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Orchestral repertoire often consists of works by primarily white, male composers who lived at least a hundred years ago. These symphonies and concertos are famous, within musical circles or with the entire world, having withstood the tests of time to become standards. The Minnesota Orchestra plays these pieces expertly, but the Orchestra is a champion of new music as well, premiering original work by a living composer on nearly every concert.
On Friday, Nov. 10 at Orchestra Hall in downtown Minneapolis, the Minnesota Orchestra’s Fall Campus Night concert will feature an entire program of new works by a diverse selection of composers. They call the concert “Future Classics,” aware of the fact that even Tchaikovsky was new to the profession once.
The concert will be performed as part of the Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute, which is celebrating its 15th year. For the seven composers of the night, it’s a huge deal to have work performed on this concert.
Audience members will vote via Twitter for their favorite piece, which will receive a second performance on Nov. 11, when it will be broadcast live as part of Minnesota Public Radio’s 50th Anniversary. Exposure makes or breaks an emerging composer’s career, and this concert is the perfect opportunity to step into the spotlight – literally.
Composers will give a brief talk about their piece before its premier, and audiences will have the opportunity to engage with the composers after the concert as well.
In a world with a musical cue for every app and Facebook video, not to mention concert halls and movie screens, we need strong composers to capture the nuances of our world and transform them into music. Famous or not, composers like the seven featured on Friday have to break into the professional world to make a living creating for us.
Though being among the first to hear a new work is exciting enough, the Minnesota Orchestra appeals to its college audience even more by offering free coffee, tea and cookies, as well as prizes and a meet-and-greet to attendants on Friday night. Want in on the action? Tickets are $12 with a student ID online or at the door.
This past Thursday, Nov. 2, David Perry – a Medieval History Professor at the University of Minnesota – gave a talk to the St. Olaf community entitled, “Study Humanities, Save the World.” Curious Northfield community members, St. Olaf professors and students filed in to the Center for Art and Dance to hear just how to answer that awful question asked over every family gathering: “What are you supposed to do with that (major)?”
Perry, a former professor of St. Olaf, has had a very winding career path himself. Though he considers himself mainly a scholar and humanist, he has in the past few years been pursuing journalism. He is a regular columnist for Pacific Standard, and is a contributing writer for CNN, The Atlantic, The New York Times, among many more.
Abby Wollam ’20, a humanities major, attended the talk because she wanted to hear about how her field of study can benefit her beyond graduation: “When I saw the title of the talk I was intrigued because you often hear people question the value of majoring in something like history, political science or ancient studies which has always made me a little fearful and question my own life choices.”
A recurring theme throughout his talk was taking the skills he had learned in his education as a history major and applying them in more practical ways to his life.
Using personal examples from his life, Perry told the audience about when he found out his son had Down Syndrome.
“The depths of my ignorance about it were essentially endless. I didn’t know what it meant for him in the long term,” Perry said. Next he did what he said “any of us would do.” He educated himself.
“I knew how to know things,” Perry said. “I knew how fields of information worked, and I knew how to apply myself.” He used his research skills to access all sorts of information to fully understand the depths of the disability. “I’ve always felt very grateful for my education and that it prepared me to make this huge shift in my life.”
Wollam was intrigued by his talk, and really appreciated his engagement with the audience through his incorporation of popular culture into the talk. “The biggest takeaway that I got from this talk was the reiteration of the idea that it really isn’t about what you study but about the tools and skills you acquire.”
St. Olaf students may do well to remember that not everything in life is determined by what you major in here. Instead, Perry believes that, “The best tool we have developed as humans is to learn how to learn.”
If you walked down to Skoglund on Sunday, Nov. 5, you would have seen hundreds of students from St. Olaf and several high school choirs walking around in their choir robes, clutching several pieces of newly learned music. You may have heard a wall of beautiful choral music beginning at 1:40 p.m. when rehearsals began, and again at 4 p.m. when the performance started. This event is known as Choral Day, a day filled with music, choir and community. It’s a day where Viking Chorus, Manitou Singers, Chapel Choir and the St. Olaf Choir join several high school choirs to put on a massive performance.
Lukas Jaeger ’20 describes it as, “A lot like the All-State and/or State Honors Choir performances (or other regional equivalents).”
“For me,” Jaeger said, “It was very refreshing in that way. A very exciting performance where all the choirs get to sort of show off what they’ve done so far and, in a way, where they are headed.”
While this day has come to be a tradition for the St. Olaf choir program, many involved in choir find it to be a stressful day rather than an enjoyable one.
Sally Olmstead ’20 says, “I’ve participated in Choral Day once before, and my overall experience with it was positive. It’s a great opportunity for high school singers to see what choir is like at St. Olaf. I enjoyed hearing their choirs sing, and it was [nice] meeting and interacting with some of the kids.”
However, Olmstead also is one of the many Oles who competed in the NATS (National Association of Teachers Singing) competition all day Friday and Saturday, making her weekend full of singing and taxing both vocally and academically. Despite this, Olmstead was, “Mostly looking forward to this weekend of singing; I think it’ll be a great time, even if it does put me a bit behind on homework.”
What this event really does is give the high school students the opportunity to sing with St. Olaf choral ensembles, and shows them what a future in choir could be like.
Emily Hynes ’18 explains, “I know of a couple people who came to St. Olaf because of their high school experience with Choral Day. If I keep that in mind, it’s easier to try and have fun during the day. When I think about the other people who benefit from it, it makes it feel more worth it; when I think about my own to-do list, though, it can be hard to find a way to enjoy it. That being said, there are songs sometimes that are deeply moving and it feels good to share their message with the audience. It’s also nostalgic and fun to see the selected high school choirs that get to perform during the concert.”
As a member of Chapel Choir, walking into Choral Day I was – like Hynes – remembering the homework I had to finish, or the books I had to read or the laundry I had to do. But, when several hundred singers ages 14-22 began singing, nothing else compared. Hearing the high school choirs perform songs I sang a few years ago in my own high school choir made any stress seem non-existent.
In one of our choir rehearsals last week, Mark Stover, the conductor of Chapel Choir, talked about Choral Day being about giving back to the community as a group of musicians. We get so much out of this program, and demonstrating the wonder of the St. Olaf choral program is the least we can give for all it has given us.