Winona Brass Band concert gets boost from local talent

Rushford graduate Mariah Ciangiola, front, rehearses with the RLC Praise Team in preparation for a holiday concert this Sunday, Dec. 2, at the RPHS Auditorium. The singers will be performing as part of the WInona Brass Band Christmas Concert to begin at 7 p.m. Also performing Sunday evening are the RP Valley Praise Dancers.
By : 
Kristin Burdey

Kick off the holiday season this weekend by treating yourself to the gift of music. The Winona Brass Band will be joined by area performers as they present their annual Christmas Concert Sunday, December 2 at 7 p.m. in the RPHS auditorium. 

The event, sponsored by the Rushford Society of the Arts (RASA), features free admission and refreshments after the show. 

This year marks the 25thseason for the Winona Brass Band, which has been making music together since 1993. For a great many of those years, a stop in Rushford has helped to kick off their holiday concert season. 

With the spectacular new RPHS Auditorium beckoning, the band elected to try out the new space last year, departing from the traditional location of Rushford Lutheran Church (RLC) where they had performed for nearly 20 years. The consensus amongst band members was positive. “It has great acoustics, which allows us to hear each other on stage and create a better performance,” says alto horn player Shawn Kennedy-Lee, who has played with the WBB for 19 years. 

The auditorium also allows for the use of percussion instruments, something that was often omitted at RLC due to space concerns.

The WBB, which is a British-style brass band consisting of 29 performers ranging in age from 9thgrade to well-retired, has a disciplined practice schedule to prepare for each concert. Performers meet for an hour and fifteen-minute rehearsal weekly during the school year. Members do the bulk of the work of learning the music on their own time, then polish and perfect when they come together as a group. The Rushford gig is one of four on the Winona Brass Band’s annual itinerary, which also includes a fall concert, a spring concert, and a larger Christmas show in Winona. 

In addition to the new venue, the WBB also welcomed a new opening act in 2017: the RLC Praise Team, who filled a void left after the disbanding of vocal group Take Note in 2015. The Praise Team, consisting of nine talented young people from RLC directed by Kristin Burdey, will perform five faith-based Christmas songs using guitar, bass, piano, percussion and vocals. 

Also performing will be the RP Valley Praise Dancers, a group of students from Michelle Erickson’s Community Ed dance classes. “The dancers are putting these pieces together in four short rehearsals, which is a credit to their ability and focus,” praises Erickson. The group will be performing “I Wonder as I Wander,” and R-P senior and current Miss Rushford Faith Eide will dance a solo piece to “Breath of Heaven.” 

The combination of the aforementioned three ensembles resulted in a fantastic evening of Christmas music last year, but the 2018 concert will hold an additional surprise: a special guest appearance from professional singer Mariah Ciangiola. 

Ciangiola, a 2005 graduate of RPHS, went on to become a professional singer and actor based out of New Yok City. She has been sailing the high seas for two years with AIDA Cruises as a lead vocalist, and will soon begin her third contract, which will take her to new territory in Asia. Home to visit her parents Vince and Donna Ciangiola, owners of Sweet Dreams B & B, for the holidays, Ciangiola was happy to share her talents with the community. “I am looking forward to giving back to the community that has supported me throughout the years,” she says with a radiant smile. 

Ciangiola will be performing four numbers and will be accompanied by pianist Judy Myers, head of the theatre department at St. Mary’s University and longtime friend of the family. In addition, Ciangiola will provide the vocals on the number being performed by the RP Valley Dancers, and sing the opening act’s finale with all of the local youth. Ciangiola appreciates the importance of encouraging the next generation of performers and is glad to do it. She may have noticed that the youth appreciate the opportunity to work with her as well. The kids have many questions about performing in a professional context, and Ciangiola has been happy to indulge their inquiries. 

RASA is hoping for a full house at Sunday’s concert, as the organization provides the entertainment as a gift to the community. No admission is charged so as not to deter anyone from experiencing Christmas cheer, but the importance of monetary contributions from those who are able cannot be overstated. 

The RASA board also provides coffee and cider, as well as dozens of homemade cookies. Despite often-inclement weather, it may be the cookies above all else that keep the Winona Brass Band coming down to Rushford. As Kennedy-Lee emphatically states, “Best. Cookies. Ever.”

Members of the Praise Team performing Sunday will be Annika Bakkum-Ekern, Emerson Bunke, Beatty Darr, Daisy Darr, Gibson Darr, Brendon Honken, Aleksa Phillips, Alannah Skalet, and Shelby Tesch. 

The RP Valley Praise Dancers are Cambria Bauer, Monica Brand, Kaitlyn Bunke, Chloe Duffield, Faith Eide, Dorothy Halder, Lindsey Hoiness, Laci Sievers, and Addie Thompson.