Herald JournalHerald Journal, Nov. 22, 2004

Children's choir records album

By Nancy Deiter, St. John’s Children’s Choir Director

In 1971, when I first joined St. John’s, Elaine Skarstad and Inga Judd lead the children’s music program. There were two children’s choirs: Cherub Choir for grades 1-3 and Glory Singers for grades 4-6. When the Rev. and Mrs. Skarstad left Howard Lake, Judd and Michelle Lothringer directed the program until about 1983.

That year, Linda Weber became the director of a combined group that included grades 2-6. This group was also called the Glory Singers. In the fall of 1987, I was asked to become the director and we re-named the group the junior choir.

In the spring of 1988, we had 15-plus members and the focus was to teach the children to be worship leaders. They were especially excited when, in the fall of 1988, they had “robes like the big people.”

Their fascination with being like the grown-ups extended to having matching folders for their music and collars just like a real choir. These were the result of a gift from a member of the congregation. The group’s membership remained fairly constant until about 1990 when several of the older members “graduated” and went on to sing in the youth choir under the direction of Connie Norman.

Membership in the junior choir remained at about 10-12 for the next few years. In 1994, Linda Weber again became the director when I “retired to go to school in South Dakota.”

For a second stint of four years, she proved to be an able and inspiring director for a whole new “crop of kids.”

In the fall of 1998, I again took over the directorship of the choir. As periodically happens in any group, membership was becoming stagnant. Whether through boredom with the music or lack of parental commitment, by 2000 we had reached a low point where some Sundays, I was lucky to have six to eight children singing for worship.

A new recruitment tool

It was quite by accident that I stumbled on the best recruiting tool ever.

My sister, Lori Dokken, is a professional musician and director of music at Minnehaha United Church of Christ. She came to St. John’s occasionally as a guest to sing for the Howard Lake church worship service.

She suggested that our children’s choir return the favor.

Beginning in January 2001, the choir “went on tour.” Lori explained to her congregation how she knew about the St. John’s children’s choir. She introduced the children as being on their “exclusive winter tour.”

The children were absolutely fascinated by her musicianship, the “neat music” she played, and the special treatment the members of her congregation extended to them.

During the next two years, the children did their own recruiting. They told friends “you have to join the choir so you can go to Lori’s church with us.”

In the summer of 2003, I attended a worship, arts and music conference at St. Olaf College in Northfield. I had the privilege of meeting other children’s choir directors there. I got acquainted with the Choristers Guild, a group that St. John’s had joined earlier that year.

The Choristers Guild organized member churches in this area into the Twin Cities Chapter and gave us a small budget to work with. From that budget, a mass choir festival for Epiphany, the church season between Christmas and Lent, was planned for the children from 15 congregations.

On Feb. 21, the choirs gathered at St. Mary’s Basilica in Minneapolis for a six-hour practice session under the direction of Elizabeth Shepley Jenson from Northfield. When they performed at an afternoon worship service, you would not have believed that more than 220 children from all those churches could sound so incredibly beautiful.

There is no sound like a child’s when it is raised in praise of their God. St. John’s took 15 of its 17 members to the event.

Their only comment when the event was done was that “my feet hurt.” No one complained about having to memorize six pieces or practice for all that time— just “my feet hurt.” When they returned home, the net result was that the children again recruited their own new members.

This September, I had a total of 24 children audition for the choir. Some were not able to continue, and currently we have 21 members.

Hallelu is born

The past July, I again attended the workshop at St. Olaf and through the generosity of members of St. John’s, was able to take two youth members with me. Children and youth from all over the United States were there and totally amazed the adults with the beauty of their performance.

In the workshops that I attended, a common theme was heard— children need to feel special about their music. One way to do that was to give them a unique name.

Since praise is the basis for their music, I asked our pastor, the Rev. Joel Swedberg, what the Hebrew equivalent was. Hallelu was his answer, so this year, for the first time ever in Howard Lake, Hallelu was born.

A recording session

In addition to being a music director, Lori also owns Swedish Girl Music Company. Late in July, she asked me if our children’s choir would be interested in recording a compact disc. At the auditions in August, I made sure that the children all wanted to do this. When they heard that Lori was part of the project, it was an immediate “yes” from all. Over the next two months, Lori and I worked on developing a list of production numbers and artists.

Judi Donaghy and Debbie Duncan, members of The Girls, a group Lori sings with in Minneapolis, were invited to sing with the children. Judi is an instructor at the Minnesota Tech School of Music, sings with Bobby McFerrin and has traveled throughout the country with him.

Debbie is a well-known gospel artist as well as the winner of several Minnesota Music Awards over the years. For those of you who have been to Holidazzle Parade, Debbie is the voice of “The Princess and the Pea.” The fourth member of The Girls, Erin Schwab, just had a baby in September and was not able to be there.

On Nov. 13, the sanctuary of St. John‘s became an extension of Toefist Productions, a recording studio owned by Kelly Brower and Justin Schwartzbauer. Wired with every conceivable type of microphone, we spent the next six hours listening for “roll tape” and “OK.” The children performed in a spectacular fashion, especially when it came to the numbers they did with Lori, Judi and Debbie.

We also featured Grant Judd on the pipe organ, Pastor Swedberg playing a classical guitar piece and Jason Deiter doing a Josh Grogan song, hence the album name “Hallelu and Friends 2004.”

The album will be available early December. The cost is $15 and proceeds will be used to fund special events for Hallelu.

In addition to their regular performances as worship leaders at St. John’s, we hope to offer a play about “Moses and the Freedom Fanatics” in the spring. I am currently working on organizing a joint area children’s event for the post-Easter season that will be similar to the St. Mary‘s Basilica event.

For information about Hallelu, its calendar of events and other performances, check the web site, watch Channel 10 on Howard Lake’s local access cable TV, or call the church office at (320) 543-2227.


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