A crazy, good time

Rhubarb can be used for more than desserts it can be used to make “sweet” music.

Archie Kress, Bill and Betty Niemann, the Rev. Janet Hernes-Mathistad and a few other members of Bethany Lutheran Church in Minot will pucker up and play rhubarb flutes during the annual rhubarb festival Wednesday from 5:30 to 7 p.m. in the church at 215-3rd Ave. SE. Kari Files will direct the group as they play The Blue Danube Waltz. Other musicians will also provide entertainment, and KX weatherman Tom Schrader will be the master of ceremonies.

“We’ll probably have time to practice and learn only one song,” Mathistad said, as she laughed about playing the flute.

There are about 20 flutes and each has its own note. Someone will accompany them on a rhubarb rainstick, which is a hollowed-out rhubarb stalk with rice enclosed in it.

Anyone who has grown the vegetable might well be aware of the “woody” seed stalks that appear during the growing season. The seed stalks, which are a mix of red and green rhubarb, are hollow and when holes are drilled into them they become a musical instrument.

“It’s like a dried gourd,” Mathistad said. “Only it’s tube-shaped, instead of gourd shaped.”

Bill Niemann said the stalks were laid out and allowed to dry. Exacto knives were used to cut the holes and then Betty Niemann painted the stalks and shellacked them.

Kress said he has helped with the rhubarb picking for a number of years.

“We, the pickers, bring the rhubarb over to the church where we wash it, slice it and freeze it. Then we send it home with the ladies and they make a dessert out of it and bring it back to the church for a dessert bakeoff,” Kress said.

A roast pork and baked bean meal will be served in conjunction with the competition.

Last spring when the men were picking the rhubarb for the rhubarb festival, which dates back to 2005, Kress came up with the idea that something should be able to be done with the hollow stalks maybe a horn or something could be made.

Files, who is organist and handbell choir director at Bethany Lutheran Church, chimed in on the fun and said her husband, Steve, had made her an Irish low D whistle out of a curtain rod and it worked really well. She was certain a flute tone hole would be easy to cut on a rhubarb stalk.

“From there Bill and Betty took over and this is what we have,” Kress said as he pointed to the 20 to 25 “instruments that are gonna make noise.” The flutes make up an octave and a half, Hernes-Mathistad said.

Betty said she got the flutes prepared to the point of having them painted. She met with Kari on New Year’s Eve day in the church and as Kari played them she lined them up. In little time there was an octave of flutes to be used for the presentation.

“The first time Kari and I got together we played them and we got decent notes,” she added. “I suggested to Kari and the others that we try to go for a bell choir-type thing, so that’s what we went for.”

The consensus of the group was “we’ve had fun with it.”

The first year rhubarb was picked by members of the church for use with their stewardship event. The rhubarb desserts at the event went over so well, Kress suggested a rhubarb festival. The next year an ad was put in the church bulletin asking people to donate their rhubarb.

“There was so much rhubarb people were mad if you didn’t come and pick their rhubarb,” Kress said with a chuckle.

Mathistad said Kress had an excellent message when rhubarb was used in conjunction with the church stewardship event in 2005.

She remembered the message: “You pick the raw rhubarb stalk, it is bitter and it is hard. You cook it up, boil it up with a cup of sugar, it sweetens it up into a delectable treat. Stewardship all by itself can be hard, bitter and unpleasant but add a cup of grace and stewardship becomes a wonderful gift.”

“The rhubarb festival is held in January because it’s a cold, long, depressing month after you’ve been through the celebration of Christmas,” Mathistad said. “We always have fun at the festival.”