M.J. Nelson, USA Community Chorus (Swanville, MN)

Presented By: Brian Stubbs

2015’s ACE Award recipient from the Central District of ADCA-MN is M.J. Nelson (photo L-R: Brian & M.J.), a grant-winning literary artist. I met M.J. in a roundabout way, after being contacted by Matt Ferrell at St. Cloud State University. He had been contacted by this lady looking for a choir to serve as an anchor for a festival she was putting together with the USA Community Chorus. “The USA Community Chorus?,” I thought, “that must be a big-deal choir to have that USA in its name.” I later found out that USA stands for Upsala-Swanville Area. Upsala is a tiny farm town with a population of 427. As it turns out, the USA Community Chorus exists to celebrate Veterans Day every year. They get together and put on a big show featuring the choir, local instrumentalists, and soloists – then disbanding until the same time next year. M.J. is not a singer. She just likes the community chorus and singing, so decided to augment the offerings for the area by writing some grants and putting on a festival.

Two things about M.J.: She thinks big, and she doesn’t understand the word “no.” She calls Craig Jessop, former director of the Singing Sergeants and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. She gets a yes from Craig… but this means that she now needs better forces to pull this thing off. M.J. next gets hold of Matt at SCSU. Matt is surprised, to say the least, that Craig Jessop is coming to a festival with no participants! Matt commits his choir, and gets Steve Dietz in Alexandria (MN) and myself to commit our choirs as well, to form a core group to which area singers could be added. The next Fall we have an amazing weekend – beginning with a master class by Craig Jessop for area directors on Friday night, followed by a day of rehearsal with 300 singers from across the Central District… in Swanville! The concert was attended by about 40 people who watched from the stage. Since the auditorium was too small to house all those singers, they had to perform from the audience and be watched from the stage to make it work. It was an incredible gift to our district – all involved got to work with, and learn from, a true Master.

M.J. repeated the process the next year. Our guest clinician that year was another huge name in our choral world: Jo-Michael Scheibe, from the University of Southern California, Thornton. In SWANVILLE, MN!

There seems to be no plan for M.J. to slow down. I am aware that she has plans for future festivals about three years out, and if I know M.J., she has even more in store. She just hasn’t shared her ideas with anyone yet.

For her outstanding contributions to choral directors and singers in Central Minnesota, we would like to thank M.J. Nelson with an ACE Award.

Brian Stubbs
Vice President, ACDA-MN