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Paynesville Press - August 9, 2006

Duo tours with All State Lutheran choir

Addi Larson

Martin Luther once said, "The devil flees before the sound of music almost as much as before the word of God."

All State Lutheran Choir This quote, referenced by Courtney Colbert and Caitlin Lien, summed up their experience in the Minnesota All State Lutheran Choir in June.

Courtney Colbert, second from left, and Caitlin Lien, second from right, performed with the Minnesota All State Lutheran Choir in June, spending a week at camp and 11 days on tour across the state.

Now under the direction of Dr. Thomas D. Rossin and the accompaniment of Dr. Stephen Gabrielsen, the Minnesota All State Lutheran Choir was formed in 1969 and has since included over 1,500 alumni in about 150 churches throughout Minnesota.

As "musicionaries"- a word Rossin and Gabrielsen used to describe their mission - Colbert and Lien were among the 45 Minnesota high school singers who gathered for three weeks in an environment of music and faith from Saturday, June 10, to Thursday, June 29.

The choir, composed of 13 sopranos, 14 altos, nine tenors, and nine basses, assembled at Mt. Carmel camp - near Alexandria - for one week of seclusion and rehearsal before their two-week tour began. According to Colbert and Lien, the goal was to have all of the material for their tour memorized by the first concert. The daily schedule at camp included six hours of choir rehearsal, a two-hour musical rehearsal with "Dr. Gabe," meals, free time, community time, meditation, journaling, devotions, and chapel. Days ended with lights out at 11 p.m.

The vocal coaches instructed choir members during camp to better prepare them for the tour. Vocal coach Andrew Barrett, who has worked with the Minnesota Opera, amazed Colbert and Lien, who both sang soprano. "During practice they would take us out singularly and give us voice lessons," Colbert said. "I had to learn to sing completely different, but it was good." During camp, the singers carried water bottles with them at all times and were instructed to drink when they heard the code phrase, which Colbert coined for the week, "Fo shizzle."

Lien said being able to sing eight hours a day in top condition was a challenging and rewarding experience.

During their last day on campus, the choir performed a free, public concert. Lien said that when she looked out into the audience, Barrett was in the front row, smiling and crying. Lien, then, began to cry. "All of us have a common faith and a common love for singing. For me, this year, it was emotional."

The week of camp ended with a closing bonfire, where each choir member received a pin to wear on their collars during the tour, "symbolizing that you're a missionary and a musician," said Lien, who was one of two choir members to imbue a tattoo replica of the pin.

Colbert, in her third year with the choir, said she enjoyed the camp experience again. "It's where you get to know who people are, where they come from," she said. "My outlook on life is so much better. I was back in that safe environment with chapel, individual time, community time."

The 11-day tour brought the choir to 14 Lutheran churches in 14 cities throughout Minnesota. The group traveled by bus each day and stayed with host families - as many as 12 singers in one home - throughout the tour. The 90-minute concert produced 45 minutes of traditional Christian choir music and a 45-minute musical with fun, upbeat dancing and acting, according to Colbert. "Every time we step on stage, we're preaching," she said.

Lien sang a solo on, "Going Home," a song she said was very personal and special to her because it was played at her grandmother's funeral exactly one year before camp began this year. Lien also played the flute during the musical and the oboe during 'The Lord Is My Shepherd,' which she said is her favorite song.

During the musical, Colbert played a comedic character named "the coin lady" and improvised with audience members, asking, "Do you have my coin? Have you seen my coin?"

"It was so fun to see the smiles on people's faces," she said.

Three years ago, when Colbert decided to audition for the choir, she cited the spiritual element and an extra week among her reasons for choosing Minnesota All State Lutheran Choir over Minnesota All State Choir, which does not emphasize Lutheran aspects and assembles for two weeks. Colbert moved to Golden Valley her senior year to attend the Perpich Center for the Arts High School, which offers a curriculum of dance, literature, media, music, theatre, and visual arts.

This year, Colbert was the only third-year veteran and was able to show leadership in many ways. "I sort of took people under my wing," she said. Colbert hosted a morning show within the bus, which broadcasted weather reports, relevant news, and stories about host families to the group.

Colbert shared an experience with a host mother where she stayed awake to help her do the laundry after the other choir members had gone to sleep. After talking with the woman, she got to know a mother of two children who were both in wheelchairs. One, with Cerebral palsy, is currently in a care facility. Colbert said those unexpected moments are special memories.

"I thought it was kind of a renewal," said Lien of her experience with the choir. "It's such a safe environment of everything: faith, a positive outlook on life, genuine and loving people." She added that she was inspired by PAHS choir director, Cheryl Bungum, who encouraged her to apply.

Both Colbert and Lien noticed that elders frequently approached the singers after concerts, to say how happy they were to see the choir members professing their faith in youth. Faith, according to them, was an integral part of the entire experience.

"We don't just talk about music, but the spiritual side of the music," said Lien, "bearing our beliefs on our sleeves, saying, 'This is how we praise God.'"

Colbert added that faith and music were the key elements to the choir. "I think they're pretty equal," she said. "Both sides are so intertwined that you really can't have one without the other."

They said that even if some singers grew in music and friendships, but not in faith, they were still around people with whom they could feel comfortable sharing. "You can say what you want to say and not worry," Colbert said. "You wouldn't go to school and just decide to talk about God, especially high school." Both said they have made lifelong friends through the choir and plan to return to concerts as alumni in the years ahead.

Colbert and Lien said they were taught that music is second only to scripture in Christianity and when the two combine, positive results resonate. The support from their peers, counselors, vocal coaches, and directors helped to enrich their lives during the experience, they said.

"I'm not afraid to live a happier life," said Lien, "I recommend (Minnesota All State Lutheran Choir) to everyone."

"Just the outpouring of love and faith from these people," Colbert said, "reminds me that I'm blessed every day, every single day."

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