On October 13, the St. John’s Boys’ Choir kicked off its 43rd performance season in true collaborative fashion: with a concert for choir and guitar. This year’s featured instrumentalist was Finn Pehl, a first-year guitar major at Saint John’s University.
“It’s such a great way to start the season,” artistic director Aaron Carpenter said. “We bring the boys together with artists from the community to showcase music that’s often not in the spotlight. This concert included an arrangement (by Minnesota composer Kyle Pederson) of the traditional hymn A Mighty Fortress Is Our God accompanied by electric guitar, a rousing rendition of the folk song The Fox, and chorister favorite Nox Noctis – also with electric guitar, but totally different from A Mighty Fortress.”
A concert with this specific focus of repertoire can actually be quite challenging to program. “We still need variety to keep our audience engaged, but the instrumentation we’re looking for is pretty narrow. That makes finding the right combination of songs a fun challenge,” Carpenter said.
Because the SJBC works as a collaborative team, Carpenter leaned on associate artistic directors Cynthia Hogenson and Matt Kiminski to help refine the program. Kiminski first learned about one song in the concert, The Little Creek, from Sartell Middle School choir director Leah Mockenhaupt in their master’s conducting class this summer, and he was excited to make the connection between master’s-level learning, a local music educator, and the SJBC choristers.
“We have such a rich musical and artistic community in Central Minnesota. At the SJBC, we’re always working to bring this community together. We’re stronger when we support each other, and our Collaborations Concert is just one way that we get to reach out and collaborate with other musicians,” Kiminski said of the organization. “Throughout the rest of this season, we’ll join forces with our alumni choir, the SJBC orchestra, the choirs at CSB/SJU, the Youth Chorale of Central Minnesota, and YCCM Cantabile, to name a few. We rarely perform by ourselves – that’s how we like it.”
Adding to the collaborative process was the choice of venue; Friday evening’s concert took place at First United Methodist Church in Sartell, while Sunday afternoon’s concert was held in the Great Hall at Saint John’s. The staff at FUMC was glad to host the SJBC, and the SJBC was grateful for the opportunity. “We all have something to share in this process; First United has a beautiful space that’s perfect for concerts, and the SJBC has a unique offering for our audiences – a well-trained boychoir representing communities from all over the region,” SJBC Development Director Sarah Maloney noted. “We’re so thankful for the FUMC staff for making this concert possible for our choristers and our audience!”
Guitarist Finn Pehl was honored to be part of the process. In his first year at Saint John’s, he didn’t imagine he’d be a featured instrumentalist with the SJBC. “Working with the St. John’s Boys Choir was really a great experience, and something I’m really glad I was able to take part in. It was both my very first performance in college, and also my first ever paid performance, and I would say it set a great example for both.”
Carpenter was also honored to be part of Pehl’s education: “As a way of giving back to the Abbey and University that we call home, it’s important that we offer learning opportunities for our college students, whether through student employment (the SJBC employs seven SJU students through the work-study program) or one-time performance opportunities like this.”
Also featured in the concert were Jennifer Wildeson, fiddle, and Michael Talbott, bass guitar. Wildeson is an active violinist in the St. Cloud area, and Talbott teaches lessons out of his home studio in Monticello. Both perform regularly in local ensembles.