Posts Tagged: decorah

Read Inspire(d) Winter 2018-19 Online!

Inspire(d) Winter 2018-19

The Winter 2018-19 Inspire(d) is all about walking your talk! Here’s what you’ll find:

Female Mayors in the Driftless Region • Mentoring in Northeast Iowa, Burning Bright • Getting in the Spirit – RockFilter Distillery, La Crosse Distilling Co., Harmony Spirits • Sum of Your Biz: David Wadsworth • Snowbird on the Cheap • & More!

A note from Aryn:

Those feet on the cover? They’re mine and Roxie’s, and looking at that picture gives me a sense of pride, excitement, and – I’m finding as I get older – a sense of urgency. I know, I know: I’m only 37! But time keeps on ticking away, and I want to be sure we’ve a.) lived this life well and b.) taken care of this world so our daughter can live her life well, too.

I think about it every day – are we doing enough? What will things be like for Roxie in 10, 20, 30 years? The urgency of it all starts to seep in. But I take a deep breath, and do what I can do. I try to walk our talk within our community by emulating the ideas we write about in this magazine.

Others walk their talks in their own, awesome ways, like Driftless women who have recently pulled a seat up to the political table as mayors. Maggie Sonnek interviewed four such women – some are the first female mayors in the history of their towns. This comes as we celebrate a record number of women elected to congress in November 2018. It’s (beyond) time, and it’s exciting. I applaud and support these women, and I’m happy they’re providing these great examples of female leaders for Roxie.

In a different  – but equally important – role, there are mentors in Northeast Iowa who are directly supporting young people through Helping Services Youth Mentoring. 2018 marked the program’s 20-year anniversary of fostering positive friendships and experiences in the area, and January is National Mentoring Month. I interviewed Mentoring Coordinator Kathy Schwartzhoff, as well as local mentor Paul Bauhs and his mentee, Jake, about the ripple of good impacts that has come from the program (and how you can join in too).

Decorah’s popular winter solstice concert, Burning Bright, has been bringing light in the darkness and giving back to the community… also for two decades! Choir member Kristine Jepsen chats with founding members and directors as they reflect on years past and prepare for this season’s performance.

Along with the work (and joy) of walking our talk, there also has to be time for fun. This day – and every day – is one to be lived well. Winter can be a tough time for remembering that, so we put together some ideas to help you get out – of the doldrums, and out the door, too. Winter challenges, ideas for “Snowbirding on the Cheap,” and more. Plus, don’t miss Sara Walter’s feature on the rise in craft distilling in the Driftless – read about RockFilter Distillery, La Crosse Distilling Co., and Harmony Spirits, then grab your designated driver and head out to explore this new and rising industry in our region. Special shout-out to my good friend and photographer, Jen Opheim, for road tripping with me to Spring Grove – see her beautiful photographs of RockFilter starting on page 44.

Other days, you might want to stay in. We’ve got you covered! Maybe as you make your house extra koselig (remember? If you don’t, check page 32) you can read about David Wadsworth and Wadsworth Construction in this issue’s Sum of Your Business. Making houses cozy and well put together is what he’s all about.

All of us here at Inspire(d) hope you have a great end of 2018, and that you look to 2019 as a year filled with possibilities. You can do anything! Let’s do this!

Happy New Year! Thank you for reading – and being – Inspire(d)!

Looking forward,

Aryn Henning Nichols

Read the Winter 2018-19 Inspire(d) online here!

Probituary: A notice of life! Imogene Macal

Imogene Macal – Interviewed by Inspire(d)’s Benji Nichols • Originally published in the Winter 2018-19 Inspire(d)

Imogene (Moellers) Macal grew up on Silver Spring dairy farm just outside of Ossian, Iowa. She and her three siblings went to school and church at St. Francis de Sales in Ossian, and graduated high school in 1944. Imogene worked full time at Klisert’s store in Ossian, and then in Waterloo for a year before coming back to the Decorah area and marrying her husband Roy. The couple, from their young years on, loved to dance at local dances and ballrooms like the Inwood in Spillville, and Matter’s Ballroom near Decorah.

It wasn’t until they were raising their family of five kids (Lynn, Christy, Marlene, Joe, and Mary) in Decorah, with Roy driving a fuel truck, that Imogene started working in the kitchen of St. Benedict’s School – a job that she would hold for decades.

