Consistency helps maintain a strong program in Pine City

Jennifer Krinke

Jennifer Krinke

The Pine City High School Choir Room is a safe place. It is where students, in the most tumultuous growth years of their lives, can come and find their voice. The rules are clear from 7th grade through 12th grade and are the same for everyone. We will respect each person’s voice, each person’s efforts and each person’s humanity. Our unified goal is to create wonderful music, but our joy is being able to do it together, in a room where there is trust, compassion and grace for all, from all.

Pine City is located half-way between Duluth and the Twin Cities on I-35. A smaller community of about 3,500, it nonetheless boasts many opportunities in the arts. There is an Arts Center, which hosts artists from around the area to showcase their wares, as well as the summer tradition, “Art in the Park” which draws hundreds each Friday to the central park for performing groups from around the state. There is a community theater which has been in existence for nearly 40 years, performing musicals and plays each summer, featuring local talent, to the enjoyment of everyone.

The Pine City School is a direct recipient of continued support by the community for its arts programs. Pine City High School has a long tradition of excellent music groups, with consistency in directors creating the possibility for prosperity along with a supportive administration throughout the years. In the history of the school, there have only been 5 senior high band directors, which has offered an incredible amount of stability to the overall music program. The choir program has not been quite so consistent, but at 23 years, the current director is doing all she can to create the same stability.

The Pine City High School Choir Program features 5 curricular choirs and 2 extra curricular opportunities and currently services over 270 students in grades 7-12. There are two sections of 7th grade choir and two sections of 8th grade choir, which alternate every other day. 9th graders are split into gender specific choirs, along with some upperclass students, and also alternates every other day. Concert Choir meets every day, in a shared period with Concert Band, and features auditioned students in grades 10-12. The select ensemble, Pine City Singers, is drawn from members of Concert Choir and meets twice a week before school. In the early spring, the Junior High Pine City Singers (featuring students in grades 7-9) begin rehearsals of a medley of songs from a popular theme or musical, with a final performance at our Spring Pops Concert in May.

Each choir performs at three concerts per year, with Concert Choir also performing at Homecoming, Large Group Contest, and Graduation. The community shows amazing support of our performing groups by filling our nearly new Auditorium, built in 2014. At 800 seats, it is no small space for a community our size, and yet at Junior High Concerts it will be nearly full and will be completely packed for our Spring Pops Concerts.

One of the great assets of the school is that it is small enough (graduating about 110 students each year) for students to be involved in multiple activities within the school. Students can play a fall sport, be in choir and band, be on the student council, be in a winter sport and a spring sport, all in the same year! Typically, 60% of our Concert Choir is in a sport and nearly 100% are involved in other activities in the school. Despite living in one of the lowest income counties in the state, the students leave high school having been exposed to many diverse opportunities.

The choirs consistently perform challenging music, with the real work beginning in 7th Grade Choir. The 7th graders are seen as future members of Concert Choir and are treated as such. They typically sing 2 part music, unless there are several changed voices that can handle a third part. After each concert, students switch parts, so if they were singing melody, now they sing the harmony part. The understanding is that they are too young for their voice to be finished deciding where it will land, and each of them needs to learn how to do each part. 8th grade choir is the same, only in 3, sometimes 4 parts, depending on the ability of the group. After each concert, students switch parts to gain experience in singing harmony.

Much to their delight, the 8th Grade Choir was asked to perform at the State ACDA Convention in the fall of 2019. The local music boosters organization supported the endeavor and supplied the outfits for each student, and needless to say, it was an awesome experience for these young singers!

Pine City 8th Grade Choir performing at ACDA-MN Convention, Fall 2019

By 9th grade, students are on their way, performing in gender specific choirs, in 3 parts and usually staying with that part for the whole year (unless their voice changes and they suddenly become a bass!) (which happens all the time, you all know that!) At the end of their 9th grade year, they audition for Concert Choir, with all choirs ready to go for the following year.

Concert Choir has maintained a membership of 80 members for the last 15 years, and consistently receives rave reviews at concerts and Contest. At Large Group Contest, they have always received all Superior ratings, and when it is offered, they receive the Best in Site award as well. The Concert Choir has also been honored to perform twice at the East Central Chorale’s Scholarship Concert in Cambridge, MN. “Grandparents” come up for our concerts from the Cities and have been known to send letters to the director expounding on how wonderful the concert was and how amazing it is for a small town to have such a great choir. It is a great source of pride for our students, to be a part of this group and all the choirs, and to also understand their role in maintaining the tradition through the years.

Pine City Concert Choir

The item of greatest importance however, to this director, is the students and their experiences in the choir room. Letters, cards, text messages, emails, and sticky notes are received each year from grateful students, both from recent and long past graduation days, telling of their appreciation for having been a part of the choir program at Pine City High School. This safe space, it turns out, is highly valued by students as a place to feel part of something bigger than themselves. It is where they come when they are hurting and can find solace, where they can find peace and laughter all in the same day. These are the real triumphs, the real truths, the real purposes of a choir program, to inspire students to think better of themselves, to give them a place to belong and to help them see that they can make the world a better place.