipestone to participate in the Southwest Conference Choral Festival, will successfully convey the true spirit of "Gospel Mass" and is certain concert attendees will appreciate their efforts.

"Come ready to have a good time," urged Johnson. "I think the audience will be moved."

The WHS Trojan and Concert Choirs and the WHS Orchestra, along with the Augustana College Orchestra, perform Thursday at 7 p.m. in the WHS gymnasium. There is an admission fee, but District 518 activity passes are honored.

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