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Gracias Choir returns to northern Minnesota with free concert

The Gracias Choir will perform its world-renowned Christmas Cantata Saturday in the Bemidji High School Auditorium. Admission is free. Photo Courtesy International Youth Federation

BEMIDJI – Gracias Choir, which presented its Christmas Cantata to 600 people in Red Lake last year, is returning for an encore, this time in the 1,200-seat Bemidji High School Auditorium.

The 70-voice choir will perform the free concert at 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 6. It will last about two hours and will conclude with a Christmas message preached by the choir's Korean pastor.

The Rev. Mark Peske, the mission pastor for Lutheran Indian Ministries, was in the audience for last year’s cantata.

“I was blown away by it, quite honestly,” he said. “The people were just transfixed, glued to the performance. (The choir) sang and played with so much joy – you could see it on their faces. The Gracias Choir wants to proclaim hope and joy through the birth of Jesus.”

Peske was pleased that the choir has reached out to American Indians for the concerts. “My ministry is focused on Indian people,” he said.

The Gracias Choir formed in 2000. It has performed at Madison Square Garden in New York and the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia, and won the grand prize at the Busan International Choral Festival in 2010 in Korea.

“It grew quite fast,” Peske said of the choir’s Christmas Cantata. “Within a couple years, it was world-recognized.”

The choir went on a U.S. tour for the first time last year, when a performance in Red Lake joined dates in Atlanta, New Orleans, Chicago, Detroit, Winnipeg and Lancaster, Pa.

This year’s U.S. tour begins tonight in Atlanta. The choir will perform Monday in Jacksonville, Fla., Tuesday in Miami and Thursday in New Orleans before traveling to Bemidji. After performing here, the choir will be in Winnipeg Oct. 7, Chicago Oct. 9 and Detroit Oct. 10.

The choir chose to perform in Red Lake last year to bring joy to the community, said Khun Taik, director of the Fort Wayne chapter of the Christian-based International Youth Fellowship, whose youth members are helping prepare for the concert by seeking volunteers and donations and sharing their faith.

“We do the Christmas Cantata for many reasons,” Taik said, adding that the main reason is to bring hope and happiness to people who need it.”

Many people in Detroit, for example, are adversely affected by the city’s issues with corruption, he said.

Red Lake was chosen last year because of the 2005 shooting that left 10 people dead and devastated people within the city and the Red Lake Reservation.

“We want to really perform in front of people who wouldn’t have a chance to see” a concert of the magnitude of the Christmas Cantata, Taik said.

The choir reached out to members of the Red Lake, Leech Lake and White Earth Indian reservations, and the people of Bemidji.

“The choir wanted to visit isolated places,” Taik said, “like Jesus Christ, looking for humble minds, poor minds.”

Last year’s cantata was held in the Red Lake Humanities Center, in which volunteers, led by the Rev. Dong Wook Kim, crafted an elaborate stage to transform the space into a concert hall.

The concert will combine sacred and secular Christmas music, from Handel’s “Messiah” to “Jingle Bells,” with elaborate sets and costuming. The production is separated into four acts: “Joy,” “Birth,” “Happiness” and “Glory & Worship.”


Laurie Swenson
Laurie Swenson is a reporter/copy editor for the Bemidji Pioneer. She has been with the Pioneer since 2004.