“We fed anywhere from 200-300 kids when I started, and I did much of the baking and such,” says Imogene. Many St. Bens students fondly remember her from lunchtime, and she says the job “was just ideal” for her.

Later in life, Imogene took up several varieties of needlework (including Hardanger embroidery) volunteering at St. Benedict’s Church in Decorah, and playing bridge twice a month. Her bridge group began with eight friends rounded up by Jo Tierney, who had a book on how to play. Regular phone calls to Jo’s sister in Oklahoma during games for advice helped the group keep playing! Imogene’s late husband, Roy, also worked at ACE Hardware for 13 years where he was well known to customers, and the couple were regulars at dances across the region.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I grew up on a dairy farm, and delivered bottled milk with my Uncle. Later I enjoyed working at Klisert’s in Ossian, but I knew I always wanted to have a family.

What do/did you do?

I met Roy at a dance at the Inwood Ballroom – although we had gone to high school together. After we were married, we had five kids, and I worked at St. Benedict’s school in the kitchen – I was there for over 40 years.

Try to describe yourself in one sentence.

“We loved to dance – I think I wore out quite a few shoes dancing!”

If you could eat anything every day for the rest of your life, what would it be?

We always had a big garden, and my Mom was a great cook – we grew everything we ate, and meals were always meat, potatoes, but also some type of vegetable – and a homemade desert! We always had a homemade pie, or cookies, or a cake.

Multiple choice: tell us about…

Your wedding day.

Roy and I got engaged on Easter Sunday, we were invited to a friend’s for Easter dinner. Roy gave me a ride home, and gave me the ring in the car – I was so thrilled – when I got out I walked the wrong way down the lane! We were married at (St. Francis) de Sales in May of 1948 – we had a reception at the house and then held a dance (of course!) at the Inwood Ballroom after.

Your first job.

I helped my Uncle Arnold (Timp), deliver bottled milk throughout the area, even receiving the nickname of  “Speedy”, while riding on the running boards and running bottles of milk to doorsteps.

Your favorite memory.

We loved to dance, and Spillville (The Inwood) was always a popular spot – as well as Matter’s Ballroom. We spent a lot of Sunday afternoons on the dance floor.

Darkness to Light: Burning Bright

By Kristine Jepsen

Decorah’s winter solstice concert, Burning Bright, celebrates 20 years of bringing light in the darkness and giving back to the community. Choir member Kristine Jepsen chats with founding members and directors as they reflect on years past and prepare for this season’s performance.

“Oooh, that one’s my favorite,” fellow alto Emily Neal whispers as we open our binders to “The Parting Glass,” a traditional Scottish tune about toasting one’s friends. We’re sitting in choir rehearsal for Burning Bright, an annual winter concert that brings together singers and instrumentalists in the Decorah area.

Kathy Reed, who co-directs Burning Bright with Otter Dreaming, settles at the keyboard, ready to prompt us, as late-afternoon sun slants in through First United Methodist’s stained-glass windows. We’ve sung this rollicking, bittersweet song before, and that’s all the more reason we want to get it right.

In the deep of this winter, the Burning Bright chorus, along with instrumentalists and youth and children’s choirs, celebrates two decades of offering “light in the darkness.” The concert – two performances, actually – is a handmade gift of obscure carols, folk songs, and sacred world music. Each year, the pieces reflect a theme, and in this anniversary year, it’s “Exultation.” Some pieces honor Christmas, but more centrally, Burning Bright – BB, as members say – is about the winter solstice, the night on which our hours of darkness turn toward light.    

“You said ‘I Am Christmas’ was your favorite song on the concert,” I whisper back, kidding, as the opening accompaniment unfolds. “I know,” Emily says with a happy sigh. “I love them all. For me, this is it. This IS Christmas.” I get what she means.

Burning Bright itself started with just one song – “‘Twas on a Night Like This,” arranged for soprano, harpsichord, and oboe, to the hymn tune of “When Christ Was Born on Earth.” The first-ever performance was called “Songs of Christmas: A Concert for Harpsichord and Voice,” says Decorah business owner Ellen Rockne, the “voice” in question.

A child of the Lutheran singing tradition, Ellen was already a chronic music organizer and accomplished soloist when she moved to Decorah in 1996. She crossed paths with Kathy Reed through their young children’s homeschool activities and soon shared her dream of a winter concert to warm the cold Midwestern nights. Kathy, who is formally trained in musicology and harpsichord performance, felt their synergy immediately.

