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Big 9 Festival Premiere's New Work

Aspen Hill Music is delighted to annouce the premiere of a new work by composer Christopher Aspaas at a festival in southern Minnesota. The Big 9 is the longest running music festival of its kind in the United States, founded in 1933 and only taking a break in 1941 for WWII. Musicians from each of the ten member schools create the Select Choir, Band and Orchestra. The musicians gathered together for the first time in late April for several hours of rehearsal, and will perform the final concert Friday evening, May 3rd at Mayo High School in Rochester.

There are so many great arrangements of How Can I Keep From Singing out there. Iconic versions by Brad Ellingboe, Ron Staheli, Eric Nelson and Libby Larsen are heard across the US. As I was assembling my rep list for this festival, I thought about the text and its power in the lives of these high school students: "My life flows on in endless song above earth's lamentation..." and the words started to speak more personally to me.

These students in the Big 9 Select Choir are choosing to create, collaborate, think and feel deeply.  Today's culture doesn't always expect this of adolescents.  Robert Lowry's last verse, "I lift my eyes; the cloud grows thin; I see the blue above it. And day by day this pathway smooths since first I learned to love it," speaks so simply of those early days of singing and this new arrangement is for these young people.

I dedicated this piece to Dione Peterson, my high school choir director from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, who now lives a few miles down the road. She has inspired generations of young people to sing for their whole lives and gave them the tools to do it. She helped us learn to love it.

Dione also taught me one of the most powerful lessons about choir that took me a while to learn: the most important part about singing together is the together part. As a high school student, I could never figure out why some others were in choir--they just goofed around and got in trouble. Dione helped me understand that choir was the one place that all of the tumult and strife in the rest of their their lives was silent. It was a place where everyone could belong.

One of my graduating college seniors who did not sing in her junior year sent these words to me yesterday: "What I realized was that I missed the honest community of choir, the openness of the members, the daily spiritual moments, the fulfillment I only receive from making music.  Chapel Choir is a time and space where I know our walls are stripped down, moving music will be made, and we will come together as one."

Thank you Dione. How can I keep from singing?