North Dakota sings welcome

By Lindajoy Fenley

North Dakota’s big blue welcome sign on the freeway was an accurate harbinger of things to come during week three of the Lorraine Klaasen tour with Arts Midwest World Fest. People of all ages greeted the ensemble with song our first three days in Wahpeton, ND.


Welcome sign on the freeway into North Dakota.


Lorraine Klaasen’s ensemble poses in North Dakota State College of Science classroom before a workshop on Tuesday.

Shortly after our arrival, Wayne Beyer of the Parks and Recreation Department and the Three Rivers Arts Council escorted us to the Red Door Art Gallery downtown. Local music teachers Sarah Gifford, Joyce Manning, and A.J. Arth provided polka music on accordions, bass, and clarinet. They also sang an old cowboy favorite about the Red River Valley and made sure we knew it was about a local river.


Local teachers in Wahpeton, ND, opened the week with song.

The next day, the South African ensemble’s busy schedule included four workshops at the new Wahpeton High School theater that will serve as the venue for their public concert on Saturday. After two large assemblies in the morning, smaller groups of choral and band students returned for a deeper connection with the musicians. Jessica Stoppleworth’s seventh grade students sang “Yonder Come Day,” and her eighth graders included a small percussion section for their version of “Aye Ngena,” a Zulu folksong.


Students sing, play percussion, and connect with Lorraine Klaasen and her ensemble.

Although sixth graders didn’t get a chance to sing, Stoppleworth later sent a message with their comments to the South African musicians. They really liked the dancing, the beat, and the drummer’s explanation of African rhythm. They enjoyed Lorraine’s sense of humor, her joyfulness, her clothes, and the “click” song she sang. Students also said they loved hearing about the South African origin of the song “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” Not surprisingly, they enjoyed singing along with obvious enthusiasm.


Wahpeton middle school students asked for a photo with the ensemble.


Wahpeton students say goodbye to ensemble members after an afternoon workshop.

The students also said they were inspired by Lorraine’s message that they could make dreams come true and do anything they wished if they kept those dreams in mind and worked toward them.


Noel and Mongezi chat with music teachers Sarah Gifford and Joyce Manning at a Tuesday morning workshop.

On Tuesday, we crossed the Red River into Minnesota to go to Breckenridge High School. Although a couple of Breckenridge students wanted to sing for the ensemble, too, there weren’t quite enough choral members present to pull it off.


Breckenridge high schools students enjoy a workshop and meet the ensemble afterward.

That afternoon, however, back on the North Dakota side of the river, college students were eager to raise their voices. They opened the workshop with a southern folk song, “Bring Me Little Water, Sylvie,” and a spiritual, “Sit Down, Servant.”


University students singing for Lorraine Klaasen and her ensemble.

Like students everywhere, they joined in some of the South African songs when coached and surprised the ensemble at the end of the workshop with “Shosholoza,” the same song Lorraine had taught the middle school students a day earlier.

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