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Interview with Long-time SAMC Member Dave Anderson

The Staples Area Men’s Chorus is observing its 50th year this season. And while the COVID-19 pandemic has presented unique challenges, members are still finding ways to recognize the important part our organization plays in the community. With that in mind, we’re looking back at some of the highlights and history of the organization.  We recently interviewed Dave Anderson, one of the veteran singers of the Staples Area Men’s Chorus and also past SAMC Board Secretary for 22 consecutive years, to learn more about his 49 years with the chorus.

Were you a member of the original SAMC?

No, but Mike Blessing was. When Stan Carlson organized the chorus in 1971-72, I was on a sabbatical leave from my teaching position in Staples attending the University of Northern Colorado. While at UNC I sang in the college men’s chorus. When I returned to Staples in the fall of 1972, I joined SAMC. If you can imagine this, I was the same age then as some of our youngest members are now!

So this is your 49th year! The chorus must have been a priority for you.

Yes, it was. Even in the most demanding years of my career and family responsibilities I found a way to be at nearly every rehearsal. You could probably count the Big Sings that I have missed on one hand. When my kids were small I looked forward to the time my sons could sing in the chorus with me. They both did and both are still involved in music as adults.

Tell us about some of the early days in the SAMC.

In the beginning almost all of the members were from the Staples-Motley area. As our reputation reached surrounding communities, we picked up new members from other towns. Before long we had singers from much larger area.

The chorus typically participates in what’s called a Big Sing event each year. What are some of your memories of this event?

During our earliest years we were exploring ways we could grow as a chorus. In about 1973 we heard about the Associated Male Choruses of America. It was a large and vibrant organization back then, and we were invited by the men’s chorus from Grand Rapids, MN  to join the AMCA. Here’s where we get into a lot of “abouts” (“aboots” for the two member choruses from Canada). It was about 1973 when we attended our first Big Sing, which was held in Grand Rapids. Little did we know that everything had to be memorized, and there were a lot of melodic “watermelons” during O Canada! It might have been 1975 or about that time when the idea for fund raising dinner concerts was born on the bus ride from the Big Sing in Thunder Bay, Ontario. I’m not certain but I think our first dinner concert was in or about 1976. That was the year of the bicentennial Big Sing in St. Paul. I have a vinyl album from that event. By 1985 we had members who were willing to take a shot at hosting a Big Sing. We held that event in Wadena. It was successful in every way except that adequate housing for visiting choirs wasn’t available in Wadena or Staples and some groups had to travel to surrounding towns to find rooms. We made a bid to host the Big Sing of 2010 with a plan developed by event chair Mike Gold to hold most of the Big Sing at Cragun’s Resort and Conference Center on Gull Lake. That worked quite well.  Mike also chaired the 2017 Big Sing which again used Cragun’s for everything except the concert.

What are some of the other highlights from those days?

I think it was 1982 when we participated in Johnny Mann’s The Great American Choral Festival at Orchestra Hall. We placed 3rd which excited Stan quite a bit because it contributed to our musical reputation. Stan was always looking for ways to stretch our skills and experiences. We started doing variety shows quite early because we had very limited ways of meeting our expenses. There were actually times that we had to postpone paying Stan or accompanist Ted Masog until we could come up with a little money. From the very beginning we saw the value of music education and many of our efforts turned out to be collaborations with high school music groups. Stan was the Staples (later Staples-Motley) High School choral director so it seemed natural for him to combine groups. This led to some wonderful experiences with major works. After Stan retired and Steve Hoemberg became our artistic director this relationship with the school continued.

When did the major work collaborations begin?

We did the Messiah in 1983. That was our first major work and I’m not sure if was a collaborative effort including the high school, but I’d guess that it was.  It became a pattern to do a major work in odd-number years, which worked around the high school madrigal dinners. In 1993 we provided choral backup for the University of Minnesota production of The Tender Land opera (Aaron Copland). This was held outdoors at a farm near Staples and was quite an experience. The next year we did another collaboration involving University of Minnesota musicians.

College groups became part of SAMC performances quite early in our history.

Yes, and we also worked with the Staples Area Women’s Chorus on our major works. A couple times we had the good fortune to sing with professional vocal groups. In 1999 we did Vivaldi’s Gloria with what was then The Dale Warland Singers, as well as the S-M high school choirs. Stan and later Steve were very good at finding ways to have professional singers work with the high school choirs and we were among the beneficiaries of those projects. I found these opportunities to be thrilling, so high school kids must have been profoundly affected as well. Our directors have had the necessary contacts to provide incredible musical experiences for both students and the adult choirs. In 2012 it was The Singers (formerly Dale Warland Singers) who took us to a musical mountain top as we performed Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna. The following year, 2013, we again did Vivaldi’s Gloria with the Staples Area Women’s Choir and four high school choirs (Long Prairie-Grey Eagle, Pillager, Wadena and Staples-Motley), as well as the S-M HS orchestra. This included four concerts in four towns in one weekend! Once again, students benefited from singing with us and we benefited from singing with them!

The Real Men Sing event is a nationally recognized educational program started by SAMC. Can you give us some history of the event?

Sure, but I have to give a disclaimer. If you think I’m smart enough to remember the answers to all your questions, you’re wrong! When I demonstrated that I could both type and spell, the chorus board awarded me the position of secretary which I held for 22 consecutive years. I have a lot of information in files on my computer! OK, Real Men Sing. This was the brainchild of chorus member Pat Lunemann. He approached the board of directors in August of 2002 with an idea he had been tossing around while driving his tractor. Through the following months a lot of brainstorming occurred and by March of 2003 Pat had presented the plan to several area high school choir directors. The actual name REAL MEN SING doesn’t appear in the chorus minutes until October 1, 2003. Pat and the board thought this was a wonderfully appropriate name and added an explanation mark for good measure! I’m pretty sure the actual date of the first RMS was November 1, 2003. It proved to be a memorable experience and an effective way to illustrate that music is ageless. I have to admit that I was in tears more than once during the combined concert as I sang with 80-year-old Karl Porcher on my left and a 16-year-old boy on my right! The rest is history and the RMS festivals from 2003-2019 have seen participation from 3,500 high school singers, as well as guest college choirs and adults. This year with the pandemic we are working on a virtual concert.

How do you think the SAMC survived and thrived for 50 years?

Bridging the generations is what I like best. We’ve had lots of sons and grandsons of members singing in the choir as well as other young men from the high school. We’ve even had boys from Sebeka, Pillager and Brainerd high schools become chorus members. I mentioned earlier that the chorus has had serious financial problems at times. I believe the biggest factor in our financial survival was the Legacy Amendment that made funds available to granting agencies and of course the generous support of community organizations. This made it possible for us to undertake more ambitious projects.

Before we let you go, what is your single most memorable experience with the SAMC?

You set me up here so I could tell about our participation in the Carnegie Hall production of The Glory of Freedom in February of 2017. Our local chorus was invited to join about 250 other singers from college and adult choirs to perform Randall Thompson’s Testament of Freedom. Jerry Reck did an enormous amount of work involving about a million details to make this happen. Dr. Lee Nelson was the director of this group and he took us through a couple of days of preparation before the final concert. It was an incredible experience to stand on the stage and look out at the full-house audience who had come to hear us and then to listen as our combined sound filled the hall. Maybe I’ll have it in my obituary: “Sang in Carnegie Hall!”

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