To the directors of Songs of Hope, Jeanne Junge and Tom Surprenant, the score is now COVID – 2, Songs of Hope – 29.
“2020 and 2021 were very difficult for us, but we kept reminding ourselves that we had a long series of great years”, says Surprising. “A final score of 29 good years for two empty ones is not bad. Thinking about the good years really got us going.
After two summers shut down by the pandemic, the Global Music Project is once again bringing a stage full of young singers to New Ulm, with a free concert at the State Street Theater at 7 p.m. on Monday July 18.
“We are so ready to be back,” says Junge.
When the first COVID lockdowns hit Minnesota in March 2020, Junge and Surprenant knew the effects overseas would be just as difficult for them. And of course, travel from other countries to the United States quickly became impossible. Which meant that the organization’s international performance project was not going to materialize until things improved.
“It was a difficult time for us” remembers Surprenant, the program director of SOH. “Creating concerts with young performers from other countries was not just part of our job. It was our reason for existing. Cutting us off from our foreign artists was like telling a school that you’re going to have to teach without students.
“We managed to find other ways to make music”, says Junge, artistic director. “Like holding music videos remotely with singers from other countries. As a replacement project, it was challenging and interesting, but most importantly, we kept waiting and hoping for the world to return to normal.
“At least normal enough for us to have live gigs again,” adds Surprising.
It took three years from the last project in 2019 for a new one to happen in 2022. But with careful management and more than a few financial challenges, Sounds of Hope was able to stay alive, and now the organization is ready. for a brand-new concert season.
It has meant circumventing pandemic hurdles that simply won’t let up. China, for example, has been a frequent source of SOH artists, but for many months a nationwide lockdown has gripped it. In other countries, the pandemic is still making families reluctant to send their children and young adults to Minnesota.
“We knew there would be challenges” says Junge. “But if we had a chance to bring kids to Minnesota, and if the concert halls reopened for us, we wanted to be ready. And when it became possible, we acted quickly.
The new Songs of Hope concert revives a long tradition. The first Songs of Hope took place in 1991, and over the next thirty-one years, Songs of Hope performed in more than 70 cities in Minnesota, with hundreds of artists from around the world, for the mostly between the ages of 10 and 16, bringing their talents to audiences in the state. . The new project will have a similar global reach, showcasing the talents of young artists coming to Minnesota from Finland, Germany, England, Italy, Guatemala, Mexico, Jamaica, Turkey, Israel and the United States.
“In these uncertain times, getting young people from nine countries on stage is truly an accomplishment,” says Surprising. “It wasn’t easy, but we persevered and now we’re ready to put on a great show for the people of Minnesota.”
Over the years, the project has earned a well-deserved reputation for lively and upbeat spectacles. The latest installment of the project promises to live up to that reputation. With performances scheduled in over a dozen cities, the concert will feature a delicious mix of international songs from all the performers’ countries. Mixed with global music, there will be a wide variety of American songs chosen to entertain, educate and inspire.
“For American music, we always include a few songs with timely messages,” says Junge. “We thought the effects of the pandemic on our sense of community would be an appropriate topic. But then came Ukraine. We always wonder what young people around the world are thinking and feeling.
“Songs of Hope started the same year Iraq invaded Kuwait”, says Surprising. “Unfortunately, there have been too many years of wars. Young people are smart and they know what’s going on. It helps us all express our feelings through music and affirm our hopes for better times.
Junge and Surprenant are quick to point out how much the performers want to sing about things that matter to them and the adults in their world. And the best music is able to put a human face to their feelings.
In addition to covering serious themes, Junge and Surprenant plan to provide fun. “It’s summer, after all [laughs]”, Junge said, “and this concert is made by children for children of all ages. We all want to have fun, don’t we? So don’t be surprised if there’s a silly song or two.
The Songs of Hope Tour in 2022 is taking place in part through an arts touring grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, through a legislative appropriation of the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.
“We prefer to go to less populated cities, around 2,000 to 5,000”, says Junge. “Thanks to funding from the Arts Council, we have the chance to bring our children from around the world to another slice of Minnesota.”