‘Bon Voyage’ to Heritage Singers

After 40 years of music – specifically men’s choral music – the Heritage Singers of Minot will present a gift to the city that has supported them, a free concert at 4 p.m. Sunday at Ann Nicole Nelson Hall at Minot State University.

The group has come full circle, with its founder, Joseph Hegstad, visiting from Arizona to sing, direct and meet his singers and fans at an informal reception for him and his wife Jackie in the lobby after the concert.

“This is our ‘Bon Voyage and 40th Anniversary’ concert,” Heritage Singers publicist Mike Kelly said. About 40 choir members, their wives and families, totaling more than 100 in all, will soon fly to Italy for a 10-day singing tour. One of the Minot concert selections will be a Latin number prepared to be sung at a Vatican Mass, and another song reflects the tour, a new arrangement of “Going to the Holy City.”

Hegstad will sing a solo for “They Call The Wind Mariah,” principal chorus director Mark Schnabel noted.

“I think a piece the audience will especially enjoy is ‘Amazing Grace,’ with Warren Martin, an original member of Heritage Singers,” Schnabel said. “We will combine that with the bossa nova beat of ‘How Sweet the Sound,’ with Bob Brigg’s saxophone adding to it.”

The Minot concert, an effort to compress four decades of music plus an advance glance at the coming tour, is a gift to the community for its amazing support, Schnabel said.

Schnabel, who directs along with Mark Witteman and Dave and Mike Jensen, said it was difficult to narrow down the song choices because of the diversity of music the choir performs. Schnabel noted Heritage Singers prefer to have a member introduce numbers, rather than the director handle all the microphone work. John Scheeler will handle those honors Sunday.

“Our music ranges from classical to foot-stomping gospel,” Kelly said, “with lots of patriotic and Americana tossed in, too.”

Thus, Sunday’s selections may include “Brothers, Sing On,” “River in Judea,” “Benedicamus Domino” and “Shenandoah,” “We Rise Again,” and the longtime favorite, “Ghost Riders In the Sky.” The concert will conclude with the traditional Heritage Singers choice, “God Bless America.”

Schnabel stressed that the concert is free, with no free will donation taken.

“Just come, see Joe and Jackie and enjoy the music,” he said. “It’s our gift to the city and businesses and individuals who have supported us so loyally.”

He praised accompanist Lynn Jensen and thanked Bob Demke, who directed the Heritage Singers for 11 or 12 years after Hegstad left. Schnabel said Minot State University’s generosity in providing performance space was greatly appreciated, as well as that of First Lutheran Church, where the singers rehearse each Thursday evening during the school year at 7 p.m.

Warren Martin recalled the first Heritage Singers concert was held at the church, about 1979, five years after the group began.

“Pastor Wade Davick, a Heritage Singer, was serving the church then,” he said.

The chorus’ history has been filled with high points, including performing for the King of Norway, singing in the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., and appearing at the opening of North Dakota’s Heritage Center in Bismarck. Schnabel noted the group also has been invited for the November opening of a large expansion to the museum. They have recorded several CDs, including some for Christmas, a gospel-focused record, patriotic songs and a mixture taped on their tour to Ireland and Scotland.

Members are delighted by attendance at several annual events, including a performance of Handl’s “Messiah,” which is recorded and rebroadcast on television each year. The singers don tuxedos again for the formal “Festivals of Lessons and Carols” at First Lutheran each December, and the annual Heritage Singers Variety Show in February, with zany skits and costumes accompanying the music. They also perform frequently at other events, such as a Sibyl Center concert in Stanley.

“Heritage Singers was organized for guys who want to continue singing after they were done with school,” Martin said. “Many past and current members have had no vocal training; they just love to sing, so we present a wide range of what is available for men’s choruses.”

Obviously, area audiences appreciate their choices and the preparation for each performance.

“We’re blessed with a large number of supporters – individuals who come to hear us and businesses that help us,” Schnabel said. “Imagine 300 people in the crowd on each of six nights for the variety show every year!”

Heritage Singers tours abroad have included Norway, Germany and Austria, and Scotland and Ireland.

This year’s Italian trip includes visits to Venice, Padua, Tuscany, Bologna, Florence and a medieval village nearby, and Assissi. Three days in Rome and the Vatican, including the June 19 Mass in St. Peter’s, will be jammed with adventures, including Rome’s Colosseum and a tour of the famous leaning tower at Pisa.

“We hope our final concert will be an impromptu one at the famed Pantheon,” Schnabel said.

The Heritage Singers, who consider themselves American ambassadors, will join other choruses in several locations, including Padua, Venice and Lucca.

“That is really the high point of every trip,” Scheeler said, “not seeing the famous sights, but to make music with other people. They may speak a different language, but music brings us together.”

Togetherness is a familiar theme to the singers.

“We are really a family in this great group,” member Don Andrews said. He said the Mouse River flood of 2011 was an example of that. In spite of a third of the members having their homes flooded, they gathered to help each other and offer support for others. They aided Longfellow and Ramstad schools recovery efforts, raised funds and contribute to MSU music scholarships.

The Heritage Singers include tandems such as brothers or father-and-son teams, but the entire group creates its own family, sharing much more than just music.