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The Minnesota Orchestra pays a visit to Paul Bunyan (and Babe, too)

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Minnesota Orchestra brass quintet in Bemidji.
Tuesday morning a brass quintet from the Minnesota Orchestra set up at the feet of Bemidji's Paul and Babe statues to play a free concert. From left to right, Robert Dorer on trumpet, Herbert Winslow on French horn, Steven Campbell on tuba, Kari Sundstrom on trombone and Douglas Carlsen on trumpet.
John Enger / MPR News

When some of the Minnesota Orchestra's finest arrived on the shore of Lake Bemidji on Tuesday, they were ready for business.

  On a crisp, fall morning in northern Minnesota, the musicians buttoned down their plaid flannel shirts and warmed up in the shadow of the iconic concrete Paul and Babe statues.

  "We're lumber-jacked up," French horn player Herbert Winslow said. "You have to wear plaid if you're playing for Paul Bunyan."

  The orchestra is in Bemidji as part of its ongoing Common Chords outreach program. Tuesday offered the first performances, with the orchestra's brass quintet kicking off a week of events. Smaller chamber ensembles like the quintet are set to play informal venues across the city, with two full orchestra concerts Friday and Saturday evening.

  The Common Chords program is designed to bring the culture and sound of the orchestra to rural Minnesota towns — to people who generally have to take a road trip to hear the orchestra's world-class musicians.

  Program coordinator Mele Willis tries to bring that sound to communities on local terms.

  "Thus the concert in front of Paul and Babe," she said.

Fighting the wind.
Herbert Winslow on French horn, Steven Campbell on tuba and Kari Sundstrom on trombone used dozens of clothespins to keep their sheet music from blowing away.
John Enger / MPR News

  Before the morning concert the musicians arrived to scope out the location. It was cold and windy, not ideal for an outdoor performance. Stacks of sheet music snapped against stands in the breeze like small sails.

  "Don't worry," trumpet player Robert Dorer said, "I brought clothespins."

  Earlier this year the orchestra held a similar set of performances in Hibbing. Outreach events are back on the orchestra's schedule after a contentious labor-management struggle that kept the orchestra silent for more than a year.

  Trombone player Kari Sundstrom said the musicians are happy to be performing in Minnesota again. During the lockout, he jumped from Chicago to Seattle and other places looking for any classical music work.

  "If I was better at jazz," he said, "I would have been playing in the clubs."

  Willis originally planned to bring the orchestra to Bemidji in April of 2012, but the 16-month lockout forced the rescheduling of this week's events. That delay left Del Lyren, a jazz and brass professor in the Bemidji State University music department, waiting for more than two years.

  Before the orchestra lockout, Lyren worked with Willis to organize the Common Chords events. During the lockout, he kept an eye on the developments.

  "I had a sign in my lawn saying, 'Support the Musicians,'" he said. "No one but me knew what it meant."

  For Lyren, the opening notes from Douglas Carlsen's trumpet were a triumph. The fact that about 70 people chose to brave the breeze for a morning musicale seemed a good sign for the later events.

  "It was nice to hear some really good musicians," said seasonal Bemidji resident Maureen Saunders, "as opposed to all that tone-deaf singing on Miss America last night."