The vocal music program at White Bear Lake Area High School has a long and storied tradition. The high school itself is split into two campuses, the North Campus which houses grades 9 and 10, and the South Campus for grades 11 and 12. This unique split (one of only 2-3 like it in the country!) was the result of a school board decision to no longer support two separate high schools in the White Bear Lake district. White Bear Lake High School (currently the North Campus) housed grades 9-12 from its opening until 1984. When the decision was made to open Mariner High School (now the South Campus) in 1972, the district had 2 competing high schools, both grades 9-12. A.B. (Bud) Engen had been the long standing HS choral director at White Bear Lake HS, and when Mariner opened, David Briggs came on as director there. The two schools flourished as separate entities from 1972 until 1984 when the determination was made that the two high school system no longer fit the needs of the community, and thus came the two campus (North and South) system. The two campus system has been in place since that time, and while it makes it challenging for some programs to exist, the choirs have continued to flourish.
With the opening of the North and South two campus system, Bud Engen took his retirement, which created an opening for the North Campus HS choirs. Larry Adams, who had been teaching junior high choir, moved to North, and this created an opening for Marie Spar (now Dymit) to be hired in the fall of 1984. Dymit began her teaching career in WBL at Central Junior High where she originally taught only general music. She moved on to teaching not only general music but also choir in grades 6-8. In the mid 1990’s, Dymit was given the opportunity to teach the women’s choir at the South Campus when David Briggs was unexpectedly re-assigned part time as a teacher of Chemistry. This opened the door for Dymit to get a feel for high school music, and when Briggs retired in 1999, Dymit made the move to the South Campus full time. She currently teaches .6 at South and .4 at North, where she also teaches a 9th grade treble choir. Her colleague at the North Campus, Wendy Suoja, teaches the other 2 choirs at North, and also the AP Music Theory class at South. Both Dymit and Suoja travel to both buildings every day, which allows for each to assist with sectionals/lessons/honor choir auditions/etc. while the other is rehearsing their respective ensembles. There are currently 5 curricular choirs at WBL area high school, along with 3 “zero hour” ensembles.
St. Andrews Choir
Marie Spar Dymit has worked in the White Bear Lake schools for her entire teaching career except for 2 short breaks. At the conclusion of her first year in WBL, she was laid off due to decreasing enrollment, and subsequently found .5 employment in the West St. Paul Schools at Frances Grass Junior High. Half way through that school year, Dymit was re-hired at .6 in WBL. She finished out that year (1985-86) teaching 1.1 between the two school districts, and the following year was hired full time back in WBL. Dymit also took a one year leave of absence in in 1989-90 to pursue a master’s degree in Vocal Performance Pedagogy at Arizona State University. She returned to WBL upon completing that degree, and will be finishing her career teaching vocal music this spring when she retires (graduates!) with the class of 2018. It has only recently been announced that Suoja will take over at the helm of South Campus as only the third choral director in that building.
Dymit is originally from northern Anoka county where she grew up in the tiny town of Cedar, MN. She attended St. Francis High School where her love for choir and choral music took root. Her first mentor in choral music was her high school director, Lee Carlson. Lee encouraged Dymit to pursue her love of singing, even urging her to audition for the MN All-State Choir. As a member of All-State she learned that there were other choir “nerds” like herself, who truly wanted excellence in their singing at all times. (It should be noted that Concordia University choral director David Mennicke and composer/conductor Craig Hella Johnson also sang in the same MN All-State Choir as Dymit, directed by the legendary Doug McEwen from Arizona State University.)
Dymit went on to attend St. Olaf College in Northfield where she studied voice with Alice T. Larsen. Miss Larsen became one of her most important mentors, as she was one of very few female conductors in her day, and was certainly one who broke through the glass ceiling multiple times. Dymit was a member of the St. Olaf Choir, conducted by Kenneth Jennings, for 3 years, and served as soprano section leader during her senior year. Jennings was another important figure in her development as a young conductor–the elegance that Jennings showed in his conducting was not lost on Dymit, and she seeks to emulate that elegance whenever possible.
After graduating from St. Olaf in 1983 Dymit was not content to “only” teach. She sang for 2 years with the Minnesota Chorale, and in 1985 auditioned for Dale Warland. She was accepted that year into the Dale Warland Singers, and sang with the group every year (except for her year in grad school at ASU) until Dale retired the group in the spring of 2004. Dymit became soprano section leader for the DWS in 1991, and was a frequently heard soloist in concert and on numerous DWS recordings. To this day Dymit maintains a semi-active career as a choral singer; she sings occasionally with the Singers, and has been reunited with Warland on a number of occasions as a singer in the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra Chorale and also the Minnesota Beethoven Festival Chorale, both directed by Warland.
Dymit currently lives in South Minneapolis with her goldendoodle Josie, and is very much looking forward to retirement when she and her man-friend, Bill, can travel anywhere they darn well please…as long as they allow dogs.
Under Dymit’s leadership, the South Campus choirs have received numerous honors, including opportunities to perform at several festivals and conferences, including:
- 2000 fall ACDA conference, Choraliers (SSA) choir
- 2001 and 2012, solo choir, Mariners (select SATB choir), St. Olaf College Choral Day
- 2002 Mariners, special guests in concert with the Dale Warland Singers
- 2005 fall ACDA conference, Mariners
- 2006 fall ACDA conference, Choraliers
- 2010 Mariners earn 3 perfect scores of 40 at contest, class 1
- 2012 and 2016, solo choir, Mariners, Concordia College Choral Festival
- 2013 Choral Arts Finale concert, Choraliers, Concordia University
- 2013 Alice T. Larsen memorial concert, Mariners Women, St. Andrew’s Church
In addition, the choirs from South Campus have toured either annually or biannually to places like New York City, Denver, Salt Lake City, Atlanta, Orlando, San Diego/Los Angeles, and Chicago. In the spring of 2007 the combined choirs from North and South Campus traveled to New York to participate in a Manhattan Concert Productions performance at Carnegie Hall, singing Schubert’s Mass in G.
If asked to name a singular highlight of her teaching career at White Bear Lake High School, Dymit would not even hesitate when answering. In the summer of 2008, one of Dymit’s dearest friends (who incidentally was the mom of one of her choir students) commissioned the great Minnesota composer Stephen Paulus to write a piece for the 2008-2009 Mariners. “i carry your heart with me”, with a text by e.e. cummings, was premiered by the Mariners in the Great Hall on the campus of Bethel University on March 24, 2009 with the composer present in the audience.