Let’s face it: History lessons aren’t always fun. Too often, an artistic event that strives toward historical accuracy leaves you feeling educated but not really entertained. Shoring up some cracks in your knowledge base can be worthwhile but seldom extremely enjoyable.

However, one of those infrequent occurrences happened Sunday afternoon when St. Paul-based early-music group the Rose Ensemble welcomed the Music in the Park Series back to its home neighborhood, the freshly repaved St. Anthony Park. But the chamber choir didn’t perform the music on which its reputation is based — motets and madrigals of the medieval and Renaissance eras — instead focusing upon 19th-century American folk hymns and carols, many of them rooted in the Shaker and shape-note traditions.

It may not have been right up the group’s stylistic alley, but it turned out to be a lot of fun, a combination of uplifting church service and holiday hootenanny. Performing in a venue ideally intimate for this music — the woody St. Anthony Park United Church of Christ — the group let reverence segue into celebration, unleashing their accompanying instrumentalists on tunes that sounded increasingly country, Celtic and Cajun as the concert went on.

The Rose Ensemble is known for its harmonic skills, but Sunday’s performance was an exceptional showcase for the talents of each of its members, showing the choir to be the sum of some impressive parts. Like Lisa Drew’s powerful low alto voice on “Pretty Home,” bass Scott Sandersfeld booming out “The Babe of Bethlehem,” or soprano Kim Sueoka soaring above some cowboy-campfire-style strumming on “Peace and Joy.”The latter was but one of many star turns for the accompanying instrumentalists. Ginna Watson turned in the baroque violin she plies so capably for a full-fledged fiddle, transporting listeners to an Irish pub, a Bayou roadhouse and an Appalachian back porch in relatively quick succession. David Burk was equally adaptable to the variety of styles, most impressively when his rustic banjo — a hybrid of African and American traditions — took flight with an extended improvisation on “Cold Frosty Morning.”

After a tour of Germany, the Rose Ensemble will return to the Twin Cities — and to the music for which they’re known — performing “Elizabethan Christmas” concerts Dec. 18-20.

By Rob Hubbard
Special to the Pioneer Press

Updated: 11/29/2009 09:37:44 PM CST

Germany Tour

We leave Wednesday for an 8 day tour in Germany beginning with a concert in Dachau on Saturday night at the Castle and then off to Neuss.  Similar to the Twin Cities of  St. Paul and Minneapolis, Neuss and Dusseldorf are Twin Cities separated by the Rhine.  We will be there next week in honor of the 10th Anniversary of the Sister City relationship between Neuss and St. Paul and will be greeted with a reception in the City Hall followed by a concert at the St. Quirinus Cathedral the following evening.  This is our second visit to Neuss and we are looking forward to reconnecting with friends from our previous tour.

[nggallery id=7]

As always, I look forward to reading your comments!