Tuesday, May 14th, 2019. Day #1

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First of all, there are so many people to thank: the parents and families of the choristers, the Norsk Høstfest, Pam Davy, Fred & Joyce Evans, the Minot State Music Department, and the Minot State University, and everyone else who is so rudely left from this statement of thanksgiving. We send our warmest regards and profound thanks for your support, your love, your patronage, and your friendship! And of course this would have all been impossible without our Director of International Programs, Libby Claerbout, the Norwegian delegation, Rolf Haugen, and no doubt, many more who have worked for nearly 2 years now to make this trip a reality! And one more thank you to MSU’s Marketing Director, Teresa Loftesness who made our lovely Norway Trip shirts and new logo with the help of our own chorister, Kaylee Capp, and the very talented, Roxi Mathis.

But now for news, we have arrived in Skien, Norway after a harrowing 24 hours of travel from Minot, ND by way of Minneapolis, and Amsterdam. On our bus ride from Sandefjord we were met with gorgeous alpine landscapes, and while the conversation was plentiful, now and again a collective gasp from all the travelers would resound when a particularly beautiful vista presented itself.


When we arrived at our hotel, Thon Hotel Høyers, we were greeted by Minot celebrity, and Skien City Attorney, Rolf Haugen. Having flown to nearly thirty Norsk Høstfests in Minot, we greeted him like family. He addressed the choir, and welcomed us to our beautiful accommodations here in Skien.

After a four-course meal of cream of cauliflower soup, roasted chicken breast with a side of potatoes and balsamic reduction, and a yogurt parfait for dessert, Libby and I, headed off with Rolf to have a meeting with the directors of the Skien children’s choir, GLaVox, who are interested in traveling to Minot for the 2020 Norsk Høstfest. We ended up singing and sharing tunes, for quite a bit longer than the time we had allotted.

We returned to our hotel at 9:30pm, and despite being awake for 24 hours, I felt like I had been granted a second wind after singing and playing piano with our Norwegian friends. I set out to have a nightcap with some new Norwegian friends at a pub nearby, and tasted Gammel Opland aquavit and learned that it spends two years aging in oak barrels before it's bottled, which imparts a sweet, creamy vanilla touch to the overall flavor profile, which is rich with caraway. The recipe harks back to 1875.

It was still quite light out at 11pm, which reminded me of how close to the Arctic Circle we are, and of course reminded me of my Alaskan roots.

Tomorrow will be full of singing! And I will document it as best I can. Jack Springgate at KMOT is also giving highlights from time to time, to keep everyone current on our escapades.

In the meantime, thank you to all of you in Minot, North Dakota who made this trip possible, and for supporting your Minot State University Choir!

Below is a slide show of pictures from today:



Wednesday, May 15th, 2019. Day #2 Part 1

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I’m splitting this day into two sections because today is such a full day for us. We were exhausted from the traveling yesterday, so most of us slept splendidly. We woke to a Norwegian breakfast buffet that had something for most any and every one! Eggs sunny-side up, croissants, danishes, baguette, even sea-food including smoked salmon and shrimp, fruit smoothies and a myriad of things that made our three-concert day seem less daunting.

Today, Stig Sjøstrøm, was our fearless leader. He is the Telemark County Arts Representative that is in charge of all public concerts featured in the area including Skien. He also teaches percussion at the Skien High School. He came to our Hotel at 8am to lead us to the high school for a morning that was to to be full of singing, masterclasses, and a concert.

We were introduced to Anne Lise Sydnes the conductor of the Skien High School Choir who took the Minot State University Choir to rehearse Dalikopen by Bjørn Kruse, whereupon I took her choir and rehearsed the famous James Erb arrangement of Shenandoah with them. Working with the 60 Skien High School choristers was renewing. Just being around their enthusiasm, zest for life, not to mention immaculate English speaking, was inspiring.

Here are some pictures:

After rehearsing with different directors we joined forces on the two pieces we planned to perform together which was just pure fun! Then we each rehearsed pieces that we wished to perform for the school during their lunch hour in their gorgeous lunch/concert/open/arts space. We rehearsed Craig Hella Johnson’s arrangement of Hard Times, and then Joseph Gregorio’s hilarious and challenging arrangement of Frog Went A-Courtin’. Then with a handful of minutes left before the concert the choristers all got to mingle and get to know each other. The ease at which this all happened is a testament, I think, to the delightful members of both choirs, but also the unifying power of choral singing. After we had finished singing with each other, our conversations were earnest and vital, as if we were catching up with long-lost friends.

