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Mill City Singers to Perform at Orchestra Hall March 9 and 10

Article by Claudia Kittock

The Mill City Singers are having an amazing year. Fresh off a performance at the Super Bowl event, Bold Hope in the North, they have been asked to become a community partner of the Minnesota Orchestra. On March 9th and 10th, the Singers will be performing in the atrium of Orchestra Hall at 7:00pm.

If you haven’t heard of the Singers before, here is a brief history of this dynamic group:

This choir is unique. Its beginnings were unique, our mission is unique, our singers are unique, and our community is unlike others. Almost three years ago, a group of Mill City neighbors formed a running group and invited residents from Emanuel Housing to be part of that group. Emanuel is a 101-unit sober, supportive, permanent housing program that serves economically disadvantaged single men and women.  We quickly discovered that the commonality of running was a means to become friends. On these runs we talked about running, the neighborhood, and our diverse backgrounds. During one of these runs, a friend brought up music and asked the question, “Why isn’t there more music in the know, like a choir?” The simple answer to that question was, “I don’t know, but I will find out.”

When I asked a MacPhail Center for Music employee the same question, she promised to do some research.  Within a week, she suggested MacPhail might be willing to help us set up a pilot project to see if we could make a choir a reality, offering us JD Steele as the director, and his brother, Fred Steele, as our accompanist.

JD became our director, and is as talented as he is unique in the world of music. Rehearsals begin with a ‘call’ from JD. He loudly sings, “Day-Oh!” and the singers echo back. JD continues to go up the scale by half steps until we are warmed up and ready to sing. We do not use printed music. JD never learned to read music, and teaches us using a music technique known as ‘lining out’. Lining has a long and storied tradition in American music. JD sings every vocal part by lining, teaching the singers the words, the music, and each part of harmony.

Lining is another part of the uniqueness of this group. We are a group of varied ages and education, and lining calls on every part of our brains to participate. No one is excluded because they don’t read music or can’t read printed words. Everyone can sing by lining and it truly serves as ‘choral binding’ to each of us.

With each session of rehearsals our numbers have grown as has the diversity of our group. During the first group of 6 rehearsals in 2016, we averaged 29 singers, the second group saw an increase to 33 singers, and as of the last group of rehearsals for 2017, we are now averaging 50 singers, with 220 singers on the roster.

Our mission is to include everyone in our community of singers. We are aware of the socio-economic divide in our neighborhood. While the mean income is $78,000, we know that 25% of our neighbors live below the poverty line. An integral part of the very existence of the Singers is to include all of our neighbors, which involves an almost constant outreach to our neighbors in poverty. Since our inception, we have added members from Alliance Housing and the Harbor Lights shelter. We are hoping to extend our invitation even further. The Cedar Riverside neighborhood has no representation within our group, and we very much want to include our neighbors.

Come here us sing! All that is required to be a member is to:

  • Consider yourself a ‘friend’ of the Mill District
  • Love singing
  • Be willing to open your heart and your soul to becoming part of this vibrant community

Sounds easy? It is! If you're interested, please contact Claudia Kittock at We hope to see you in the audience on March 9 or 10. 

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About Claudia Kittock

Claudia is a resident of the Mill District. In addition to writing for Mill City Times, she is a founding Board Member of Friends of the Mill District. Claudia is the author of Health Through Chaos, mentors young adults at YouthLink, and has served on the Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association (DMNA).


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