Minnesota Orchestra invades Willmar

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Downtown Willmar (All images MPR file photographs)

The Minnesota Orchestra heads west this week for a Common Chords residency in Willmar. The program will feature some 30 concerts, classes and performances in places as diverse as the local library, the VFW, the farmers market and a coffee shop.

“One of the hallmarks of this program is it allows us to be in the community for an entire week, which is kind of an unheard of luxury in the touring of orchestras,” said Minnesota Orchestra Outreach Manager Mele Willis, who is co-ordinating the activities.

The week will culminate with full orchestra concerts in Friday and Saturday. Most of the events are free, and tickets for the two final concerts are just $5.

Willis says a steering committee in Willmar worked with the Orchestra for a year deciding what should be offered. One request was easy to fulfill.

“Music! Music! Music!” laughed Willis. There was also interest in as much access as possible to the musicians, particularly for the youngsters in town.

Willis said it will be a two way street. “The kids are going to perform for our musicians and then they’ll be able to have some side-by-side opportunities, where the musicians will sit with them and work on some of the music that they’ve been working on.”

hicks_blog.jpgThere will be Kinder Konzerts at the library on Wednesday and Thursday and a young person’s concert on Friday at the Willmar Education and Arts Center. Sarah Hicks (right) will also lead a session on the art of conducting.

This is the second Common Chords residency. Last year the Orchestra went to Grand Rapids. Next April the Orchestra heads to Bemidji, and then will visit Detroit Lakes and Hibbing in the 2013-2014 season.

Willis says learning what each community wants is part of what makes the program so special for the orchestra staff.

“Each community has such a unique identity and so when we come into a community as much time as we can spend learning about them and asking questions and listening really carefully about what kind of things are important to them and what challenges that community is facing, that’s extremely important to the success of the program.”

Yet through those unique challenges Willis says they have also been able to find common desires.

“In one community they might be facing unique socio-economic challenges, in another community it might be issues of ethnic diversity that they are starting to grapple with which they haven’t before, and I think in any community what we have learned is that they have wanted to be as inclusive as possible, and they have wanted to have as broad access and availability to the programs as possible,” she said.

Willis says the musicians were blown away by their Grand Rapids experience. Not only were the audiences receptive and appreciative, many locals went out of their way to make the visitors welcome. A couple of players found themselves spending a morning on a farm after meeting one audience member, and one orchestra bike enthusiast who rode all the way up from the Cities quickly met with the Grand Rapids bike community, and had a chance to explore the countryside on two wheels.

Common Chords kicks off this morning with the orchestra’s brass quintet appearing on KWLM radio from 10-11, then quickly heading off to the Rice Hospital Garden Court for a concert from 11.30-12.30.

If you are not in Willmar you can still follow the fun through the Common Chords site.

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