If you’re looking for a positive, upbeat experience that’s good for your heart and soul, don’t miss the third annual Songs of Hope Concert.

This year’s event is at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at New Journey UCC Church in Hutchinson. The award-winning production showcases the talents of young international students age 9-21 from countries across the globe, including: Vietnam, China, Germany, Italy, England, Finland, Turkey, Israel, Jamaica, Colombia and the United States.

The Songs of Hope Concert Tour takes place every summer since 1994, and through the years the project has earned a well-deserved reputation for lively, upbeat shows. The concert’s newest installment in 2019 promises to live up to this reputation. With 70 youth and adults on stage, the company will present a mix of international music and U.S. songs.

“For the U.S. music, we always have a couple of songs with timely messages,” said Jeanne Junge, artistic director. “One of the themes we’re exploring is about a world grappling with how to meet the needs of desperate refugees searching for safety and survival.”

“There have always been debates about refugees and immigrants in the United States, so this is not a new issue, but suddenly it’s a hot issue again,” said Tom Surprenant, program director. “For our audiences, we have some songs from our country’s past and present that explore the issues in different ways.”

With the political focus on immigration, Surprenant said, it was surprising they had no visa problems this year.

“We’ve learned over the years, every embassy is different,” he said. “This year, we didn’t know. We’ve had a year of tension between U.S. and China. We weren’t sure about Turkey, China and Vietnam. We have students from all those countries. Politics of the world has generally not affected us. Parents and schools want to send their students/children. They’re interested in that multinational, multicultural experience.”

The only year Surprenant said they felt the impact of global politics was in 2002.

“We felt the effects (of Sept. 11),” he said. “It was more of an issue of terrorist attacks. Parents were worried that it wasn’t safe to be in the U.S. We have children in Belfast, Northern Ireland, whose parents worried about the United States. Way back in 2002, things were a little different. Tensions were higher then. It’s always a surprise what happens in the world and how the world will affect Songs of Hope.”

In addition to covering serious themes during the concert, Junge and Surprenant certainly plan to offer up some fun, too.

“It’s summer, after all,” Surprenant said, “and this is a concert by kids for kids of all ages. And we all know kids like to have fun, right?”

Joining the students in concert will be adult musicians: new vocal director Maddie Franz, Cheryl Kramer on keyboards, multi-instrumentalist David Burk and Venezuelan-born percussionist Angel Diaz.

Founded in 1990

Sounds of Hope has been uniting children and young adults from countries around the world for 28 years. Its goal is to make music together. The organization’s mission is to celebrate the world’s cultures through the presentation of musical concerts performed by global youth, and to remind audiences of what we have in common: hopes and dreams for a world that is clean, healthy, peaceful and equally shared.

The international music project was founded by Junge and Surprenant in 1990. Junge has been artistic director since its first season in 1991.

It was originally planned as a one-time happening, but that changed when the founders received so much positive feedback. Since 1994, Sounds of Hope has been an annual event.

Among Surprenants many responsibilities is raising money. This past week, he submitted an application to the Minnesota State Arts Board for funding for next summer.

“I’m raising money for 2020,” he said. “It’s a little surreal to be talking about the 2020 project when we’re starting rehearsals for the 2019 group.”

The direct costs of the project are about $100,000. According to Surprenant, it covers the cost of renting the dormitory they all live in throughout the project, feeding the kids, paying musicians, renting a school bus and buying liability insurance.

Fundraising is done throughout the year and support comes from a variety of sources including: tuition, contributions from corporations and foundations, public money, ticket sales, freewill offerings and private donations.

“The Minnesota State Arts Board has been a regular funder of ours for quite a few years,” Surprenant said. “I do it (fundraising) between other parts of the project. The nice thing about being established is, we don’t have to introduce ourselves and scramble for money. We have to always come up with a new musical program. For any nonprofit, always doing the same old, same old, you would lose your funding. You have to be dreaming, planning and creating, and I think that’s a good thing. You have to excite them with what you’re doing, the effect you’re having on the people you’re reaching.”

Surprenant said they will start the student recruitment process for 2020 this fall by reaching out to countries in which they have relationships with the hope of receiving applications before March 1. About 85 percent of the participants will receive some type of financial assistance to participate.

“We can give it because we have the financial support for the project from individual contributors,” he said. “We’ve been around long enough we can find money. If you’re a nonprofit, you’re always looking.”

Students do not audition to be part of Songs of Hope. Their schools choose many of the participants.

“Some of the young kids who come are very involved in music, and some have no involvement at all, “Surprenant said. “They are interested in the multicultural experience. Once everyone gets into rehearsals and feels the excitement, they find themselves working together to accomplish something. At some point, everyone gets into it.”

Remarkably, there have been participants who never have sung before who end up becoming professional musicians because they’ve discovered a gift.

Students age 9-13 can return each year until they are 16. The company also takes five or six interns each summer. Interns apply for the positions. Team leaders are also part of the group.

On the road

Songs of Hope is performing 27 concerts in 18 days in cities throughout the state thanks to General Operating Support and Arts Access grants from the Minnesota State Arts Board. In addition to Hutchinson, this year’s tour includes stops in Rochester, Chatfield, Lake City, Sandstone, Mora, Duluth, Cloquet and the Twin Cities. Following tradition, they kicked off this summer’s tour with a pre-concert Fourth of July appearance in Roseville.

“We prefer going to cities with smaller populations, like in the range of 2,000 to 15,000,” Junge said. “With Arts Board grants, we are able to take our global kids around the state of Minnesota while sharing their music with local audiences.”

According to Surprenant, it was three years ago the Songs of Hope Project reached out to New Journey UCC Church.

“If you want to listen to an Ethiopian choir or a Chinese singer, there are opportunities (in larger cities),” he said. “It’s not so easy to do in Hutchinson and Sandstone. We make it our main purpose to go to cities with populations under 10,000. It was an Arts Tour Minnesota grant that brought us to Hutchinson the first time. We like the small, intimate venues like New Journey. That familiarity is nice for everybody.”

They connected via the New Journey website.

“We sent an email to Pastor Jill Warner and before long we received a warm, welcoming response,” he said. “We’re very happy about that and delighted that the relationship keeps growing stronger every year.”

At the end of the day, Surprenant said it’s the international family that gets created during the project that keeps him going.

“You watch the kids arrive strangers from faraway countries and within 10 days maximum,” he said, “they are starting to interact freely, becoming friends, talking about each other’s cultures — something magical happens that’s the best part of Songs of Hope.”

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