What you’re doing now is wonderful, because music is the international language. Everybody can understand something of music.
—Torrey Youngstrum, Rhinelander, WI
Music, like all forms of creative expression, lifts us up, connects us with one another, and opens our eyes to new people and ideas. When we sing together, when we play together, when we create together, we are sharing an unforgettable experience.
Arts Midwest creates these moments of joy and discovery for our participants again and again. Our programs break down barriers and bring us together in shared arts experiences—connecting us to each other, to our communities, and to the world.
South African music transforms Northwoods community
The Northwoods of Wisconsin are a peaceful place. But for a week in November 2016, they rang with song as children and adults alike joined South African township singer Lorraine Klaasen to celebrate her music.
Klaasen and her ensemble were visiting the town of Rhinelander, Wisconsin, as part of Arts Midwest World Fest. From 2015–2017, Arts Midwest partnered with Nicolet College to bring a total of four international musical ensembles to the community, where each participated in a week of workshops and concerts.
With a population of 7,589, Rhinelander is the largest town in Nicolet College’s 4,000-square-mile district. The nearest major metro, Green Bay, lies more than 130 miles to the southeast. Nestled among the hundreds of lakes and woods that blanket northern Wisconsin, Rhinelander’s remoteness means that visits by international musicians are rare.
Scenic view of Rhinelander’s quiet beauty. Photo by Lindajoy Fenley.
“It’s the biggest hole in the cultural offerings,” said Nicolet’s Director of Theatre Jim Nuttall. And so when the Wisconsin Arts Board recommended Nicolet as a partner for Arts Midwest World Fest, Nuttall leapt into action.
Nuttall recognized immediately the potential of Arts Midwest World Fest to reach across Nicolet’s district. Knowing that the program offered the only chance for most students in the area to experience international musicians, Nuttall partnered with schools throughout northern Wisconsin to bring the artists directly to students in the classroom and to bus students from around the region to Nicolet’s theater for workshops and performances. The resulting activities were memorable for all.
Africa’s calling you
During her week in Rhinelander, Klaasen and her ensemble traveled 40 miles north to the Lac du Flambeau Chippewa reservation, where they spent a day at the public school. Music teacher Lisa Hernandez hosted the ensemble in her classroom, filling every inch of floor space with students ranging in age from kindergarten through eighth grade.
Any chance [the students] get to see something that is not of our culture and it’s not what we’re used to—I’m going to jump at the chance to offer them that.
Hernandez recognized that Klaasen’s visit was special. Many of her students have little opportunity to travel even within Wisconsin, let alone the greater United States and beyond, and Hernandez does not have the budget to bring her students to performances in nearby Wausau or Green Bay. Arts Midwest World Fest made it possible for them to learn about other cultures firsthand.
“Not everybody gets to travel the world, and if you can have the opportunity to have the world come to you, that’s just a bonus,” Hernandez said.
The children in the packed classroom were so excited by Klaasen’s music, they couldn’t remain still. As Klaasen sang, they leapt to their feet and began dancing with her—much to Klaasen’s delight. And when Klaasen broke into “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” a song that originated in South Africa, everyone sang along.
Students from Lac du Flambeau Public School with Lorraine Klaasen after her public concert in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. Photo by Lisa Hernandez.
This perfect harmony
Hernandez’s students were so excited by Klaasen’s music that they clamored to attend her public concert at the end of the week. Though a few could go with their parents, most had families who were unable to take them to Rhinelander for the performance. So Hernandez purchased tickets and drove a group of nine students down to Nicolet College for the event, making it possible for them to experience more of Klaasen’s music.
During the concert, Klaasen repeated many of the songs she’d performed for the students earlier in the week, and they were able to join in on the choruses and dance in their seats. Afterwards, the students approached
Klaasen to greet her.
“They were smiling, she was hugging them all,” Hernandez recalled. “They were so happy that she remembered [them].”
It’s a new day
The Lac du Flambeau students were not the only ones transformed by Klaasen’s residency. Klaasen and her ensemble also visited Rhinelander High School and worked with students from Crandon, Laona, Wabeno, Tomahawk, and Minocqua. For many, this was a once in a lifetime chance to experience live South African music. And it wasn’t just students—Klaasen also performed at a senior center and for staff at the local hospital.
Just listening to these [artists] telling their stories, and they’re authentic, was a really big deal. This is something people are going to remember.”
Even now, a year after Klaasen’s visit, Arts Midwest World Fest’s impact on Rhinelander remains. Lisa Hernandez’s students listen to the artists’ CDs during work time in class. Residents still talk about their time with Klaasen and the other Arts Midwest World Fest musicians as if they had visited just last week. The music and rhythms of South Africa have infused the Northwoods.
Lorraine Klaasen with her ensemble. Photo by Lindajoy Fenley.
Thank you to Jim Nuttall, Dave Ditzler, Nancy Gehrig, Lisa Hernandez, Deb Hunter, Sandy Kinney, Daryl Youngstrum, and Torrey Youngstrum for their assistance on this report. Thank you to Lorraine Klaasen, Mongezi Ntaka, Andre Whiteman, and Noel Mpiaza for sharing their music and culture with the Midwest.
Major support for Arts Midwest World Fest is generously provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, The Hearst Foundations, 3M, the Japan Foundation through the Performing Arts JAPAN program, and the Kaufman Family Fund for Israeli Cultural Exchange.
Arts Midwest is also generously supported by Illinois Arts Council Agency, Indiana Arts Commission, Iowa Arts Council, Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, Minnesota State Arts Board, North Dakota Council on the Arts, Ohio Arts Council, South Dakota Arts Council, Wisconsin Arts Board, and many individual donors. View a full list of Arts Midwest supporters.