School Spotlight: Robbinsdale All-District Elementary Choir

by Claire Philpott, Minnesota Public Radio
January 7, 2014
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St. Paul, Minn. — School Spotlight highlights outstanding Minnesota school- and student-music ensembles during the academic year. Through this feature, Classical MPR hopes to expose listeners to the great music being made by young musicians across the state, and to generate more support for music education.

The audio featured today is from the Robbinsdale All-District Elementary Choir's 2012-13 concert year. Until September 2013, the choir was led by Patti Arntz and the assistant director was former choir member Elizabeth Schultz. Arntz has since retired after 15 years of leading the choir and has been replaced by Schultz, who is assisted by Barb Abeln.

  • 7:15 a.m. — Victor C. Johnson: Tres canciones de los elementos
  • 7:15 p.m. — Daniel Goldschmidt: The Choir Invisible

The Robbinsdale, Minn., school district has a long tradition of choral excellence across all ages. This is surely due, at least in part, to the existence of its All-District Elementary Choir, an extracurricular ensemble few other school districts have.

Originally divided into a boys' and a girls' choir when it began more than 40 years ago, it is now a culturally diverse, mixed-voice ensemble made up of 100 fifth graders from Robbinsdale's 10 elementary schools. More than 500 fourth-grade students audition for the choir at the end of each school year. The lucky 100 begin weekly before-school rehearsals the following September. Participants learn choral singing techniques, good vocal production and proper diction.

Happily for the All-District Choir, the Robbinsdale district is very supportive of the arts, believing that participation in the arts complements and supports the study of the core subjects. Starting in kindergarten, students are given strong classroom music instruction, many continuing with music for the duration of their school career. Because it is only for fifth graders, the All-District Choir has a new batch of students every year; consequently this ensemble has made a difference in the lives of thousands of families over the years. Each year, there are students whose parents sang in the choir a generation ago.

Being an exceptional choir brings very special opportunities to these young children. From performing at the American Choral Directors Association Fall Conference, to singing the national anthem at a Twins game, the choir has had a chance to display its talent many a time outside of its usual in-district tours and concerts. During the annual Robbinsdale Area Schools Fall Festival, the choir has worked with numerous local conducting luminaries, including Mary Kay Geston (of Great River Chorale and formerly of Northwestern University in St. Paul, Minn.), Kathy Romey (of the Minnesota Chorale), and Anton Armstrong (of the Saint Olaf Choir). The repertoire of the choir is as diverse as its members, from Baroque classics, to world music in foreign languages, to contemporary compositions commissioned by the choir. Click on the audio above to hear composer — and former choir member — Daniel Goldschmidt's The Choir Invisible, dedicated to the victims and families of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. The choir also premiered I Started Out Singing, by local composer Jocelyn Hagen, in February 2011, dedicated to the memory of former assistant choir director, Teresa Benjamin, who died from cancer in 2003.

The All-District Choir has an exciting spring 2014 ahead of it. It will sing at the Twin Cities Youth Chorale Choral Festival on March 2 and it has its annual spring concert with the All-District Orchestra on May 5. Sometime also in May, Minnesota Twins fans will again get to hear the choir perform the Star-Spangled Banner.

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  • Introduction and Allegro 9:35 Edward Elgar
    English Symphony Orchestra
    William Boughton
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  • Seal Lullaby 9:33 Alec Wilder
    Shawn Colvin, vocal
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