Matthew Olson takes a selfie with choir students following a previous concert.

Falls High School choir students will join others around the region for the Boundary Waters Choral Festival in Ely.

This annual event begins at 7 p.m. March 1, and gives area high school students the chance to sing as part of a larger festival choir, as well as to participate in a full day of workshops, rehearsals, and specialized choral instruction with college music professors from the University of Minnesota- Duluth. The performance is free and open to the public, but free will donations are welcome to help cover the expenses.

This is the 10th year the choir festival has been held, and each year the event has grown in professionalism and style, according to a news release. Most of these students are in school choirs that may number fewer than 20 singers. Singing in a large choir is a once-a-year opportunity for them.

Special guest this year is Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer.

The BWCF Choir will perform three of Newcomer’s compositions: “Room at the Table”, “Lean In Towards the Light”, and “A Gathering of Spirits”, the theme song for this year’s BWCF.

Ely choir teacher Mike Rouse and his wife Billie are lifelong fans of Newcomer’s music. Newcomer will also be leading a singer-songwriter workshop for BWCF students who are interested in songwriting, the night before the festival.

“It is not every day that aspiring high school composers in our area have the opportunity to be guided and coached by a Grammy Award-winning composer,” said Mike Rouse. “This will be a great kick off to the festival.”

Concert day includes a full schedule for the students. Some of the choirs will be leaving their home schools as early as 5 a.m. in order to make to Ely Memorial High School for the beginning of rehearsals at 9 a.m. The choral students from International Falls, Ely Memorial, Eveleth-Gilbert, Mt. Iron-Buhl, North Woods, and Vermilion Country High Schools will spend the day rehearsing the festival music selections, which they have been practicing as individual choirs, and by the end of the day, under the direction of Matthew Olson, they will become one unified 125-voice choir.

This will be Olson’s sixth year as festival conductor. The release said as the talent of the students has grown year to year, he is able to select more difficult and beautiful music for the group to perform.

The concert will include individual choir performances; most will sing the two selections they will be performing the following week at the Minnesota State High School League Choral Music Contest. Then the choral students from all six schools will combine into a 125-voice “festival choir.”

“It takes a village” to offer an opportunity like this to our area choral students,” the Rouses said.

In addition to those supporting the BWCF through their donations, this day would not be possible for the choral students without the hard work and dedication of their local choir teachers who prepare them for this day. They are Reida Forsman, Eveleth-Gilbert; Kathy Tompkins, International Falls; Karin Schmidt, Vermilion Country School; Raye Roettger, North Woods; Susan Lindmeier, Mt. Iron Buhl; and Mike Rouse, Ely Memorial High Schools.

“This event is a chance for students to come together, not to compete, but rather in the spirit of cooperation to accomplish something bigger than any of them can attain as individual choirs,” said Mike Rouse.

And, Billie Rouse added, “Maybe the biggest winner in all of this is the communities involved who have the opportunity to attend an incredible choral concert and witness the talent and passion of these wonderful singers and students.”

“We speak so often of music being the universal language,” Mike Rouse said. “I watch these students as they are getting to know new friends, widening their community. And then together these students are singing music from other cultures, widening their experience. And then they are giving back to their community through this musical performance.”

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