“I didn’t move here because of the potential to combine these different aspects of my musical life,” says Kathy, who is now an instructor of music at Luther College, “but one day our kids’ group met up and someone mentioned trains, and then someone jumped in and said, ‘Hey! We know some songs about trains!’ and we all spontaneously started singing, and I thought, ‘OK, this is a place where people sing. That’s fun.”

Ellen, by her own admission, sings all the time. “I don’t even know I’m singing, but my now-grown sons say I never stop,” she says. “The disconcerting thing is that as the years pass, I find myself making up little songs about every little thing,” she says, laughing and rolling her eyes. “The other day, I caught myself singing a tune to the phrase, “Now, here is my tea….”

Otter first got involved with the concert in 2002 as a singer, and joined its administrative ranks soon after, Kathy says. “At dress rehearsal that year, we sang everything end-to-end and realized the concert would be three hours long – a major problem, since we really wanted a two-hour program. At some point, Otter mentioned as tactfully as possible, ‘You know, you could identify a number of pieces – say, 20 – that will fill out the time, more or less, and aim for that each year,’ and I thought, ‘Oh! Now there’s someone we need organizing this thing.’ And he was right: That target number is 19 pieces,” Kathy concludes. “We’ve stuck to it ever since.”

The goal with Burning Bright, Otter and Kathy say, is making the concert accessible both to participants – ranging from professional musicians to debut choristers – and a diverse audience. Often, this means making the sound intentionally less “perfect” and more faithful to a song’s historical roots. “OK!” Kathy says, presiding with a smile over a section of skilled sopranos. “Now that you know your line, let’s make sure it isn’t that ‘pretty’ ever again. I need more ‘hale and hearty’ from the beginning.”

“You mean, lusty?” a choir member pipes up, gambling for a laugh.

“No, no,” says Kathy quickly, in her quietly irreverent way. “I mean….”

“Musty?” another member suggests. “Fusty?”

“Well, I’m not going to say lusty,” Kathy presses with a wry smile, “but, with more vigor.”

If none of these songs or techniques sound familiar, that’s by design. “This is never going to be a concert of familiar carols,” Kathy explains, though often there is one audience sing-along. She prepares pieces for the Burning Bright choir that resonate with her, sometimes arranging songs to fit the group. She did this for the Mary Chapin Carpenter lullaby, “Dreamland” – another piece to be revisited on the 2018 concert – by writing it for men’s voices, instead of a solo woman’s.

“Now Otter,” she continues warmly, “is a composer. He will come across a text he likes and write all four parts for it, or vice versa. He’s also more familiar with world music, bringing in pieces from Africa, from Syria, from musical traditions I’m not as fluent in.”

This is how Burning Bright keeps musicians and audiences coming back: By stitching together a colorful mix of lesser-known music, and welcoming darker themes – fear, grief, loss – along with those of light, hope, and joy.   

“One of the most rewarding and touching things for me,” Otter says, “was performing a short, very personal piece I composed reflecting on the deaths of several friends and family members. I received a thoughtful card from someone who had been in the audience that year, thanking me and telling me how it had helped her to accept her own mother’s death.

“I’ve also been blindsided by emotional reactions to pieces related to my daughter’s arrival in my family and in the community,” he continues. “One Stephen Foster lullaby, ‘Slumber My Darling,’ that Kathy arranged for tenor and bass voices, took me by tearful surprise at the first performance of our concert. I knew it was coming in the second concert and wasn’t expecting the same emotional response, but – surprise, again!”

On a lighter note, Burning Bright members gladly anticipate being caught off-guard by the wit of founding member-singer and sometime-banjo accompanist Dale Kittleson. Known for telling dad jokes when rehearsals get tense, Dale has reportedly encouraged chuckle-inducing costumes and lyrics, such as to the 2017 performance of, “Farewell, my friends, I’m leaving FaceBook…,” a satirical anthem about digital-device dependence. On another concert – without the knowledge of, let alone permission of, the conductors – Dale orchestrated a coup in the bass section. As the song’s verses lilted along, Dale and his cohort stood up and sang their part, “…five for the oxen standing by…” – in their highest falsetto.

