Enthusiastic shouts and pounding feet greeted Judy Hoeft, director of Crow River Youth Choir, Tuesday afternoon as 33 fourth- and fifth-graders flooded into the sanctuary at Vineyard United Methodist Church in Hutchinson. They were there for the Crow River Youth Choir weekly rehearsal.

With the addition of adult musicians Brian Brosz on electric guitar and John Beck playing percussion, excitement pulsed through the students in anticipation of "United We Sing," the title of the choir's grand finale concert 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 27, at Vineyard.

This year's choir members are from Park Elementary, New Discoveries Montessori Academy — both in Hutchinson — and Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart Elementary School in Hector. They are performing a variety of music ranging from patriotic songs such as "America, America" and "This Land is Your Land" to songs from other countries including "Oh, How Lovely is the Evening" (Germany), "Hava Nashira" (Israel) and "De Colores" (Mexico). There will be American favorites, too, including "Rock Around the Clock" and "Seize the Day" from the musical "Newsies."

The choir made its first public performance at Coming Together in Song, the fundraising concert for Common Cup Ministry the Sunday before Thanksgiving. 

The group also entertained at the Crow River Singers Holiday Concert in December at Peace Lutheran Church. The group sang several numbers including "America, America," "Mama Don't Allow," "Oh How Lovely is The Evening" and "Holly Jolly Christmas."

According to director Judy Hoeft, the mini performances are previews of their big show on Thursday.

FROM THE CHOIR MEMBERS

Fourth-grader Greta Kuttner joined Crow River Youth Choir because she loves to sing. 

"It's fun to do," she said. "I don't mind the rehearsals. It fills in my free time and gets me out of the house so I'm not sitting on the couch with my nose buried in a tablet."

When Kuttner isn't singing, she enjoys swimming with High Tides Swimming Club in Hutchinson and dance. She is looking forward to fifth-grade band next year and hopes to play the clarinet. 

Kuttner's friend, Leyton Yerks, also a fourth-grader, is a member of the choir. He and Kuttner were in Park Elementary's third-grade musical last year. He played the role of King Rhythm and Kuttner was Queen Melody in "Princess Bluebird and the Seven Dwarves." 

"I love to sing," Yerks said. "It was really fun to sing a duet (with Kuttner) in the third-grade musical." 

He enjoys playing the recorder in school and is looking forward to fifth-grade band where he, too, hopes to play the clarinet.

"I've been looking forward to it since second grade," he said. "I love the sound."

When he isn't singing, Yerks can be found swimming with High Tides. 

Kuttner and Yerks also performed together in "The Nutcracker" ballet produced by Touch of Grace dance studio in Hutchinson. 

"We have a lot of things we do together," Kuttner said. 

Fifth-grader Avery Schiller joined Crow River Youth Choir because she saw it as a "really good opportunity."

"I've liked to sing since I was little," she said. "My mom is a good singer. I start vocal lessons in March. It (choir rehearsals) warms me up I guess."

She also plays the flute in the fifth-grade band and hopes to take guitar or piano lessons. She's leaning toward piano because "it sounds prettier to me."

When she isn't making music, Schiller enjoys playing softball, swimming and playing outside. 

The Park Elementary student said she would recommend joining the youth choir. 

"It's really fun," she said. "I've actually learned a lot about music. It's a good opportunity."

Patrick Wereowinski, a fifth-grader, joined the youth choir because he, too, loves to sing and there aren't a lot of vocal opportunities available. 

"I feel like I'm used to singing by myself," he said. "I can come here as a weekly routine," where he can experience the camaraderie of others who enjoy singing, too.   

Wereowinski also likes the opportunity to perform in front of an audience. He was able to overcome his fear of being in front of others thanks to participating in the third-grade musical. He played the role of Simba in "Lion King Kids" in 2018.

When he isn't involved in music, the Park Elementary student enjoys playing baseball, playing with his dog and playing with friends.

Like Schiller, he, too, recommends joining the youth choir. 

"It's a very good learning experience," he said. "It's nice to break at the end of the day."

HOW IT STARTED

While this is the third year of Crow River Youth Choir, it's the first year it includes fourth- and fifth-grade students. Past years, the after-school activity was restricted to fifth-graders only. 

“We decided we wanted to service more children and provide opportunity for more children,” Hoeft said in an earlier Leader interview. “We thought fourth and fifth grade would be a good fit for our goals for the group."

Hoeft started the school choir with accompanist Naomi Shadis. The two women saw an opportunity. While there was an elementary band program at Park, there was no elementary choir program. To remedy this, Hoeft and Shadis conducted a series of Park and Rec choir programs. They were successful but not sustainable.

To change that, they created the Crow River Youth Choir, which is open to all Hutchinson-area students. To support the after-school activity, they received a Southwest Minnesota Arts Council grant. The first season took place during the 2017-18 school year. 

The choir recruits new members in September and meets weekly during the school year through February. The season ends with its public concert. 

In addition to the new fourth-grade members, Hoeft recruited a new accompanist after Shadis moved to Minneapolis. Joining them is Cathy Witter, music teacher at BLHS School District.

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