A ‘beloved’ opportunity

Riverland Community College music director Scott Blankenbaker runs RCC singers through rehearsel Tuesday morning. Members of the concert choir will be traveling to New York City in June to take part in the Masterworks Festival. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Riverland Community College music director Scott Blankenbaker runs RCC singers through rehearsel Tuesday morning. Members of the concert choir will be traveling to New York City in June to take part in the Masterworks Festival. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Riverland Community College students will get an opportunity of a lifetime. They’ll perform in Carnegie Hall.

Riverland’s Concert Choir is preparing for an upcoming trip to New York City to take part in the Masterworks Festival Chorus performance on June 9. About 15 students, or half of the choir, will join more than 200 singers to perform “The World Beloved: A Bluegrass Mass.”

“It’s a fantastic thing,” Riverland choir director Scott Blankenbaker said. “There are not too many people on the face of the planet who can say they’ve performed on the Carnegie Hall stage, so I think it’s a bonus for our students.”

Riverland has taken part in Masterworks Festival Chorus performances in New York before, according to Blankenbaker. The last time Riverland participated was in 2012, and the time before that was in 2003.

Blankenbaker pushed for Riverland to participate once more because of the nature of “The World Beloved,” by composer Carol Barnett, which piece that incorporates elements of bluegrass.

“it’s a fairly new piece, and it’s definitely challenging, much more so than most of the typical choir music that happens at these festivals,” he said.

That’s why Riverland submitted an audition tape about 10 months ago and fortunately were accepted into the program.

Students have spent the past few months practicing several movements of “The World Beloved,” focusing on specific pieces they know they’ll address. They’ll spend the next week or so getting the basics of the piece, which tends to fluctuate in rhythm and meter, memorized for the larger practices they’ll do in New York.

Students will arrive in New York on June 6 and spend the next few days practicing with singers from across the country. They’ll perform the piece on June 9, albeit with a few friendly Minnesotan faces.

According to Blankenbaker, several Minnesota artists will be a part of the performance, including Twin Cities-based Monroe Crossing, a group that has specialized in playing “The World Beloved” for choirs across the country. Acclaimed Minnesotan choral conductor Phillip Brunelle will lead the Masterworks Festival Chorus in the performance as well. In fact, Barnett created the piece in 2006 for Monroe Crossing and Vocal Essence, the choral music organization Brunelle founded in 1989 and still leads today.

“We won’t be the only Minnesotans out there,” Blankenbaker said with a laugh.

Riverland students already performed part of “The World Beloved” at the concert choir performance on May 6. Blankenbaker was pleased with the performance and he’s confident the students will excel in New York.

“It’s such a different style than what we normally run into,” he said. “We had a very talented group of students this year, and I thought they would be the ones to tackle it.”

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