UMD singing group heads to China
There's a Lake Effect warning for China next week. That's Lake Effect as in the 18-member vocal jazz ensemble from the University of Minnesota Duluth, which will be making its international debut in a big way at the 29th World Conference of the I...
There's a Lake Effect warning for China next week.
That's Lake Effect as in the 18-member vocal jazz ensemble from the University of Minnesota Duluth, which will be making its international debut in a big way at the 29th World Conference of the International Society for Music Education, taking place in Beijing.
They're to leave on Monday and return Aug. 9.
"This is going to be such a great experience," said Adam Petroski of Park Falls, Wis., a tenor who will be a senior at UMD this year. "My whole life I'll be able to say, 'I went to Beijing.' "
Jenny Graupmann, a Grand Rapids native who earned her master's in music at UMD this year, agreed.
"I never, ever in a million years thought I'd be going to China," the soprano said. "It's such an honor to be able to go there to perform and to be able to show people on an international stage what people from Duluth, Minnesota, can do."
Their director, UMD associate professor Tina Thielen Gaffey, said she's excited, too, now that it's a week away. But it hasn't all been fun.
"I don't know if I would ever take a group to Asia again, if I had to go through all that paperwork," said Thielen Gaffey, 43. "It's the Chinese government. It has been an incredible amount of paperwork."
For Thielen Gaffey, the trip started last August, when she was invited to submit an audition tape on the group's behalf. In early October, she got the e-mail saying Lake Effect had been accepted. "I almost died," she said.
She and her students began a whirlwind schedule of fundraising efforts, including cutting their first CD. Their efforts were augmented by partial funding arranged by UMD Vice Chancellor Vince Magnuson.
The upshot, said Tom Benson, a tenor from Duluth, is that he had to come up with only $800 of his own -- and sell 30 CDs -- to be able to go on the trip. Benson said his employer, Grandma's Restaurants, pitched in by giving him the week off.
Likewise, Graupmann, who hopes to open a voice studio in Duluth, had to do a lot of "shuffling" of her shifts with co-workers at Whole Foods Co-op.
Not quite everyone is making the trip. Jacob Christopher, a first-year graduate student, couldn't turn down an offer from Lyric Opera of Chicago, so another tenor is taking his place, Thielen Gaffey said.
It looked shaky for another Lake Effect singer, which is where the Chinese government comes in.
Part of the paperwork Thielen Gaffey speaks of came in January, when she had to submit lyrics of all the songs Lake Effect would sing for approval by the Chinese Ministry of Culture. Then she had to wait for the same bureaucracy to approve her personnel list. Inexplicably, one of the singers didn't make the list. So that one singer is going with a tourism visa while all of the rest are using business visas.
But Thielen Gaffey is used to challenges. When she came to UMD in 1999 to direct the concert chorale and vocal jazz, the latter program was barely in existence. The first year, only five students registered for vocal jazz. She managed to talk other students into joining and put together a 13-voice ensemble.
"The next fall, I had 60 kids show up for auditions," Thielen Gaffey said.
So she put together a second group, and now UMD is represented by two vocal jazz ensembles: Lake Effect and Chill Factor. Each normally is composed of 16 voices -- four per part -- but the talent pool was so rich last fall that Thielen Gaffey put 18 singers in each group.
What do they do?
"In vocal jazz we sing tight harmonies all the time," Benson said. "There are times when we're singing eight or 12 parts. It's so much fun. You make awesome music together."
Added Pitroski: "People who don't like choir music like what the vocal jazz group does. There are different kinds of music: jazz standards, new age, newer music."
In China, Lake Effect will be one of 42 groups from 17 countries performing (in addition to a number of ensembles from China) in a wide variety of genres. Petroski, who hopes to be a music educator, said he's eager to rub shoulders with music teachers from throughout the world. But he also anticipates being a tourist.
"We're going to spend some of the time touring, going to the Great Wall," Petroski said. "I'm just really looking forward to it. "