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John's Journal: From Omaha To St. Paul, Traveling And Performing

St. Michael-Albertville Students Sing And Act, 400 Miles And Seven Hours Apart

Posted: Friday, February 9, 2024 - 7:36 PM


St. Michael-Albertville choir/One-Act Play students arrive at O’Shaughnessy Theater after flying home from Omaha, Nebraska.


When Delta Airlines flight 3831 returned to earth at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport a few minutes ahead of schedule Friday afternoon, all was well for a group of talented students from St. Michael-Albertville High School.

They still had some work to do, but after landing back in Minnesota on a flight from Omaha, Nebraska, the heavy lifting was done on a two-day whirlwind of music and theater – 400 miles apart -- that may have seemed all but impossible to some.

The logistics, the planning were impeccable, allowing 79 students to be part of a concert choir performance Friday at 9 a.m. at the Midwestern Regional American Choral Directors Association Conference. Then, for 11 members of the choir and two chaperones, came an 11 a.m. liftoff from Omaha, the safe touchdown in the Twin Cities before the scheduled arrival time of 12:15 p.m. and a 4 p.m. performance with their fellow theater students at the MSHSL One-Act Play state festival in St. Paul.

St. Michael-Albertville activities director Keith Cornell and his wife Erin flew home with the One-Act Play students. Soon after the group arrived at the O’Shaughnessy Theater, the Cornells were sitting in the lobby when One-Act Play directors Joshua Mann and Kayla Watson saw them.

Mann hollered, “You made it!”

Indeed they did, with plenty of time to spare. The performance, the final one of the two-day festival, was splendid. St. Michael-Albertville senior Audrey Kanu, who sang a solo in Omaha, played the lead in the play and will sing the national anthem at the state wrestling tournament in a few weeks, was pretty worn out.

“I was tired when we got to the theater today,” she said. “But it was beautiful. It was a moment in time that I’ll never forget.”

The choir sang five songs in Omaha, under the guidance of choir directors Joseph Osowski and Paige Armstrong-Hetterick, and the setting was special at the Holland Performing Arts Center. A few hours later the play was staged at the historic O’Shaughnessy Theater on the campus of St. Catherine University.

Singer/actor Eli Powell, a junior, said the entire experience was incredible.

“The opportunity the school gave us to take a plane from Omaha to Minnesota for a competition? I'm really grateful,” he said. “It's something that I'm never going to forget. It was like once-in-a-lifetime. It was just a really great time.”

Their One-Act Play production was titled “Dark Road,” set in World War II Germany. The group from St. Michael-Albertville qualified for state by claiming the championship of Section 5 in Class AA. The eight state-bound Class A plays were performed Thursday, with AA schools doing the same Friday.

A few months ago, the One-Act Play schedule on the MSHSL website had the AA schools performing on Thursday. When Mann saw that, he figured everything was OK … if the group managed to advance to state.

“We saw that our competition was on Thursday and we were like, ‘Perfect. We're good,” Mann said. “We'll have them compete and then they'll drive down to Omaha on Thursday night.”

When the official schedule was sent out, however, Friday was the AA day. Mann conferred with MSHSL assistant director Amy Doherty, who directs the One-Act Play festival, and was told not to worry.

“Amy said, ‘We’re going to make this work.’ ”

 St. Michael-Albertville was given the final time slot of Friday’s eight performances. By the time the play ended, the odyssey of travel and performances was over … other than returning home.

Everything began with the choir members’ 6:30 a.m. bus departure from school on Thursday for the six-hour drive to Omaha. The concert choir was up bright and early Friday morning, performing to a standing ovation from several hundred choir directors gathered for the conference.

Then, for the 11 kids involved in the play, came a quick ride to the Omaha airport and the flight home. None of the One-Act Play students were allowed to check bags; if they had anything they couldn’t carry on the aircraft, friends were asked to bring those items home on the bus Saturday.

There also were choir kids who needed to race back for basketball and speech events, and they jumped in their parents’ cars for the return home.

“It’s a busy time for kids,” said Cornell.

The choir’s invitation to the Midwestern Regional American Choral Directors Association Conference came last summer. It is a prestigious honor, with other performances by groups from Iowa State University and Purdue University among seven colleges; St. Michael-Albertville was one of only five high schools represented and the only one from Minnesota.

A St. Michael-Albertville choir sang at a similar gathering in 2018.

“We have really talented kids in our choir programs, 350 to 400 kids,” Cornell said.

Planning was everything, and everything worked to perfection. The school sponsored a fan bus for those who wanted to attend the One-Act Play festival, and that bus swung by the airport to pick up the group that had just stepped off their plane. Everything clicked.

“The weather could have been an enormous stress,” Cornell said.

The one-way flights were paid for by the school, at the direction of superintendent Dr. Ann-Marie Foucault.

“She said, ‘This is good for kids and we’ll figure it out,’ ” Cornell said.

As planning for the double-duty events was in the early stages, some parents thought their kids would have to make a choice between choir and theater.

“It takes people working together, and there was only one way it would work,” said Cornell. “It’s just remarkable.”

--MSHSL senior content creator John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at [email protected] 

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