“The entire church just erupted in laughter,” Dale says of the packed-to-capacity audience (almost always the case for Burning Bright performances). “I can’t remember who was conducting, but their jaw was on the floor. Then we basses sat down like nothing at all was out of the ordinary, and the sopranos, who followed us in the song, were cracking up, but somehow the beat went on. Now,” he says, with mock seriousness, “in what other group can you pull that off and know, even before you risk it, that your fellow performers will not excommunicate you?

“But that’s all concert stuff – the things the audience sees,” he continues. “Really, I keep coming back for this,” he says, gesturing to the rehearsal that’s just ended, “the privilege of getting together with this group – of catching up with really quality people and working hard on a rich program every year.”

Close to show-time each season, the Burning Bright choir is joined by local instrumentalists – bass, violin, guitar, clarinet, hand drums, recorder, harp, and more. Retired Luther College librarian and professional mandolin player John Goodin was among the first to perform on the concert. He now arranges music for mandolin and writes manuals for Mel Bay Publications – along with scouting out a reel or jig to play on the concert with Decorah violin teacher/performer (and professional vegetable grower) Erik Sessions. Their duet has become a Burning Bright tradition, almost always ending in a blazing, fast-as-they-can-play finale that rouses thunderous applause.

“Here in Decorah, musicians are treated with great respect,” John says, “but the Burning Bright audience is the best. Most years we don’t even know what we will play until the last week or two, so it’s a little bit like stage-diving – where you know that the audience will catch you.”

Proceeds from ticket sales for each Burning Bright concert go to non-profit organizations – usually shedding light on underserved populations at home or abroad. In addition to Decorah Community Food Pantry, the flagship beneficiary each season, choir members nominate and vote on charitable organizations with which they have personal involvement. 2018 beneficiaries are: Neighbors Helping Neighbors of Decorah; Northeast Iowa Peace & Justice Center; Re-Member of Pine Ridge, South Dakota; and The New Hope Jeremiah Project of Cape Town, South Africa.

So it happens that, each midwinter, a concert in the spirit of true community comes together. Performers wear no robes or formal dress – just “jewel-toned” concert attire that might “glow” in the soft light of the chancel. Adult singers steward younger ones, making sure they can see the conductor and be seen by the audience, amidst their shuffle into place, their sly little hands waving to family in the pews. There will be moments, without doubt, when the music makes space for sadness, doubt, or hurt – making the rising aura of peace and joy feel whole and true.

“When I look back and think of the beautiful voices and musical talents that each person has added to the Burning Bright concert, it makes me realize how unique each year is depending on who we are lucky enough to have performing,” says founding singer Betsy Peirce. “Vocal jazz scats, rich trained voices, tuba, and oboe – it’s so fun coming to the first practice each year, discovering new people who add to our tapestry of sound. The love that flows from the choir, to our directors, to the audience and back again is as palpable as it is audible – the joy on their faces as they listen – that makes it worthwhile.”

Like Burning Bright founder Ellen Rockne, Kristine Jepsen grew up in the Lutheran singing tradition and so loves performing on this winter concert. Outside of the alto section, she writes for literary journals and small businesses – more at kristinejepsen.com.

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Beneficiaries of Burning Bright Concerts Through the Year

Decorah Community Food Pantry
Decorah Public Library Youth Programs
Decorah Volunteer Fire Department
Domestic and Sexual Abuse Resource Center
Decorah Power
NAMI NE Iowa (National Alliance on Mental Illness)
Partners in Health, Haiti
Heart River of Hope, Mandan, North Dakota
Thistle Farm & Magdalene Residence, Tennessee
Project Care
Path to Citizenship
Thunder Rode Therapeutic Riding
Mother Health International’s Uganda Ambulance Fund
Decorah Community Free Medical Clinic
The Northeast Iowa Peace & Justice Center
Rushford Flood Relief Fund
Winneshiek Farmers’ Market Association
Postville Community Support
St. Bridget’s Catholic Church Hispanic Ministry Program, Postville, Iowa
Greater Area Pantry, Calmar, Iowa
Sunrise Foundation, Nicaragua
Postville Children’s Health Fund
Decorah Diversity Appreciation Team
People for Animal Welfare (PAW) of Northeast Iowa
Decorah Community Education and Arts Center

Exultation: Celebrating 20 Years of Burning Bright – a concert to benefit:

Saturday, December 15, 2018 at 4pm and 7 pm

First Methodist Church
302 W Broadway St
Decorah, IA 52101

Advance tickets recommended – available at Oneota Community Food Co-op .