By Jennifer Kotila
HOWARD LAKE, MN More than 80 singers from 20 congregations and nine denominations have come together the last several Saturdays to prepare for the fourth annual community hymn festival.
The hymn festival will take place Thursday, May 10 at 7:30 p.m. at St. James Lutheran Church in Howard Lake, followed by a reception hosted by church members.
This year, the community choir is being led by Ryan Luhrs of Montrose, who is seeking a master’s degree in sacred music at Luther Seminary in St. Paul.
Luhrs has been the music director at St. James Lutheran Church since 2009, and was the choir director at Dassel-Cokato High School from 2007 through 2010.
However, Luhrs noted that this is truly a community event with a lot of people involved in the preparation.
Communities which are represented on the choir include Howard Lake, Dassel, Cokato, Annandale, Winsted, Lester Prairie, Waverly, Montrose, New Germany, Minneapolis, and St. Paul.
“Getting together with other people to be able to worship God through music is one of the things I love to do,” said Amanda Doster of New Gerany, a first-time member of the community choir who attends St. John’s Lutheran Church in Hollywood Township.
Each year, the event has grown and drawn more people.Last year there were about 50 people in the choir, with four congregations represented, according to Luhrs.
This is the first year that participants were asked to give up several Saturdays to come together and practice musical selections.
Because of that, Luhrs expected about the same number of participants as last year, but was pleasantly surprised when so many showed interest.
“I think the enthusiastic response by many to give up five Saturday mornings and a Thursday evening in order to sing in a choir like this demonstrates that many in this community are hungry for such an experience,” Luhrs said.
“I love it. I wish we had something like this in our community on a more regular basis,” said Jennie Inselman of the Dassel-Cokato area, a first-time member of the community choir who attends Kingston Apostolic Church.
Luhrs is leading the event as part of his coursework, for which he is required to present a final project, such as a public music and worship event, including choral music.
“It’s a really fun, great experience. I’ve learned a lot since I’ve been here (practicing with the community choir),” said Dassel-Cokato senior Grace Pauly. “It’s fun to listen to older people’s voices how they sound. It’s a lot different than high school.”
Pauly lives in Silver Lake and attends Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Winsted.
She plans to attend St. Catherine’s in St. Paul, majoring in music studies, and wanted more experience working with choir and choral music, she said.
The community choir members were recruited by Luhrs, who visited local weekly church choir rehearsals to inform them of the project.
“It’s great to be able to use my voice be able to sing and be a part of this great thing,” said Myra Hirsch of Howard Lake, a first-time community choir member who attends St. James Lutheran Church in Howard Lake.
The event will include congregational hymns, choral music, and spoken readings and reflections, focusing on celebrating the church’s song using a variety of hymns, both old and new, Luhrs said.
Soloists at the hymn festival will include Reverend Mark Loder, pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Winsted; and Deveny Beaton, Dassel-Cokato Middle School music teacher and member of First Baptist Church in Cokato.
Stefanie Fisor, a middle school music teacher and member of the National Lutheran Choir, is serving as assistant choir director.
Sarah Luhrs, Ryan’s wife and Dassel Elementary music teacher, will serve as the choir accompanist.
“A generation ago, singing together was common, both in the home and in public spaces. Now, communal singing is essentially limited to some church services and the national anthem at sporting events,” Luhrs said. “A hymn festival allows Christians in our community, from a variety of congregations, to sing together and celebrate the church’s song.”
Luhrs will be attending Florida State University in Tallahassee next fall for further study in choral music.