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High school choir records new CD

New Richmond High School's Kammerchor Choir will release a CD in mid-May. Above is the design that will be featured on the CDs cover. Photo submitted

Andy Steffen is unconventional when it comes to composing choir pieces, that's because he's a high school student with no music theory training.

Steffen's latest piece, "I am Wild," a piece inspired by the poetry of Sara Teasdale, will be featured on the high school's upcoming CD and performed at the May 11 concert.

"It's a bunch of trial and error," Steffen said of his musical pieces. "I just take it and make it my own."

"I am Wild" is not the first piece Steffen's composed; he also composed pieces his sophomore and junior years.

The process is simple. Steffen feels the music and writes what he believes sounds right.

"I don't follow the rules," he said.

When a piece is finished, he goes over it with Andy Schroetter, the vocal instructor at the high school.

Schroetter listens to it and the two discuss why certain decisions were made. In the end, a few changes are made and the piece is complete.

Steffen discovered Teasdale last year when he performed a piece with her poetry, he said.

"I really enjoy her poetry," he said. "It has personal anguish and, while it's not something I can really identify with, it has something behind it."

Steffen first decided to attempt composing after hearing Eric Whitacre's music. He was was captivated the first time he heard it.

"He uses the voice in ways that I had never heard before," Steffen said.

Steffen was able to meet Whitacre last week at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis.

"I got a picture and he signed a piece of music I own," Steffen said with a smile. "It was a dream come true."

After graduating, Steffen plans to attend the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire as a music education major and minor in composing, he said.

College is only going to make Steffen better, Schroetter said.

"He'll be taught the basic rules of composing which will help give him some guidelines," he said. "Right now he's just starting to understand things."

College will be a challenge, Schroetter said. It will require Steffen to think about composing differently, but will give him a model to follow and help him understand the choices he's making.

"It's much like the military," Schroetter said. "They'll break you down and help build you back up."

"I'm excited for college when I think about that," Steffen said.

Singing isn't the only music in Steffen's life; he also plays piano, plays in the concert and marching bands, runs cross country and does track and field.

If he had to choose between his activities, Steffen said he'd pick choir.

"Singing is so much more personal," he said. "It's something you produce through your own body; with band, it's through an instrument."

Some instruments, like the piano, play a big part in composing a vocal piece, Schroetter said.

Steffen has played the piano for 10 years.

"It gives him that avenue to pound it out as he hears it in his head," Schroetter said. "Without those skills it wouldn't be as easy for him."

"I am Wild" will be heard long after May's choir concert. It's one of several pieces that will be featured on the Kammerchor Choir's CD.

The high school's Kammerchor Choir, which consists of 53 students, will record a CD in April at Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Maple Grove, Minn.

The choir department recorded their first CD three years ago, Schroetter said.

"That year had a fantastic senior class with some really great singers, so the CD was recorded as a way to commemorate them," he said.

This year has equally talented students, he said.

The group will record at Lord of Life because of the buildings acoustic quality, he said.

"The acoustics will make the group sound even better than they are," Schroetter said. "The way the building is designed helps boost the lower frequencies (male voices)."

It will also teach the students what an acoustically sound room can do to their overall sound, he said.

The CDs will be available in mid-May for $20, Schroetter said. Purchases can be made through the music department, any choir student or online.

Steffen is excited to be featured on the CD.

"It'll be a lasting memory," he said. "It's really exciting to hear my piece sung. I have a huge smile from ear to ear when I hear it."

Jackie Grumish
Jackie Grumish has been a reporter with the New Richmond News since 2008. She holds degrees in journalism and fine art from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill. Before coming to New Richmond, Jackie worked as the city government reporter at a daily newspaper in Aberdeen, S.D. 
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