VocalEssence, the premiere vocal ensemble of Minnesota, will team with former news anchorman and actor Don Shelby for ‘River Songs and Tales with Mark Twain,’ on Saturday April 7 at 7:30 p.m. in the Chalberg Theatre, CLC’s Brainerd campus. The event is part of the Central Lakes Community Performing Arts Center’s Cultural Arts Series.
“Even in the land of 10,000 lakes, the Mississippi River has a magical pull,” says VocalEssence’s media spokesperson Jennifer Weismann. “It’s a metaphor, a connector, an escape route and the source of indelibly American songs and stories.” It’s with this idea in mind that the group put together this show. Adding the talents of Shelby, who has performed his Mark Twain show for several years, ‘River Songs’ is a celebration of the River and the people who live on and near it.
Series Producer Patrick Spradlin believes this is a perfect show for this community. “The Mississippi is very much a part of Brainerd’s history. It continues to be a powerful presence in our town. All of the recent discussions on revitalizing Brainerd by tying into the aura of the Mississippi is testament to that,” he said.
“This particular show was of interest to me, not only because of the obvious tie-in with the river, but because of who is involved in it, Spradlin added.” He noted that VocalEssence has an international reputation as a choral ensemble. “And, we presented Don Shelby with his Mark Twain show two years ago to a couple of sold-out performances.”
‘River Songs’ appearance in Brainerd is part of a five-city tour of Northern Minnesota supported by grants from the Minnesota State Arts Board, Bremer Bank, and the Brainerd Lakes Area Community Foundation. The entertaining and nostalgic program weaves choral masterpieces, folk song favorites, traditional spirituals, and Americana with the words of Mark Twain, featuring the VocalEssence Ensemble Singers, accompanied by an instrumental bluegrass combo and folk fiddler Sara Pajunen, plus journalist and actor Don Shelby’s portrayal of the great American humorist and man of letters.
The tour kicks off in Grand Rapids, with additional shows in Hibbing, Detroit Lakes, Brainerd, and Alexandria. In each city, a local high school or community choir will be featured in a prelude concert. For the concert in Brainerd the Legacy Chorale will be the featured choral group.
“It’s always an adventure when VocalEssence and Don Shelby hit the road, and past audiences have told us they love the energy of this collaboration,” says G. Phillip Shoultz, III, VocalEssence Associate Conductor who serves as Music Director for the production. “Combine tall tales from Mark Twain with the highly spirited vocal performances from our singers, and you get a formula for a truly fun program, with something for everyone. Best of all, we get to reach an appreciative audience that might not be able to catch a VocalEssence performance in the cities. We’ve been building community through the choral arts for 49 years, and tours like this are an important way of expanding that community.”
VocalEssence, called “one of the irreplaceable music ensembles of our time” by Dana Gioia, past chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts—and the choral ensemble that Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones says “sings magnificently”—impacts thousands of students, singers, and composers each year through its initiative programs, contests, and support for innovative art. VocalEssence was founded in 1969 and has debuted more than 250 commissions and world premieres.
Tickets for ‘River Songs and Tales with Mark Twain’ are available through the CLC Theatre Box Office at (218) 855-8199 or online at www.clcperformingarts.com
The show is sponsored by Mel and Sonja Nefstead, and by Minnesota Public Radio.