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Back together, in song: BSU Choir Reunion Concert brings the generations back to campus

BSU Assistant Professor of Music Dwight Jilek conducts the BSU choir during a recent rehearsal ahead of the choir's reunion concert Saturday night. (Jordan Shearer | Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI—Much has changed since Robert Green graduated from BSU in 1957, or since Paul Brandvik retired from the university in 1998.

But both men will be able to relive a little bit of the past Saturday as they come together, along with dozens of others, to commemorate a milestone for the school they all shared.

Totaling more than 100 alumni and current students, Saturday's BSU Choir Reunion Concert will commemorate the 80th anniversary of the program.

BSU Director of Choral Activities Dwight Jilek said it's a special opportunity for the school to undertake. "It was something that seemed like a natural and very exciting thing to put forward,"Jilek said.

"It's an opportunity for us to use that shared experience of Bemidji State University to come together, join in song and create new connections."

The reunion choir will take plate at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 23, at the Bemidji Evangelical Covenant Church, which is located at 5405 Hart Ln. NW. It is free and open to the public.

With both alumni and current students taking part, the choir has swelled to more than 130 vocalists who will perform. In preparing for the reunion, Jilek worked with the BSU Alumni Office as well as the BSU Alumni Choir that's based in Minneapolis.

"It's a very, very good turnout," Jilek said. "These opportunities don't happen very often, and I think that's why it's been received so well."

For some of Saturday's performers, graduation was just a few years ago. For a few students, though, like Green, graduation day is more than half a century down memory lane.

It's been 60 years since Green put away his textbooks, threw his cap in the air and said goodbye to BSU, but on Saturday evening, he'll return to sing in the same choir he used to perform with as a young man.

Although there will be alumni from throughout the decades, Green is one of the oldest singers to return. Now 82, Green was a student under Carl O. Thompson, who started the choir program in 1937 and then continued to lead it until 1967 when Brandvik stepped into the position.

While he was still in college, Thompson served as Green's adviser. After graduation, Green left, joined the U.S. Navy and didn't move back to Minnesota until about three years ago. At that point, he connected with the BSU Alumni Choir.

"We had a practice room up on the second floor of the main building, not too far from Carl's office," Green said about his college years. "Carl developed a great choir. He influenced people to come and sing under his very distinguished direction."

Brandvik began teaching at what is now Bemidji State University in 1967 when it was still known as Bemidji State College. He would remain in that role until retiring in 1998. Although he no longer teaches at the university, he will conduct one of his own arrangements during the reunion concert, "We're coming Father Abraham." He arranged the piece in 1976.

Like Green, it's been multiple decades since Brandvik officially left the classrooms of the university. In spite of that time lapse, Brandvik said he was thrilled to have the chance to come back and lead many of his former students in the choir, many of whom he's stayed in touch with throughout the years.

"The thing is they still love to do what we taught them to do," Brandvik said. "You have to look hard sometimes to find beauty. And when you can find beauty in music and the things we create, I think that is so refreshing."

If you go

What: BSU Choir Reunion Concert

When: 6:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Bemidji Evangelical Covenant Church, 5405 Hart Lane NW.

Cost: Free

Jordan Shearer

Jordan Shearer covers crime and social issues for the Bemidji Pioneer. A Rochester native and Bemidji State grad, he previously spent several years in western Nebraska writing for the Keith County News. Follow him on Twitter @Jmanassa

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