Anthony choir brings fireworks to winter concert

Norling performs Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” at the Susan B. Anthony Middle School Winter Choir Concert. Credit: Submitted Photo

One of the stage microphones kept cutting out on choir director Nicholas R. Kelly, but that was the only thing that didn’t work at Tuesday night’s concert featuring the 6th, 7th and 8th grade choirs of Susan B. Anthony Middle School.

On an amazing Minneapolis music day that brought news of Prince’s six-night stand at the Dakota, the commencement of the auction of The Replacements’ “Songs For Slim” (Dunlap) benefit EP, the announcement of Trampled By Turtles’s 10-year anniversary three-night stand at First Avenue, and Brianna Lane and St. Dominic’s Trio holding down residencies at the 331 Club and Nye’s, respectively — the public-school kids proved yet again that the talent pool in the Mill City runs very deep.

“Hi I’m Claire, and I’m in 8th grade and I’m singing ‘Skinny Love’ by Bon Iver,” said Claire Pince early in the program, as she settled down at the piano and adjusted the microphone. “But I have a cold and my voice is going, so if it cracks be nice.”

She needn’t have worried. While part of the concert’s unique appeal was in hearing how the various soloists battled their nerves and summoned the courage to sing extremely emotional and personal songs, Pince and many others provided guts and beauty born of risk and reward, portending great things for all concerned and bringing to mind a quote from Los Angeles Times critic David Ackert that’s been making the rounds with Twin Cities musicians this week:

“Singers and musicians are some of the most driven, courageous people on the face of the earth. They deal with more day-to-day rejection in one year than most people do in a lifefime. Every day they face the financial challenge of living a freelance lifestyle, the disrespect of people who think they should get real jobs, and their own fear that they’ll never work again. …. Singers and Musicians are beings who have tasted life’s nectar in that crystal moment when they poured out their creative spirit and touched another’s heart. In that instant, they were as close to magic, God, and perfection as anyone could ever be. And in their own hearts, they know that to dedicate oneself to that moment is worth a thousand lifetimes.”

Over the course of 60 minutes, the young voices rose into the frigid January night and warmed the hearts of parents, grandparents, siblings, and classmates, and even clammed up a few loudmouth boys in the fifth row. Sarah Simons brought down the house (and brought out a phalanx of videophones) with her mesmerizing version of Anna Kendrick’s “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” using only a paper cup and her palms as percussion instruments, and that was but one of many highlights from the soloists.

Zoey Norling’s version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” was as graceful and indefatigable as that graceful and indefatigable song itself; Hema Patel and C. Gracie Brandt-Fontaine’s  heartfelt turn on the Irish heartbreaker “Danny Boy” had me dabbing at my eyes with my new winter scarf, and when it comes to summing up the rollercoaster of teen and pre-teen emotions, Fiona Kelly and Amanda Stagg killed the tender outsider anthem “Out Here On My Own” from Fame.

Clad in white shirts and black pants or skirts (and beautiful purple scarves whose fabric was paid for and designed by Cypress Kelley’s mother Ava), the choirs shone as always, but under the direction of Kelly this year, did so with even more verve and confidence. 

The musical diversity of the entire show was refreshing unto itself, and the program ended with the 8th graders flexing their versatility on a giddy reading of the ’50s pop tune “Lollipop,” the ethereal “Five Hebrew Love Songs,” the always-exuberant gospel work-out “Freedom Is Coming,” and a sprawling arrangement of Katy Perry’s “Firework,” which, like the whole of the concert, made a cold winter night feel like summer.

The night ended with Kelly making a plea for donations for a new keyboard in the school’s music room, and the 300 or so audience members walked out into the brilliant starlit night with a song in their hearts and that is never a bad thing. 

Jim Walsh ( lives and grew up in East Harriet. He can be reached at