Musical collaborations abound in Northside Celebration

Singer Dennis Spears, one of the organizers, listens during rehearsal.
Singer Dennis Spears, one of the organizers of the Northside Celebration, listens during rehearsal in Minneapolis on Wednesday.
Euan Kerr | MPR News

As a large group of people swirled around the Minneapolis North High School auditorium, Dennis Spears was mildly embarrassed.

"To see something that I blurted out become this, I'm just blown away," he said.

"This" is a pair of concerts this weekend that will bring together classical, hip-hop, gospel and jazz to create the Northside Celebration.

Spears is well-known as a singer and actor. But he also works with programs at the Capri Theater in north Minneapolis. A couple years ago, he was at a lunch with representatives of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and other community leaders. They were looking for ways to build on the SPCO's concerts at the Capri.

Members of the Northside Celebration Choir
Members of the Northside Celebration Choir, specially formed for the two weekend concerts, focus on the conductor during a rehearsal.
Euan Kerr | MPR News

And that's when Spears blurted: Why not draw on other music coming out of north Minneapolis and celebrate the community?

"Based on the fact that this is a very spiritual-based community, the idea of mixing that spiritual sound, that gospel music sound, with an orchestra was just so exciting to me," he said.

As the group discussed it in the following months, the idea grew. Sanford Moore, known for his musical arrangements, brought together a specially formed Northside Celebration Choir, drawing on local churches and other organizations. Moore said the audiences on Saturday and Sunday are going to hear a lot of different music.

"From spoken word to rap to poetry to orchestral pieces, to gospel pieces, to a little in-between," he said.

Moore said north Minneapolis has been having a rough time of it recently, and it's good to change the focus.

"There's more about the Northside than shootings," he said. "These are people that love the Northside. I spend a lot of time on the Northside. I used to live on the Northside, and I want dialogue and awareness about the beautiful things that are happening on the Northside."

Musician and arranger Sanford Moore is one of the organizers of the event.
Musician and arranger Sanford Moore, one of the organizers of the event, plays piano for some of the numbers at the concert.
Euan Kerr | MPR News

The organizers decided they wanted to create a little more of their own Northside beauty. The result was a specially commissioned piece.

"I think we really needed some kind of piece that was about this particular event," said SPCO Artistic Director Kyu-Young Kim.

Kim said they commissioned another Northside resident, composer Tim Takach, to create a piece for orchestra and choir. Takach said the idea was to create a piece that both welcomed the community and reflected it. So they began gathering statements from Northsiders about their families and their neighborhood.

"And after that happened, we asked Desdamona to come in and do her magic," he said.

Spoken word artist Desdamona took statements from young people.
Spoken word artist Desdamona took statements from young people about living on the north side of Minneapolis and adapted them for "True North."
Euan Kerr | MPR News

Spoken-word artist Desdamona took the writings and molded them into a form to go with Takach's music. This kind of collaboration is a new experience for her, as was clear when she heard an early rehearsal of the finished piece, called "True North."

"And it was interesting to hear it," she said. "At that point it didn't even feel like anything I had created because it had become something brand new."

The community has been snapping up the tickets. They are free but require reservations through the SPCO's website. Only a few seats are left for the shows at 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at North High.

Composer Tim Takach and spoken word artist Desdamona listen.
Composer Tim Takach and spoken word artist Desdamona listenas the Northside Celebration Choir rehearses.
Euan Kerr | MPR News

Takach said he hopes the event will encourage people to learn more about the Northside.

"Even if that's just a small portion of the audience, lighting those few fires is worth it, because then it grows from there, and people take that fire home and spread it to others," he said.

The SPCO hopes to build on this event in north Minneapolis and may program similar events in other communities.

Dennis Spears said it all adds up. He's going to build community by asking people at the concerts to each introduce themselves to three other people.

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