Words by Isabelle Wattenberg
“The Northside Celebration is really a celebration of the culture and community of North Minneapolis,” says Faith Michon Ross, a choir participant who grew up in Minneapolis and owns her own digital marketing company. “So often, the media portrays the trauma that happens in North Minneapolis. Northside Celebration is such a beautiful project and collaboration for us to come together and highlight the healing, beauty, and the love of the community. And that’s what I’m most excited about. I’m excited for the narrative to be changed.”
The Northside Celebration—a concert program honoring North Minneapolis through music—was born from listening to community. Now in its third iteration, it continues to be strengthened and reshaped by North Minneapolis residents who decide and amplify what they want to say and sing—for each other and to a broader audience.
The concept grew from a 13-year partnership between the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and Capri Theater—North Minneapolis’s only standing theater, which provides arts and youth programming. The SPCO presents a yearly performance series at the Capri, but SPCO Chief Community Value Officer, Erin Jude, explained that community conversations in 2017 revealed an opportunity for more involvement and direction from the North Minneapolis residents.
“A thing I think about a lot is, how do we make people feel comfortable in a performance space, and one of those things is making music together. I don’t think there’s any more powerful way to make people feel like they have ownership of that,” Jude says. “Collaboration is at the heart of what we [the SPCO] love to do.”
The three-concert series—two shows are held at the North Side Community High School, one at the Ordway—bring nearly 100 Northside community members to the stage for an evening of song, classical music, and spoken word. Kicking off the event is the Northside Celebration Choir, a choir made up of more than 50 Northside resident members, which was created specifically for the event and is led by vocalist Sherri Orr. They’re joined by Known MPLS, an audition–based youth choir directed by worship director and educator Courtland Pickens and the SPCO. They’ll sing an original piece by Orr, plus a selection of contemporary gospel songs, a genre Ross describes as foundational to the Northside community.
“Gospel music has a deep history. It helped slaves escape to freedom. And it later helped power the Civil Rights movement. Gospel connects us, and brings unity,” says Ross, who formerly sang with Twin Cities Community Gospel Choir. “That’s why I think it’s so important for the Northside, because it brings both healing and the hope that change is coming.”
Known MPLS—which shares a philosophy as gospel as a healing force—appeared on the SPCO radar, Jude says, after being recommended by community members. This endorsement is indicative of what can be expected at the Northside celebration—North Minneapolis voices, amplified to share their own stories and revel in moments of collective hope.
“After that last two years—not just the pandemic, but the last two years Minneapolis has had—the need for a moment of intentional joy is really strong and I think this can be it for some people,” Jude says. “I hope that people come and get that intentional joy.”
WHEN YOU GO
The Northside Celebration
Friday, February 16, North Community High School – 7 PM – Free
Saturday, February 17, North Community High School – 4 PM – Free
Sunday, February 18, Ordway Performing Center – 2 PM – $12-$50