Kare 11: VocalEssence Cantare connects choirs and cultures
MINNEAPOLIS — Kathy Lara settles her third grade choir students into
their seats at Windom Dual Spanish Immersion School in Minneapolis.
Today she relinquishes the warm up to a special guest, Gerardo Cardeñas, who takes the students through their scales.
“The first time they were in awe, total awe with him,” Lara said.
“The second time they were like, ‘Oh, yay, Gerardo is here,’ and I
noticed this time they were all running up and giving him hugs.”
Lara’s students have a connection with Cardeñas on several fronts.
They speak a common language, Spanish, and through music, they are
learning about the culture of Mexico.
“When Phillip Brunelle decided I was working with elementary, I was
very happy because it was just the kind of students I like to have,”
He’s taught young students for twenty years at his school in Mexico.
Last year he was recruited by Brunelle to travel to Minnesota for this
year’s Cantaré program.
“We have a variety of engagement program,” explained Kimberly Meisten of VocalEssence.
In addition to Cantaré , VocalEssence sponsors a program called
“Witness,” which highlights contributions to fine arts by African
Americans, and commissions new work by African American composers.
Both programs offer collaborations with students from elementary through college age.
Meisten says VocalEssence sees these programs as critical to its
survival. She says there are thirty percent fewer music teachers than
there were just ten years ago.
“That’s just really disturbing. That’s going to impact our audiences
and it’s going to impact the number of singers who can sing in our
choir,” Meisten said.
There’s no sign of that in Lara’s classroom, where students have been
working hard on the pieces Cardeñas wrote with them and for them.
“The first time he came, we were thinking about what the song should
be about,” said third grader Anna Benjamin. “Someone suggested being
lost in the woods.”
The students collaborated with Cardeñas on two songs, which they performed in concert with VocalEssence in May.
“It’s a challenge,” Lara said. “It stretched us all the way around.”
Because she teaches at an immersion school, Lara knows her students
are a good fit for Cantaré . It’s allowed her to deepen the curriculum
this year, and give students an experience that’s all-too rare for
“It would be wonderful if we could get people in all the time,” said
Lara. “That’s what we want, that’s what we really need, but we don’t
have the monies to do it, so Cantaré has given us this opportunity.”
(Copyright 2013 by KARE. All rights reserved.)