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Locals join with Twin Cities Gospel Choir

From old Christian favorites such as the familiar hymn "The Old Rugged Cross," to uplifting popular tunes like Louis Armstrong's "What A Wonderful World," the Twin Cities Community Gospel Choir filled the Historic Holmes Theatre with a joyful noise Thursday night.

Joining the 10 singers and three musicians from Minneapolis-St. Paul at the end of the show were a chorus of 26 area singers, most of them from the Detroit Lakes community.

To prepare for this unique opportunity, the local singers joined the visiting members of the TCC Gospel Choir and their director, Robert Robinson, for a two-hour workshop held earlier that afternoon in the Holmes Ballroom (across the hall from the theater).

Robinson began the workshop by passing out sheet music for the songs that the combined choirs would be performing that evening. But as he quickly pointed out, those song sheets would only be used for reference.

"Robert does not read music fluently," he said, referring to himself. With that in mind, Robinson added, "I teach using the rote method."

So for the next two hours, Robinson and his "ringers" -- gospel choir members who were sitting amongst the local singers -- would sing one phrase from the song, then ask the local singers to repeat what they had just heard. Each section of the choir -- soprano, alto, tenor and bass -- would learn their part of the song separately, then blend together the different parts in harmony.

"He's so creative," said Carol Nustad, one of the Detroit Lakes singers who joined the choir for the workshop and Thursday night's performance. "And the people he has with him are such wonderful musicians, and so helpful. It was a lot of fun."

Nustad decided to join the choir because she had first seen Robinson perform 4-5 years earlier, and after that performance, had said, "I have to see him again -- but what would be even better would be to sing with him."

"He's an amazing vocalist," she said, praising theater administrator Amy Stoller Stearns for bringing the choir to DL and providing such a unique opportunity to work with them one on one. What makes it so special, she added, is that "Not only do they believe in what they're singing (i.e., the gospel of Christ), but they demonstrate it."

"I'm always interested in doing something different," said Scott Mehlhaff of his reasons for joining the workshop. "The influence of gospel music is not something I grew up with -- but every genre has something that can really add to your performances."

He said he was looking forward to the opportunity to "immerse himself" in gospel music for the day.

After the performance, Liz Harman and Robin Bueng were elated by the experience: Both had been given the opportunity to sing short solos during one of the featured songs.

"It was fabulous," Harman said. "This was kind of a dream come true for me -- to sing up on stage with people of that kind of spirit and liveliness was an opportunity I couldn't pass up. I even brought my mother (Natalie Bellefeuille) and daughter (Annie Harman) up here with me."

All three women participated in the workshop and performance.

"It was so amazing and spirit-filled," Bueng added. "There was so much energy up there, I wasn't even nervous."

"I was so excited," Harman agreed, adding that having so many of her fellow community members up on stage with her made the experience all the more memorable.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454