Songs of Hope visits Austin

Published 7:22 am Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The sound of drums and cymbals reverberated off the walls in Paramount Theatre’s lobby Monday as the Songs of Hope international music troupe shared instruments from around the world with Austin children.

The St. Paul-based music troupe travels to small towns throughout Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin, showcasing music and dance styles from around the world.

The young performers, ages 10- to 16-years-old, hail from foreign countries like China, Italy, Turkey, Jamaica and Costa Rica. The performers are able to join Songs of Hope after being nominated by select schools in their native countries. The organization mainly performs in U.S. cities in the range of 2,000 to 20,000 people.

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“The idea is just to bring different parts of the world to places that don’t see a large mix of different people in their town,” said Tom Surprenant, program director and one of the founders of Songs of Hope.

Hormel Historic Home (HHH) and Paramount Theater hosted “Songs of Hope” with the help of the MarySue Hormel Harris Trust. The trust was established to provide opportunities for people of all ages to appreciate music.

“The group was a perfect fit,” said Laura Helle, HHH executive director. “We were looking for an outdoor concert that was multi-generational.”

The event allowed local children to attend a percussion workshop Monday morning at the Paramount Theatre. There, the international members of “Songs of Hope” taught the children basic rhythms with an assortment of drums and other percussion instruments.

According to Surprenant, the international children also benefit from interaction with local children, which helps educate them on life in the United States and helps them establish long-term friendships.

“We got tons of phone calls when I-35 collapsed. They were asking, ‘Is John alright, is Sophie alright?’ They have a global awareness they didn’t have before. Suddenly, things that happened far, far away matter to them,” Surprenant said.

Later Monday night, the music troupe put on a free 90 minute concert at the Hormel Historic Home Peace Garden. Children at the concert who attended the workshop were invited on-stage to help perform the song “Malayisha” by Miriam Makeba, a South African musician.

The Songs of Hope troupe performed at St. Mark’s Lutheran Home this morning before leaving the area.

HHH is considering the possibility of another musical event for next year, according to Helle.

“As part of the ongoing grant, we’re hoping to be able to have a concert in the Garden every year,” she said.