The Fitzgerald Theater and the MSC Choir : a beautiful mix

By Dayle Quigley

I will apologize right up front for the fact that this performance does not  fall into my proposed quest of small town Wisconsin venues. St. Paul is not a small town and it is obviously not in Wisconsin. It is, however, right across the border and easily accessible to a large number of Wisconsinites. More importantly, no matter where this event occurred it deserves to be reported upon.

On Monday, December 6th, I decided to spend the evening at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul. This theater sits on Exchange Street and is home to Garrison Keillor and A Prairie Home Companion. It is stately and grounded. It has the wonderful balconies and balcony boxes I so adore. There is something wonderfully comforting about sitting in red velvet seats in a building without acoustic baffles. I’m not even that old and I relish them. The evening I visited, Garrison Keillor was not there. No instead I went to immerse myself in pure unadulterated joy and passion of young people. You see, the Fitzgerald Theater also sits across the street from the McNally Smith College of Music, a college filled with young adults following their dreams, honing their skills, and then putting it out there for everyone to enjoy. McNally Smith is the baby of Jack McNally and Doug Smith and began in 1985 as Music Tech College.  It’s name was changed in 2005 to honor the founders. It has a student body of over 600  pursuing careers in everything from performance music to sound engineering to music business. Several years ago the college accreditation body informed the school that a large choir was necessary with a “conductor”.  McNally Smith is not your typical music college. It is not “traditional” and flourishes with small group ensembles and a range of musical genres that is limited only by one’s own musical imagination. So a large choir with a conductor seemed quite an enigma. But let me tell you, it works.

The program for the evening consisted of four musical choirs ranging in size from 10 to 200. This was no more a “traditional” winter concert then the school has a traditional program. It was however an accurate representation of the school and all it professes.  The groups are a microcosm of the school, as different as they are similar.  They pull music from all over the world, from all genres. They sing a cappella as frequently as they sing with a back up band with electric guitar solos. They add drum groups and dancers. They scat. They do vocal percussion. Truly the sky’s the limit. The performance ended with the MSC choir.  At McNally Smith, all students no matter what their stated focus must spend time in the MSC choir. With the school 75% male and 25% female, the choir has no problem finding bass, baritones, and tenors. Despite the fact that no Christmas carols were sung, the group sang about the essence of the season and the essence of the school, one of unification, of coming together and celebrating our differences. There is something magical about watching people who are passionate about what they do, the joy that spills out. You can’t help but connect with them. This is even more acutely experienced when the arts are involved – music, dance, visual arts. Is it something coded deep in our DNA, some primal trait, or is it simply that when the arts are involved you get to see a glimpse into another person’s soul something you don’t get to appreciate when your accountant does your taxes no matter how passionate they are about it?
Bottom line Review:
1. Fitzgerald Theater – beautiful old theater, short on leg room, long on nostalgia
2. McNally Smith College Choirs – well worth seeing, free and open to the public, a must see experience. If you didn’t want to be a musician on the way in, you’ll want to be one on the way out. Check out their website, they have one concert each semester.
Next review in 10 short days.

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