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Material is light but still a challenge

Just because something is light-hearted doesn’t make it light. That’s the lesson learned by Rick Kvam and his singers in Rochester’s Choral Arts Ensemble as they prepare for concerts of humorous music this weekend in Rochester and Winona. “It’s very challenging but fun,” Kvam said, after describing several pieces in he program as “really hard.”

The concerts are collaborations with the Great River Shakespeare Festival of Winona. In addition to songs with a comic bent from Choral Arts, two actors from the Shakespeare festival, Doug Scholz-Carlson and Michael Fitzpatrick, will perform selections. This is the third time the ensemble and Shakespeare festival have collaborated, but the first one that is centered on the comedy of the human condition.

Kvam initially thought it would be a light way to end the season. “But we’ve had to work our butts off,” he said.

The concerts open with a Shakespearean take on “Who’s on First” (“Who doth inhabit the primary position?”) and continues with Minnesota jokes, and a set of humorous Minnesota-related songs. Among the songs is “Mosquitoes” by former Faribault resident Steven Chapman, and Carol Barnett’s “Minnesota, That’s Me,” written for the state’s 150th birthday. Fitzpatrick will perform Noel Coward’s “Don’t Put Your Daughter on the Stage” and Ivor Novelloo’s “And her mother came, too.”

Then comes a section labeled by Kvam as “PDQ silliness:” The Liebesleider Polkas, by the fictional composer PDQ Bach. “They’re just silly, full of musical jokes, inside music jokes,” Kvam said. One of the pieces calls for piano for five hands, meaning the page-turner will be required to play a few notes here and there. The concert will conclude with an opera overture that Kvam won’t reveal, with the Shakespeare festival actors staging the complete opera in quick fashion.

All told, it’s a concert that breaks new ground for the Choral Arts Ensemble. “We’ve been trying not to be ‘We’re up here doing serious music and you’re down there being quiet,’” Kvam said. “I think this one will break the mold.”

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