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Crossing borders: Park High School Choir selected to work with Mexican composer

This fall, the Park High School Concert Choir will work with a visiting Mexican composer who will create an original work specifically for them.

Park is one of three high school choirs in the Twin Cities who have been selected to participate in the 2014-15 "Cantaré!", a cross-cultural program that partners student choirs with a composer in residence from Mexico.

The composer, who has yet to be named, will visit Park during the 2014-15 school year and create a piece for the Concert Choir, which is composed of boys and girls in grades 10 through 12.  The Advanced Women’s Choir might also be involved, Park choir director Ben O’Connor said.

“It’s going to be a good experience for the kids next year,” he said. “We were asked to participate based on our body of work and the concerts we’ve done. It wasn’t a big extensive audition process. We just feel lucky to be picked.”

The Park choir will present the world premiere of the piece at the Cantaré! Community Concert May 21 at the Ordway Center in Saint Paul. 

Cantaré (cahn-tuh-RAY) is an outreach program run by VocalEssence, a Twin Cities-based arts organization that produces choral concerts and educational programs.

The composer will spend a week with the Park choir in October, attending rehearsals to  get a feel for their musical strengths. With those impressions in mind, they’ll return to Mexico and begin work on the piece.

The composer will send the finished work to Park around December. They’ll return to Park in March and May for follow-up rehearsal sessions prior to the concert.

Katrina Wallmeyer, director of development and communications for VocalEssence, said the composer will also teach the Park students Mexican songs and tell them about the  country’s complex musical heritage, which has been influenced by Mayan, Aztec and Spanish cultures.

“They usually also want to make the students understand what Mexico is,” Wallmeyer said. “It’s more than the bad press that comes out of it.”

“Cantare!” was begun by VocalEssence artistic director Philip Brunelle in 2008 as a way of introducing Mexican musical culture into classrooms and communities.

“He realized the only music he knew from Mexico was mariachi music,” Wallmeyer said.

VocalEssence opens their 2014-15 choral concert season Oct. 26 at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis with “Made In Minnesota,” which will feature the VocalEssence Chorus as well as their Ensemble Singers. They’ll perform  pieces by Minnesota composers Argento, Paulus and Larsen, Jocelyn Hagen. Guest artists include hip-hop artist Dessa.

The others schools chosen for the ‘Cantare!’ program are Southwest High School in Minneapolis and  Blaine High School.

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