June 27th, 2022
To Songs of Hope directors, Jeanne Junge and Tom Surprenant, the score is now COVID – 2, Songs of Hope – 29. Says Surprenant, “2020 and 2021 were really hard on us, but we kept reminding ourselves that we had a long run of great years. A final score of 29 good years to 2 empty ones isn’t bad. Thinking about the good years really kept us going.”
After two summers with its doors closed by the pandemic, the global music project is once again bringing a stage full of youthful singers to New Ulm, with a free concert at the State Street Theatre on Monday, July 18, at 7:00 pm.
“We’re so ready to be back,” affirms Junge.
When the first COVID lockdowns hit Minnesota in March of 2020, Junge and Surprenant knew the effects overseas would be just as hard on them. And sure enough, travel from other countries into the United States quickly became impossible. Which meant the organization’s international performance project wasn’t going to happen until things got better.
“It was a tough time for us,” recalls Tom Surprenant, SOH’s program director. “Creating concerts with youthful performers from other countries wasn’t just a slice of our work. It was our reason for existing. Cutting us off from our overseas performers was like telling a school you’re going to have to teach without students.”
“We did manage to find other ways to make music,” says Jeanne Junge, artistic director. “Like organizing remote music videos with singers in other countries. As a substitute project, it was challenging and interesting, but mostly, we kept waiting and hoping for the world to get back to normal.”
Adds Surprenant, “At least normal enough for us to have live concerts again.”
It took three years from the last project in 2019 for a new one to happen in 2022. But with prudent management, and more than a few financial challenges, Sounds of Hope was able to stay alive, and now the organization is ready for a brand-new season of concerts.
This has meant working around pandemic obstacles that just won’t let go. China, for example, has been a frequent source for SOH performers, but for many months a nationwide lockdown has gripped it. In other countries, the pandemic still makes families reluctant to send their children and young adults to Minnesota.
“We knew there were going to be challenges,” Junge says. “But if we had any chance of getting kids to Minnesota, and if concert venues reopened for us, we wanted to be ready. And when it became possible, we moved fast.”
The new Songs of Hope concert revives a longtime tradition. The first Songs of Hope took place in 1991, and in the ensuing thirty-one years, Songs of Hope has performed in more than 70 cities throughout Minnesota, with hundreds of global performers, mostly aged 10 to 16, bringing their talents to state audiences. The new project will be similarly global in scope, showcasing the talents of young artists coming to Minnesota from Finland, Germany, England, Italy, Guatemala, Mexico, Jamaica, Turkey, Israel, and the USA.
“In these uncertain times, getting young people on stage from nine countries is truly an accomplishment,” says Surprenant. “It wasn’t easy, but we persevered and now we’re ready to bring a great show to Minnesotans.”
Over the years, the project has earned a well-deserved reputation for lively, upbeat shows. The project’s newest installment promises to live up to this reputation. With shows scheduled in more than a dozen cities, the concert will offer a delightful mix of international songs from all the countries of the performers. Blended with the global music will be a wide variety of U.S. songs chosen to entertain, educate, and inspire.
“For the U.S. music, we always include a couple of songs with timely messages,” says Jeanne Junge. “We thought the effects the pandemic on our sense of community would be an appropriate subject. But then Ukraine happened. We always ask ourselves what young people around the worldwide are thinking and feeling.”
Adds Tom Surprenant, “Songs of Hope began in the same year Iraq invaded Kuwait. Sadly, there have been too many years with wars. Young people are smart and they know what’s going on. It helps all of us to express our feelings through music, and to affirm our hopes for better times.”
Both Junge and Surprenant are quick to point out how much the performers want to sing about things that matter to them, and to the adults in their world. And the best music is able to put a human face on their feelings.
In addition to covering serious themes, Junge and Surprenant plan to offer up some fun. “It’s summer, after all,” laughs Junge, “and this concert is by kids for kids of all ages. We all want to have fun, right? So don’t be surprised if there’s a silly song or two.”
The Songs of Hope tour in 2022 is happening thanks in part to an Arts Tour Grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, through a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.
Explains Junge, “We prefer going to cities with smaller populations, around 2,000 to 5,000. With Arts Board funding, we have a chance to bring our global kids to a different slice of Minnesota.”
As Junge and Surprenant ready the new concert for touring, they will have some talented artists helping them:
Cheryl Kramer is an experienced keyboard player who brings loads of experience playing African, Latin, and Caribbean music with many diverse Twin Cities ensembles. She has played in various bands, including the chick funk band, Kat Klub, the Calypso band, Cyril Paul and the Calypso Monarchs, blues band, Blind Date, Soca band, Shangoya, African music band, Marimba Africa, Brazilian band, Battuci Brasiliero, “island” band, 33° North, and others. She has been keyboard player for Songs of Hope since 1991
Sarah Geer is the project’s new vocal director. From monthly spontaneous singing sessions to conference keynote addresses, Sarah leads events that help participants become better listeners, communicators, decision makers and community members. In additions to leading singing, she performs regularly in the Twin Cities with a cappella ensemble, Give Get Sistet, and jazz quintet, BLU-7.
David Burk is one of the most versatile multi-instrumentalists in the Twin Cities, with numerous past and present musical associations including The Rose Ensemble, the Georges Lammam Arabic Orchestra, Voices of Sepharad, famed Persian singer Sattar, traditional Persian group Robayat, Ethnic Dance Theatre, Fuego Flamenco, and Intergalactic Contemporary Ensemble.
Angel Diaz is a Venezuelan-born percussionist who specializes in timbales while playing many other drums. His credits as a drummer include Heart of the City, Nachito Herrera, World Voices Choir, and Grace Church Big Band. His percussionist work has also included Tropical Sun, Salsabrosa, Salsa Del Sol, Mixed Blood Theatre, and Minnesota History Theatre.