It’s fertile ground in this part of the country—even musically speaking. “Minnesota is the choral capital of the country; some say the world,” says Jere Lantz, director of the Minnetonka Choral Society (MCS) since 1993.
Given the state’s fondness for choral music, it’s no surprise that the MCS has been a longtime outlet for local singers, instrumentalists and audience members. What began as an informal group to perform Handel’s Messiah at Christmastime in 1957 evolved in 1969 into a choral group, which continues to perform to this day.
In the 1950s, Ray Minkler served as Minnetonka High School’s band and choir director, and it was his desire to create a group to perform Handel’s piece, according to member Doris Ely, who was among those who performed with Minkler’s group in 1957.
Today, the volunteer concert choir performs annual spring and holiday concerts at churches in the lake area, featuring music from old masters, contemporary compositions or the works of modern composers or arrangers.
Lantz, who is also the president/CEO and artistic director for the Rochester Symphony, knows why the MCS has endured. “It has continued because of the great enthusiasm by its members to join hands, metaphorically, with the audience,” he says. “This group wants to perform music that reaches out and grabs people.”
Originally from Indiana, Deborah Largen, president, has been with the MCS for about five years. A singer since childhood, she initially was drawn to the society as a way to meet new friends. “I really wanted to find a group to provide community,” she says.
The MCS community includes 60 to 80 members, as membership fluctuates between the spring and fall. “We continue to get more members every year,” Largen says. The range of experience—from newcomers to seasoned performers—provides a spirit of continuity and freshness. “It’s important to remember where we came from as a group,” she says, noting that newer members provide a different perspective.
Ely is among the veteran singers, as she has been an MCS member since 1957, except for a six-year move to Ohio. When she returned to the area, “I stepped right back in with my buddies, and they welcomed me with open arms,” she says.
Ely was drawn to the group because she grew up singing and was inspired to continue by her high school choir director. “I like to sing good music, and I like to sing under a good director,” she says. Remaining with a group for the better part of 50 years takes dedication and inspiration. Ely points to the bond MCS members have formed as one of the factors that maintains her interest. “Music draws people together,” she says, adding that, in order to create beautiful music, members must “breathe, follow the director and feel” as a unit. “We get stronger and better every season, I think,” Ely says.
That strength comes from the singers, who hail from all over the Twin Cities and even Wisconsin. “It’s because we have a good reputation, a good choir and a great director, and we like each other,” Ely says. “That all plays a part.”
The Minnetonka Choral Society’s December program will highlight holiday stories. In addition to choral elements, performers will present three playlettes, including Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, O. Henry’s Gift of the Magi and an excerpt from Valentine Davies’ Miracle on 34th Street.
How to help
The Minnetonka Choral Society is partially funded by its foundation, which was formally chartered only last September. “For its 55-plus-year history, MCS has been funded by members through dues, ticket sales and personal fundraising,” says Doug Affinito, the foundation’s president. “The foundation’s mission is to...provide a fourth mechanism for supporting annual operations." Fundraising efforts will include a book charting the group’s history, which will be offered as a premium for contributions of $250 or more. Affinito says these fundraisers will help ease members' financial burden so they can focus on the music.
News about the Minnetonka Choral Society and audition information is available at the website here or by calling 952.476.1922.