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Brainerd Choir
By Marisa Helms
June 2, 1999
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The Brainerd High School Choir will perform for the last time this school year tomorrow night at graduation. All year long, the choir's been working on a unique piece featuring aboriginal sounds from Australia. Choir students and community members give the piece rave reviews and say, the decidedly non-western music has been educational in all sorts of ways.

Smith: We do music from the Renaissance, the Baroque, the Classic Period, Mozart, Romantic Period, contemporary...
And now Brainerd High's Choral Director Michael Smith is adding aboriginal sounds to the repertoire. A new piece by Australian composer Sarah Hopkins called "Past Life Melodies" offers no words, only sounds.
Smith: It's very non-western civilization. So much of the music we perform comes from the western cultural tradition and this is very definitely not western-European tradition, this is the whole world, it takes in the whole world.
Smith says the piece is based on harmonic overtones, which are found in the musical traditions of many cultures.
Smith: You have monks in Tibet who do harmonic singing, you have people in China that do harmonic singing, you have people in India and Australia so when you hear it, you recognize immediately it's encompassing the whole world. I guess that's why it's so well received. It's different. It's inclusive, and it's unique. It's very special.
It's a unique piece for a choir from northern Minnesota. The Brainerd choir performed the selection all year on tours throughout the state. Choir director Smith says the composition surprises audiences because they aren't accustomed to the unusual voice work.
Smith: Every audience we have performed this piece in front of are just amazed. And they're looking everywhere for the person who's playing the instrument behind or where's that sound coming from because sounds tend to bounce all over the place and hear these high whistle-like sounds heard from human voice.
The selection isn't just a musical challenge, for alto-section leader Jane Anderson, the piece is a cultural education too.
Anderson: It kind of seems like it's not from any one culture, because it doesn't sound human even. I think it could be understood by all cultures, because listening to it it doesn't even seem to be from this planet.
Eighteen-year-old Greg Lynch agrees "Past Life Melodies" is not your average choir selection.
Lynch: Even in the Past Life Melodies where it sounds like it's off the wall and it's everywhere, there is a structure there, there's a rhythm. You have to take a breath here, you can't take a breath there, you need to continue this out, so I think one of the important things there is it takes creative ability and it disciplines it and channels it in a direction.
Greg's father, Pastor Michael Lynch, has listened in on choir rehearsals and performances this year. He says the piece not only speaks to listeners about other cultures, it also speaks to one's spirit.
Lynch: As I listened to rehearsal, I made a note this kind of music is the language of the soul, and in order to express that kind of language, you must first learn the language and that's where music appreciation the importance of learning a greater spectrum of music more importantly. This is the kind of music that does affect our lives, it creates us, who we are.
Lynch is so impressed by the talents and activities of the choir, that he'd like to see more avenues for creativity for Brainerd-area youth.
Lynch: What I hear about our youth are the problems, the challenges they're facing, I'm hearing about the confusion, the dark side of many of their experiences the crimes they commit, the curfews they violate, and what we find here is we find here is the good side, the positive side. We find the side of youth we can celebrate and join with our youth and celebrate and that is the story behind these kind of music programs.
Choral director Michael Smith says, as result of the experience this year with a decidedly non-western selection, he hopes to find a different, though equally challenging piece for next year.