By Eric Buening, Correspondent
In 2014, the St. Francis Music Center celebrates 35 years of providing Morrison County and communities at large, with the opportunity to explore music and performing arts. When the Music Center opened in 1979, they had only four teachers on staff. Since then they have grown to include 15 music teachers and staff. The Music Center is also a Sally Ordway Irvine Award winning community music school.
“The Music Center is a ministry of the Franciscan Sisters,” said Sister Adella Gross. “We attract more than just people from Little Falls. We have people coming from all over the county and even places like Long Prairie, Rice, Staples and even Onamia.”
The music program has a wide age range of people that take lessons or participate in programs. “Our student body ranges from age 4 to 84,” said Sister Adella Gross.
There is a basic fee structure for adults that want to take music lessons. For children there are scholarships and grants available. “We don’t want to turn anyone away. If there is a need we try to meet it.” said Sister Adella Gross.
The Music Center hosts three different choirs which have been sponsored by a grant by the Five Wings Arts Council. The grant allows people who are interested to participate for free.
The men’s choir is called Brothers in Harmony. It is an assembly of adults and teens that meets every Monday night. The St. Francis Community Chorale is open to all adults who wish to participate. This community choir has two annual concerts. The first is during the Christmas season and again in the spring.
“Kids Sing” is a new choir program available to children from 5 – 12 years old. The program is designed to teach children proper vocal techniques while also teaching them to adapt their singing style to their developing voices.
The Center has two orchestras. The youth strings orchestra gives students with two or more years of individual lessons the opportunity to play in an ensemble. Students learn how to employ intonation, different bowing styles and patterns, as well as reading key, time signatures and counting rhythms.
The St. Francis Concert Orchestra is for adults with enough experience to take on the challenge of playing in an ensemble. Playing in the Orchestra requires the dedication to practice on their time and be prepared for rehearsal.
Both orchestras play twice a year at the St. Francis Sacred Heart Chapel.
The URock program is the brainchild of instructor Greg Langlois.
“I was inspired by the movie School of Rock,” said Langlois. “Just after we put URock together they started something similar in St. Cloud, so I knew we were on the right track.”
The URock program is free to middle and high school students thanks to grants by Five Wings Arts Council, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and Catholic Health Initiative. This allows students to participate for free. As a result in 2014 there are a record 30 students in the class.
The camp is designed to give at-risk teens a place to learn about playing in a rock and roll band. Thanks to a grant by the Catholic Health Initiative the URock program will be available to students year round. “We’re going to have a lounge area where kids can meet after school.” said instructor Tony Armagost. “It looks like rock and roll is here to stay.”
The camp itself is an intensive event covering two weekends in July. It culminates in an outdoor concert performance during the St. Francis Green Fair Folk Festival, held on the first Wednesday in August. “The outreach from talented students this year is amazing!” said Armagost. “We have one student from as far south as St. Michael-Albertville and another from Pequot Lakes.”
The goal of the program is to create a venue where kids are exposed to anti-bullying messages and find proper, healthy ways to deal with youth issues. “The grants let us offer them a place to go and do positive stuff instead of getting in trouble on the street,” said Armagost.
The Music Center also has programs for dance and children’s gymnastics.
The dance program is designed to introduce young students to styles such as ballet, tap, jazz, improvisation and ethnic dance. It is broken up into three different levels based on age and experience. “Most students start at age 4, but some children start as early as 3.” said Music Center Director Robyn Gray.
The gymnastics program is offered for children age 4 and up. Classes are determined by each student’s skill level. Each student is taught the basics of tumbling, low-beam, vault and bar skills. They are also taught basic floor routines timed to music.
After 35 years of growth, the Saint Francis Music Center continues to look to the future.
“Our biggest goal going forward is to become more financially independent so we can continue to grow the program,” said Director Robyn Gray. “We also want to develop programs with the grant for violence prevention.”
To learn more, contact the St. Francis Music Center at (320) 632-0637, [email protected] or visit sfmusiccenter.org.