A spectacular finish in Rhinelander

By Lindajoy Fenley

Our Rhinelander reception was spectacular. After an eight-hour drive from Minnesota, we were greeted by a huge, shining orb—a giant moon just one day before the exact date of the November “supermoon.” It hovered just above the lake in front of two cabins that were the final stop of Lorraine Klaasen’s tour, and our host for the week, Nicolet College Theater Director Jim Nuttall, took a quick snapshot. The week proved to be as marvelous as that beautiful moon and our hard-working host had promised.

Lake view from the band’s temporary home in Wisconsin.

On Monday, the ensemble educated and entertained high school, middle school, and elementary students at Rhinelander High School. The school auditorium filled up twice with enthusiastic students. Between the two presentations, we dashed off to St. Mary’s Hospital with guitar amps and conga drums to perform for hospital staff and a few patients.

From day one, the workshops in Rhinelander were well attended.

The hospital presentation was held in a curved hallway between the gift shop and a glass wall overlooking a natural outdoor pond, and a few early attendees eavesdropped on a television interview that aired on the local station’s three newscasts that night.

A local TV reporter interviews Lorraine.

And once again, Mongezi Ntaka, guitarist and storyteller extraordinaire, prefaced the song “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” with a story of the Zulu herder who wrote the verses to celebrate his killing the lion that had killed one of his cows. Throughout the tour, this story elicited audience smiles and nods of appreciation because it put the well-known song into its rightful—but little-known—South African context in a way few expected.

Mongezi the storyteller during a presentation at the hospital.

Back at the school, Lorraine also sat for a newspaper interview. As in the other four communities of the tour, media coverage for Arts Midwest World Fest was arranged very well in Rhinelander.

Tuesday, another busy day with an early start, also included diverse audiences. This time we had long drives to a Native American reservation school in Lac Du Flambeau (see previous road story) and a nursing home in Minocqua.

Nursing home residents showed their appreciation more quietly than young students who are almost always eager to dance, sing, and ask questions. However, with small movements during the presentation and comments after it was over, elders demonstrated they also had tuned in.

“I only like classic music, but I came and this was wonderful,” said Faith Scheller, a spry 90-year-old. “It really moved me.” She also talked about missionary friends who had gone to South Africa and found “the people absolutely wonderful.”

Lorraine sings to senior citizens.

Lorraine, eager to fly to Africa at the end of the tour to see her own 86-year-old mother, spoke with many women who approached her at the end of the nursing home workshop. Meanwhile, I sold a few Klaasen CDs while Mongezi, Andre, and Noel packed up their instruments.

On Wednesday, the ensemble performed for elementary and middle school students who were bused to the newly renovated Nicolet Theater, where the public concert would take place at the end of the week. Lorraine’s ensemble was the first to use the upgraded venue.

We then traveled 35 minutes to Crandon for two more workshops, where the gym filled up twice—first with elementary and then secondary students. By now, the ensemble was well on its way to visiting the 4,000+ young people they would perform for during the fifth week of the tour.

A girl in a wheelchair was one of the first of many Crandon students who responded to Lorraine’s invitation to dance during a school workshop.

It was now time for a day off. We were glad to have time to relax and enjoy the day at our lakeside cabins on Thursday. That day, the guitarist and storyteller of the group took on a third role as chef and cooked up a fine pot of South African lamb curry for everyone.

It was back to work on Friday. We drove a half hour to Tomahawk where, in three sessions in an ample auditorium, the ensemble performed for well over 1,000 students. Despite the huge size of the Tomahawk High School Auditorium that hosted the workshop, the youngest group of students was so numerous that about 30 students had to sit on the floor at the front.

Andre and Lorraine perform while students dance during a workshop.

A spontaneous conga line forms during the same workshop.

The final week of the tour ended with a full theater on Saturday night. Back at our cabin on the lake, we celebrated with a couple of local friends. That last night in Rhinelander, we reluctantly slept just enough to be able to drive three hours to the Minneapolis airport the next morning. The tour had come to an end.

Lorraine enjoying cabin life before the tour ends.

Each week was full of interesting experiences, responsive students, generous hosts, and contact with friendly community members. The extraordinary experiences of each week made it impossible to choose a favorite. We’re still looking back on fond memories of residencies in Forest City, IA; Brookings, SD; Wahpeton, ND; Thief River Falls, MN; and Rhinelander, WI.


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