CSB graduate to direct community choir in Nature for the Nation

Unique opportunity keeps grad at CSB after graduation

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September 15, 2015

By Annie Dittberner '17

Erin Takle '15 (right) poses for a picture with Axel Theimer, professor of music at CSB/SJU while on a choir tour in Europe this past May.

Two weeks before Erin Takle '15 walked across the stage to receive her diploma at the College of Saint Benedict, a unique opportunity came her way. 

But she was faced with a difficult decision: Stay at CSB, or go into the work force. 

The music major (vocal performance) from Alexandria, Minnesota was introduced to an on-campus job offer upon graduation — this time to help organize and assemble a 12-person community choir for Nature for the Nation, a show presented by Fine Arts Programming at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University. 

The production is a mythic re-telling that explores the work of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Performances will take place Sept. 18-20 at the Saint John's Abbey Arboretum. 

After a lot of thought and consideration, Takle chose to stay. 

"Deb Lehman introduced me to the job and told me I would be a great fit," Takle said. "It sounded like a great opportunity."

Planning ahead

Lehman, director of community outreach in the Fine Arts Programming Department, worked with Takle. Immediately after graduation, Takle left for a month-long choir trip in Europe with the CSB/SJU Choral Arts Ensemble. Because of her absence, Lehman began to recruit members for the choir. 

When commitment forms from choir members began to pile up, Takle created a rehearsal schedule and familiarized herself with the music that the theater company provided. 

As part of the outdoor experience, audiences will follow the play through the scenic expanses of the Saint John's Abbey Arboretum, and the choir plans to perform the entire show acapella. 

During rehearsals, however, Takle decided to take a different approach. She played the piano to help her choir better learn the music. 

"I was nervous to see how they would react when I had to take the piano away during our first rehearsal in front of the theater company," she said. "But they weren't phased at all. I was so impressed." 

Learning to teach

For Takle, directing the choir members placed her in a completely different role than she was used to. 

"I didn't go to school for choral education," she said. "It was not only a learning process for my choir members, but also for me. And they have been a huge help. They've given me constructive feedback that really allowed me to develop into my role as their director. 

"I served as a kind of liaison between the theater company and the community choir," she said. "It was my job to converse with both sides and relay information to each other." 

The choir includes Mark McGowan, an SJU graduate who was formerly in the group Tonic Sol-fa, and his two daughters, as well as Doris Matter from the SJU president's office. 

The team's mix of personnel doesn't end there. According to Takle, the choir consists of members from all over the surrounding area - from Cold Spring to Waite Park. There is a 40-year age gap between some of the members of the choir, with the youngest member enrolled at St. John's Preparatory School. 

As the opening performance nears, Takle experiences a mix of emotions. 

"I am nervous, but also so excited. I can confidently say that my four years at Saint Ben's has allowed me to be an effective leader in this position. And that's rewarding." 

Following the play, Takle plans to prolong her stay at CSB and SJU and work as a stage manager for the opera this spring. 

Visit the Fine Arts website for more details about the play.