Free concert and percussion workshop on July 14

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In addition to the New Orleans salute, Songs of Hope will present a wide variety of songs from all the countries of all the performers on stage. Their songs will range from U.S. rock ‘n roll to Turkish pop to Vietnamese and Bulgarian traditional songs. (Photo submitted)

By Molly Moser

Songs of Hope, a six-week, overnight performing arts summer camp in Saint Paul, Minn., for youth 10 years and older from around the world, returns to Guttenberg next week during their annual post-camp musical tour. 

More than just a performing arts camp, Songs of Hope offers participants a unique opportunity to live in community with youth from other countries and cultures while learning and performing music from many countries. Campers then tour Minnesota with a series of performances, dipping south into Guttenberg on July 14. The community of Guttenberg is invited to gather for Songs of Hope’s performance at the municipal building at 7:00 p.m. that Tuesday. A free percussion workshop for all ages will be offered by the group at 12:00 noon that day in the courtyard at Shepherd Gallery and Creativity Center in Guttenberg. 

With the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina looming this summer, the co-founders of the global Songs of Hope project decided to include a salute to the musical heritage of New Orleans when they began planning their upcoming summer concert tour.

“We feel it’s important to remind audiences of the musical significance of New Orleans,” says Jeanne Junge, artistic director of Songs of Hope. “New Orleans gave us jazz and it has a rich history of great music and great musicians, but it’s also a living city with wonderful music today. Unfortunately, the breaking of the levees ten years ago caused a terrible amount of damage to the city that really harmed its music scene, and the city is still struggling to recover.”

This year’s medley of New Orleans music made Mississippi River cities the prime venues for Songs of Hope performances. “Most of our stops are in Minnesota, but Guttenberg came instantly to mind,” says co-founder Tom Surprenant. “We loved our earlier visits to Guttenberg – your pretty setting on the Mississippi, friendly people, and warm audiences. We haven't been back in a number of years and we were missing you.”

Many of the camp participants come from historic river towns in other countries, like Xi’an, China on the bank of the Wei River; Hanoi, Vietnam on the Red River; and St. Petersburg, Russia on the Neva River. “We're a big family when we get together for the summer. Our artistic director (and my fellow co-founder of Sounds of Hope), Jeanne Junge, and I travel everywhere with the company. We even live in the dorm with the kids for the whole project,” Surprenant told The Press.

What’s the most remarkable thing about the Songs of Hope experience? It’s impossible to say. “The kids might tell you it's the international friendships and the eye-opening experience of living with kids from many countries. Or it's the smiles on the faces of audiences in the nursing home performances. Or it's the friendly people in the cities on our tour. Or it's the excitement of accomplishing something together. Or it's spending a summer in the States and getting to know another culture,” says Surprenant. “But I think it's the sense of community that stays in their memories forever.”

The community of Guttenberg has come together to welcome the group of roughly 50 performers plus musicians and adult support crew. St. John’s Lutheran Church and ABCM Corporation’s Guttenberg Care Center will provide breakfast to the group both mornings of their stay in Guttenberg. Umbrella Arts made a generous donation to provide another meal for the entertainers, and the City of Guttenberg has opened the pool to performers for free swimming. Clayton Ridge Schools have opened their doors to give the group a place to spend the night.  

In addition to the New Orleans salute, the concert program will present a wide variety of songs from all the countries of all the performers on the Songs of Hope stage, with children and young adults coming to Minnesota from China, Vietnam, Israel, Turkey, Russia, Bulgaria, Albania, Italy, The Bahamas, Jamaica, Guatemala, Argentina, U.S.A., and other countries. Their songs will range from U.S. rock ‘n roll to Turkish pop to Vietnamese and Bulgarian traditional songs. 

Junge and Surprenant are eager to hear what the young international performers think of the New Orleans music being performed. “It’s a great adventure for performers and audiences alike,” says Surprenant.  “It’s truly interesting to watch a kid from Guatemala getting wowed when she or he first hears a gorgeous song from China or a peppy song from Russia.” Surprenant and Junge are just as eager to hear audiences’ reactions to the international music. “This year we hope to generate some serious enthusiasm for New Orleans music,” says Junge. “The songs we’ve chosen get your heart pumping and your feet tapping.”

Sounds of Hope concerts famously astonish audiences with a wide variety of song styles made more interesting by high-energy movements, unusual folk dances, numerous costume changes, and the unexpected, theatrical piece thrown in for fun. “We’re very aware that we’re summer entertainment,” explains Junge. “If our audiences are willing to come out to see us on a hundred-degree night, it’s our job to give them a show that makes them forget the heat and humidity.”

This year, while the Songs of Hope organizers want their audiences to enjoy themselves so much they forget the heat, they don’t want them to forget the plight of New Orleans. “New Orleans matters,” says Junge. “Its music is a national and global treasure and we hope both our international performers and our many audiences will go home with a deeper sense of this rich slice of U.S. culture and the need to keep the city’s music alive.”

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