Worth Singing About

Southeast Minnesota a cappella Festival

It’s not about numbers. It’s not about size. It’s about notes—musical notes, that is. On November 11, 11 choirs will converge on Lourdes High School for the fourth annual Southeast Minnesota a Cappella Festival. The phrase, “a cappella” is Italian for “in the style of the chapel,” a style of singing without instrumental accompaniment. The event features high school, collegiate and post-collegiate choirs.



Program Director April Horne recalls the inception of the festival. “It began when I asked my son’s [University of Minnesota] a cappella group, 7Days, to come to Rochester for a fundraiser concert to benefit the Southeast Minnesota National Alliance on Mental Illness in 2011,” she remembers. “After 7Days agreed to come, I thought it would be neat if high school groups would have the opportunity to spend time with college kids. So, I contacted area schools and the first workshop and festival was the result.” April realized immediately that the event was a success. “It was obvious from that first night that it was destined to become an annual event,” she says. This year’s festival is funded in part by the Dover Eyota Music Association, what April calls “the organizing steam behind the festival.” The workshop is free for high school participants, which is made possible through a grant from the Southeast Minnesota Arts Council. Additional funding is received from local businesses and organizations.


The festival covers all things a cappella. Afternoon workshops allow high school singers to work with college and professional groups, discussing a wide range of topics, including vocal matching, arrangement 101, soloist techniques, barbershop harmonies and the history of a cappella. According to April, high school students are excited and enriched by the workshop experience. One singer reported that he “learned that it’s ok to be nervous about a solo and how to use those nerves to improve my performance.” Another said she was happy “to be able to interact with and learn from talented and fun collegiate and professional singers.” Students particularly loved learning vocal percussion techniques. The workshops culminate in a capstone performance, offering each high school group the chance to perform for each other and the community. This year’s high school choir participants include Arioso, the choir of the Rochester Area Association of Christian Home Educators; Bella Voce; Dover-Eyota Chamber Choir; Kasson-Mantorville Chamber Singers; Lourdes Center Street Singers; Plainview-Elgin-Millville Varsity Choir; and Stewartville High School Choir. “The high school choirs are some of the best in Minnesota, which is saying something in the ‘land of 10,000 choirs,’” April says with a laugh. Following the capstone performance will be a fundraiser concert featuring a cappella groups from near and far. The headline group is Honey Whiskey Trio, an a cappella trio based in Los Angeles. They are joined by the Mad Hatters from the University of Wisconsin-Madison; Gambit, Rochester’s own barbershop champions; and 7Days from the University of Minnesota.


Funds raised at the concert will benefit the Southeast Minnesota National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). “I have a lot of family members with mental illness and feel pretty passionate about the need to educate the community,” says April. NAMI helps achieve this goal. NAMI’s mission is to improve the lives of individuals affected by mental illness through education, support, research and advocacy. One in four adults experiences a mental health disorder in any given year. Education helps break down the barrier to early treatment by reducing the stigma associated with mental illness.


Members of the community are invited to attend both concerts on November 11 at Lourdes High School. The high school choirs’ capstone concert is at 6:30 p.m. and costs $5 for adults; students attend for free. The fundraiser concert begins at 7:30 p.m. and has a minimum suggested donation of $5 per person. For more details, visit semnacappella.org.

Debi Neville is a Rochester freelance writer and supporter of the arts.