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'Come Walk with Me': Church choir to perform Easter cantata

St. John’s Lutheran Church is partnering with singers from other church choirs on the Western Edge to come together for an Easter cantata at the end of the month. The 45-minute concert, of soft and compelling hymns, embarks on a holy journey, detailing the final moments of Jesus’ life and what unfolded following the resurrection of Christ.

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A choir of over 20 singers rehearse Thursday evening at St. John's Lutheran Church under the direction of Choir Director Cheryl Hewson, in preparation for an upcoming Easter cantata titled "Come Walk with Me." The concert will take place at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 31, 2021, at St. John's Lutheran Church and it will also be livestreamed via the church's website. (Jackie Jahfetson/The Dickinson Press)

As the choir director motions to her flock of harmonious singers, the piano player steps in with a soft instrumental. A narrator begins with a prologue of Holy Week, walking listeners through Jesus’ footsteps. As the narrator concludes, the choir director raises her hands, prompting a heavenly wave of baritone and soprano voices to vibrate all the walls of the chapel.

Various singers from around southwestern North Dakota are joining together to perform an Easter cantata at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 31, at St. John’s Lutheran Church. The “Come Walk with Me” cantata, composed by Pepper Choplin, includes eight narrations and songs to encompass the resurrection of Jesus Christ. St. John’s Lutheran Church Choir Director Cheryl Hewson wanted to gather a group of singers together to do something in light of the past year’s travesties.

“It started out as just our choir doing it. I’ve been a member of St. John’s for decades and back when I was much younger, it was a tradition that we would do an Easter cantata, and that tradition disappeared,” Hewson said. “When I became the choir director just a year ago, I wanted to revive that tradition. So in visiting with my pastor, I said, ‘Can we make this a St. John’s gift to the community after this rugged year that we’ve all had with COVID and all the stress and strain?’ … So we opened it up to singers in the community from other churches, so it really is an ecumenical choir that’s singing this.”

For the past two months, the choir of 21 singers — from ages 9 to 70 years old — have been rehearsing once a week, hoping to perfect each decrescendo and accent. Hewson was inspired to perform a cantata this Easter because very few church choirs exist nowadays, especially in southwestern North Dakota, she said.

“It’s kind of like Christmas, everybody anticipates Christmas and gets such a picture of it that to anticipate Easter, this is another picture that leads people maybe back to basics or back to something that they can experience more intensely and not within the confines of a church service because this is definitely a concert and not a church service,” Hewson said, adding, “So we just wanted to give that gift to the community and just get over last year.”

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As a Dickinson State University adjunct instructor of music and voice, Hewson noted that the rehearsal experience of working with her peers and former DSU students has been nothing but rewarding.

“It surely has been fun,” Hewson said, adding that talent has come from all over including a former Dickinson State University student from Hettinger. “... So there’s been a lot of interest for singers in the community that are excited to do this and since it’s only a two-month time commitment, that has been more accessible to people when they know once it’s done, it’s over and they can move onto other things.”

The cantata walks listeners through the final moments of Jesus’ life, from choosing the road that leads to the cross to his experience in Gethsemane, Hewson said.

“The music has brought me to tears several times already just in rehearsal, so it’s really, very moving,” she added.

The concert will have a mask requirement for attendees. The Easter cantata will also be livestreamed via the St. John’s Lutheran Church website at stjohnelc.org .

Related Topics: FAITHDICKINSONMUSIC
Jackie Jahfetson is a former reporter for The Dickinson Press.
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