Here are the combined choral efforts today at Skien High School captured by Libby Claerbout:

Wednesday, May 15th, 2019. Day #2 Part 2

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I’m so thrilled with our performances tonight at the Gjerpen Medieval Church. We shared a concert with Con Vocale today under the direction of Cedomir Popadic, and with the Skien High School Choir under the direction of Anne Lise Sydnes. The concert was so thrilling on all counts. Absolutely brilliant singing from the fabulous Con Vocale under maestro Popadic with an absolutely searing version of Hvad set du dog skjon from Grieg’s famous Four Psalms. The Skien High School choir under Anne Lise Sydnes, was electric, and spirited and with excellent tuning and lovely core to the sound! The Minot State University Choir sang absolutely splendidly, with call-out solos from Rose Bateman, Maddy Sem, Kaylee Capp, Arnikka Thompson, and Sydney Johnson.

There was also an unexpected surprise! We were taking a choir picture outside this gorgeous Gjerpen Church, when a man approached and asked if there was a Michael HarriSon in our choir, which of course prompted Michael to sheepishly raise his hand. The man proceeded to tell us that he not only was the pastor here at the Gjerpen Church, but that he had gone to seminary with both Michael’s mom and dad in Illinois, years earlier. (See the bottom of this entry for these pictures)

The most beautiful thing tonight, for this participant, was when we combined for performances of James Erb timeless arrangement of Shenandoah, and Dalakopen by Björn Kruse. While each group had great musical moments, the sound of us all raising our voice together was a sound that I shall always remember. The reason we are here in Norway, is in large part due to the desire of so many in Minot to link arms with their Scandinavian brothers and sisters, creating opportunities that would otherwise be out of reach. This desire for connection, came through in the sound today. The music wasn’t perfect. But what was perfection was the connection of 150+ voices raised in the commonality of a love of music, a love of shared traditions, and the desire to connect and share.

Here is a video of the performance with the combined forces of three choirs in a church that was consecrated in the 12th century:

After this we went back to our hotel for an official dinner with the Mayor of Skien, our own Minot Mayoral delegation, and we were able to share an a cappella version of the Skien City Song and have our new Norwegian friends join in with their own beloved song. Here is that collaboration:

We found that tonight our own gifts were augmented by the newly formed friendships and connections, the long shared history, and the efforts of countless people who not only just shared in our opportunity to come here, but laid the foundation for a long, robust, and rewarding relationship between these two cities. It was a long day, but a day none of us who sang will easily forget!


Thursday, May 16th, 2019. Day 3

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Today I had herring for breakfast. I kept remembering that wonderful Faulty Towers episode where John Cleese hides the breakfast herring in his sweater vest. I was fortunate to not have to hide something like that in such an intimate fashion.

We hiked up the hill behind our hotel to sing for the county mayor at the Telemark County Council Tingsalen. It was too hot in the building where they had originally planned for us to perform, so we sang outside. Stig Sjøstrøm worked wonders with a sound system, and with a little work he had us ready to perform outside in the garden.

Here’s a clip of Minot State University Senior, Nathan Bowles, singing Danny Boy with the Minot State University Choir:

After our concert which included:

  1. Skien City Song by Abraham Hvidsten

  2. Simple Gifts by René Clausen

  3. Frog Went A’Courtin’ by Joseph Gregorio

  4. Danny Boy,

    Featuring Nathan Bowles, baritone

  5. Ja, vi elsker dette landet (Norwegian Anthem) by Rikard Nordraak

The choristers loaded up in the bus to travel to Skien Recreation and Athletic Park for some much needed R&R after a very full schedule of concerts. Libby and I decided to check out the outdoor facilities at the Brekkeparken for tomorrow’s May 17th celebrations (Norway’s Independence Day Celebration). We ran into a preschool celebration that was a preview of tomorrow’s attractions, and it warmed the heart:

Tonight after sitting down to one large table in our hotel for a scrumptious dinner of pork loin, we scurried off for a rehearsal with the Telemark Symphony Orchestra. Maestro Papadic was conducting the Grieg Landkjenning which is such a fun piece. There was a community mens choir that roared out those Norwegian stanzas with such strength and vitality, we all felt Norwegian, even those of us who were more Czech.

We made our way to the Henrik Ibsen House where we rehearsed the To The Red & Green Forever, the Minot State University Alma Mater (Arranged for orchestra by Maestro Efrain Amaya), and my arrangement of He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands featuring soloists: J’Kobe Wallace, baritone, Maddy Sem & Bethany Kolschefsky, sopranos, and the wonderful Telemark Symphony Orchestra.

Here’s a clip of that rehearsal: