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Singing festival proves powerful in E.L.

February 8, 2009

Magdalen Fossum, 8, leads the song “Old Joe Clark” during the spontaneous folk ensemble workshop held by Mark Dvorak at the seventh annual Mid-Winter Singing Festival on Friday and Saturday at Hannah Community Center, 819 Abbot Road.

Folk singers led weekend crowds of about 1,000 people during a festival designed to celebrate the musical talents of the audience, as well as artists.

The seventh annual Mid-Winter Singing Festival took place Friday and Saturday at Hannah Community Center, 819 Abbot Road. The packed auditorium during the community sing Saturday night was a testament to how many people enjoy this type of concert, said Sally Potter, founder and musical director of the festival.

“People want a powerful, spiritual experience and there just aren’t a lot of opportunities to have one,” Potter said. “This festival is definitely one of those experiences.”

The singing talents of the audience impressed Mark Dvorak, a song leader and Chicago-based folk artist. Dvorak has been a song leader four times since the festival began in 2003.

The vibrant folk music scene and history of music in the area keeps bringing him back to East Lansing for the festival, he said.

“It’s the experience of community involvement that makes this festival special,” Dvorak said. “This kind of music-making reaches across geographical boundaries.”

The highlight of the evening for Christine Lavin, a song leader and New York City-based folk artist, was the 80-person community choir that performed a medley arranged by Rachel Alexander, the festival’s choir director. The all-volunteer choir learned the song in an hour and a half Saturday afternoon and performed it during the Saturday community sing.

“I was totally blown away by the choir,” Lavin said. “It’s going to be the start of a passion for music for so many of those people.”

Alexander has directed a volunteer choir for the festival each year. The turnout for this year’s choir was one of the largest ever for the festival, Alexander said. She said she hopes the festival empowers everyone to sing because there are not that many opportunities for most people to make music on a regular basis. About 400 tickets were sold for Saturday’s community sing and 200 wristbands also were sold for the day’s workshops.

“It’s really a one-of-a-kind event,” Alexander said.

Peri Bianchi, a Perry resident, said the high point of the evening for her was the audience’s rendition of “Peace Will Come” by Tom Paxton. Paxton is a folk singer being recognized for a lifetime achievement award at the 2009 Grammys. Lavin is friends with Paxton and called him on her cell phone during the number. Paxton answered the phone and the audience sang him the chorus.

“I saw some people smile and I saw a few tears at the end, which usually means the festival was a success,” Potter said.

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