Choir brings home gold

Though the high school choir room is a far cry from a huge inner-city church, a group of Park Rapids students are hoping to apply what they learned in the cultural center of the country to their hometown performances - and their lives.

Though the high school choir room is a far cry from a huge inner-city church, a group of Park Rapids students are hoping to apply what they learned in the cultural center of the country to their hometown performances - and their lives.

Recently, 125 choir students journeyed by bus caravan to the Big Apple for a vocal competition in Manhattan. Three charter buses left Minnesota around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 4, and drove almost continuously until reaching New York around 10 p.m. Wednesday, April 5.

"It's done a lot for the kids and the program over the years," choir director Louann Dierkhising said of the biennial Heritage Festival choir trip. "It gives them a different challenge than what they can get competing here."

In 2004, the choir attended a competition in Dallas.

This year, the singers performed in Riverside Church in Manhattan. Built in 1931, the gothic-style structure covers a two-block area overlooking the Hudson River and is filled with ornate stained-glass windows and precious artwork.


"The building was gorgeous," wrote Rachel Giese in a post-trip review. "The immense size of it carried our sound all around, making our choir sound nearly angelic!"

"Riverside Church was the most amazing building I've ever been in," wrote Steph LaCoursiere. "It reminds me of churches you see on TV, in movies and in celebrity weddings."

Dierkhising said the church was so voluminous, the students initially had a hard time adjusting their voices.

"Some kids said it was like nothing they'd ever sung in before," she said. "It wasn't just a performance, it was a performance and an experience, all in one."

The singers must have acclimated fairly quickly, because they brought home several awards. The 80-member women's chorus, 90-strong concert choir and 26 chamber singers all received a gold rating. The women's and concert choirs earned first place, as well. (The chamber singers could not compete for first, as there were no other similarly sized groups.) The choirs competed against about 50 other school choirs from as far away as California.

Besides singing in the cavernous cathedral, the kids got a chance to see classic New York institutions, such as Battery Park, the Statue of Liberty, the Hard Rock Café and Central Park.

"(ESPN Zone restaurant in Times Square) was heaven for a sports fanatic," LaCoursiere wrote. "Any place with TVs in the bathroom is on the top of my list."

Matt Koeller wholeheartedly agreed. "The best part was the TVs in the bathroom - enough said," he wrote.


"Walking down Broadway, buildings stretched up on all sides," wrote Caitlyn Aho. "Seas of black and grays walked by our long lines of color. People vended everything under the sun - an experience of a lifetime."

"I'm glad we got to walk along Broadway," wrote Stephanie Kueber. "I saw huge signs and flashing lights everywhere. I loved catching snippets of multiple foreign languages, as well. I still have much to learn."

"Obviously, they don't teach drivers' ed in New York City," quipped Jake Hanson of the cab drivers and thick traffic.

The students gazed down upon the city from the top of Rockefeller Center.

"They pointed out to us where the Trade Center was, and the kids remarked how there was nowhere for the dust and smoke (on 9/11) to go," Dierkhising said. "A lot of 9/11 really came alive."

The group also attended The Lion King on Broadway.

"It was absolutely phenomenal," Dierkhising said. "Every piece of scenery was alive except for two rock formations."

"The Lion King was amazing," wrote Jenny Spurlin. "The costumes were extravagant and colorful, and there was talent beyond measure. The music was phenomenal. I got lost in the story."


After the vocal award ceremony Saturday, April 8, singers from all competing groups boarded boats to cruise around the Statue of Liberty while being treated to dinner and a dance.

"It was crazy to think I was actually looking at the big toe of the 'Lady of Liberty,'" wrote Giese.

"The Statue of Liberty was big and peaceful and makes you feel proud of your country," Lisa Pickett wrote.

Last but not least, the students spent their last day in New York at a Six Flags amusement park.

Besides having a chance to see the most populated city in the country, Dierkhising feels the choir students gained perspective from the trip.

"For our kids to have the same opportunity as kids in the city, that's huge for me," she said. "It really raises the whole bar of what they want to achieve. It gives them experience they'll have their whole life, and give them an opportunity they might never get.

"The students learn to strive beyond mediocrity, and that helps everything they do," she added.

It seems the students agree.


"New York City was a great experience that was spent with some great people," wrote student Brandon Gartner. "I had the time of my life."

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