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Review of “The Immigrants’ Trek”

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Buffalo Ridge Chorale received an Art Project grant from us this year to perform an original musical play, The Immigrants’ Trek. Check out the glowing review it received!

“The Immigrants’ Trek”

Paul Olson·Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Review Published November 2, 2016 in the Hendricks Pioneer, Lake Benton Valley Journal, and Tyler Tribute.

Think of uprooting yourself and your family, traveling thousands of miles to an unknown and unforgiving land, never to see home again, only to face hardship and loneliness in the quest to build a better life.
If that sounds bleak and depressing, you’ve got it all wrong. Woven into every minute of “The Immigrants’ Trek” are generous portions of hope, faith, determination and, yes, even laughter.
With its world premiere two Sundays ago by the Buffalo Ridge Chorale, “Trek” shines like a polished musical gem, one with deep regional significance. It carries a personal message as well and enriches our individual stories as pioneer descendants. October 23rd’s performance must not be a one-time event. “The Immigrants’ Trek” needs to be heard widely and many more times.
And the hearing is delightful. Classic Norwegian folk melodies rub elbows with six original songs penned by local talents Nancy Sandro (composer) and Roberta Trooien (lyrics and script).
“We Cannot Stay Here” is a poignant choral refrain that threads through the settlers’ journey as they push onward, ever onward. It’s the fuel that propels them, a recurring theme of restlessness and change, a universal theme that’s still alive today.
“Sixteen By Fourteen” – feet, that is – the claustrophobic size of a typical one-room prairie shanty, home to ten people. The song lets us feel the mud-brick walls pressing in on us during the deep and endless winter. “Sixteen by fourteen! Dear God, when will spring come?”
“Kari’s Waltz” captures a bride-to-be’s wistful dreams of elegant wedding gowns and little white cakes, dreams that grow dim and tarnished by the daily work of planting, milking, and scrubbing.
“But Still” is a bouncy, tongue-in-cheek jibe at narrow-mindedness. The newcomers from Trondheim discover neighbors, a band of folks from Stavanger, and eye them suspiciously. “We eat the same codfish, we make the same lefse, but still they’re a little bit different.”
Along the way we find familiar guideposts, enjoyable mentionings of places we know like the backs of our hands – Dell Rapids, Flandreau, Canby, Hendricks, Oak Lake.
Soloists Melissa Sagmoe, Todd Trooien, and Bobby Isbell bring key characters to life while Steve Hemmingsen narrates and connects their tales. A special shout-out goes to Isbell, whose colorful personality and splashes of humor brighten his role as an adventurous young man on the edge of adulthood.
Choral director Anna DeGraff, who teaches voice at both SDSU and SMSU, and piano accompanist David Moklebust are strong supports for the 40-plus member Buffalo Ridge Chorale, a group which has again proven itself to be one of the finest volunteer vocal ensembles in the region.
“The Immigrants’ Trek” is both a portrait and a mirror. In it we see our ancestors, their struggles, their challenges, and their joys. We also see ourselves reflected in their image.
And if we look closely with open eyes we glimpse other faces, those of today’s immigrants – Hmong, Mexican, Somali – settlers in a land much changed from what Norwegians found in the 1870s, but settlers with struggles, challenges, and joys of their own.
We can hope that in a generation or two, today’s immigrant stories will be told as well and as beautifully as Roberta, Nancy, and the Buffalo Ridge Chorale have told ours.

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