History sounds off in Austin

Published 8:00 am Friday, March 11, 2011

There was still setup to be done Thursday for the New Harmonies exhibit that opens at the Austin Municipal Library Saturday. -- Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Smithsonian exhibit to showcase musical history

A large piece of history is coming to Austin Saturday.

“New Harmonies,” the Smithsonian Institute-sponsored touring exhibit, is coming to Austin Public Library March 12.

“New Harmonies” is part of the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street Program, which brings some of the Smithsonian’s exhibits and shows to rural locations throughout the nation. The exhibit focuses on our nation’s musical history, although Austin’s musical history is represented as well.

Mower County Historical Society volunteers Sue Doocy, left, and Kathy Paine dress a mannequin as Leo Thiele, formerly of the country act Leo Thiele and the Sun Valley Playboys, part of the New Harmonies exhibit at the Austin Municipal Library that opens Saturday.

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“We did a story basically on how the Terp went from what it was to what it is now,” said Dustin Heckman, executive director of the Mower County Historical Society.

Members of the MCHS were busy putting together panels and displays at the library Thursday which feature some of Austin’s musical hotspots throughout the decades, as well as a timeline showing how the Old Terp Ballroom became the El Parral in 2009.
If Austin Public Library hadn’t partnered with MCHS, Austin may not have been able to bring “New Harmonies,” to the community, according to Ann Hokanson, the library’s director. The library applied to host the exhibit last year, gaining funding from the Minnesota Legacy Amendment funds, which was created in 2009 to provide money for clean water, outdoor heritage, parks and trails, and arts and culture.

Along with the Smithsonian’s approval, the Minnesota Humanities Center and Minnesota Historical Society have also provided support for the exhibit, which will tour around the state after finishing in Austin in Mid-April.

In addition to hosting the exhibit, the library is bringing in several artists and groups to highlight musical diversity due to the Legacy funding the library received.

“Because we had the financial opportunity, we chose artists that would help us spin off of the ‘New Harmonies’ exhibit,” Hokanson said.

That includes musician Todd Green, a multi-instrumentalist who shows the history of musical instruments. Green is playing the Paramount March 15 and giving school tours the day before. The Rose Ensemble, a folk music group that specializes in the history of American folk, will be playing at the end of the month as well. The Robert Everest Expedition will perform at El Parral in April, along with a Latino poet who will give a week-long residency at Pacelli Catholic Schools this spring. An Indonesian musical group will perform in Austin this Summer as well, thanks to the library’s Legacy funds.

Austin Big Band will perform tonight at El Parral from 7 to 10 p.m. The band, which originated as the Henry Charles Orchestra in the 1940s and ‘50s, will perform well-known big band standards to open the “New Harmonies” exhibit. Tickets are $10.

“We’re all very excited and very honored to be a part of this,” Nathan Wradislavsky, manager of Austin Big Band said. “There’s been so much musical history (at El Parral) … and we’re just really honored to be a part of that.”

The “New Harmonies” exhibit opens this Saturday in Austin Public Library’s large conference room. It runs until April 23.