Michael Smith thought the day would never come that Brainerd would be home to a new performing arts center — much less that he would be performing in one.

“The year was 1989 and there was a bond issue in front of the district to build a new performing arts center as well as a new music facility. And everyone thought it was going to succeed,” Smith said Wednesday, Nov. 17. “And it went down to defeat by 11 votes.”

Three decades later, the former Brainerd High School choir director will lead The Legacy Chorale of Greater Minnesota in a live performance at 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 21, at the new Gichi-ziibi Center for the Arts at the high school honoring those who died from COVID-19.

Michael Smith, a former Brainerd High School choir director, directs The Legacy Chorale of Greater Minnesota at a rehearsal for its Sunday, Sept. 21, 2021, performance of Gabriel Fauré's “Requiem, Op. 48” at the Gichi-Ziibi Center for the Arts in Brainerd.
Contributed / Jennifer Pedersen
Michael Smith, a former Brainerd High School choir director, directs The Legacy Chorale of Greater Minnesota at a rehearsal for its Sunday, Sept. 21, 2021, performance of Gabriel Fauré's “Requiem, Op. 48” at the Gichi-Ziibi Center for the Arts in Brainerd. Contributed / Jennifer Pedersen

“We were terribly disappointed,” Smith recalled of the bond defeat. “But — now 32 years later — we're celebrating performing in this beautiful new center for the arts — Gichi-ziibi.”

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The Legacy Chorale of Greater Minnesota and the 77-year-old Smith will perform French composer Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem, Op. 48. In seven movements, the composition is scored for soprano and baritone soloists, mixed choir and piano accompaniment.

“We didn’t think the day would come. But when this bond issue passed, it was just exhilarating — it really was,” Smith said of the school district’s 2018 bonding referendum.

Former Brainerd High School choir director Michael Smith recently received the F. Melius Christiansen Lifetime Achievement Award.
Former Brainerd High School choir director Michael Smith recently received the F. Melius Christiansen Lifetime Achievement Award.

The 1,200-seat auditorium and performing arts center attached to Brainerd High School resulted from the referendum. The auditorium was in the original building plans when the high school was built in the 1960s.

“We were so pleased and so happy for the community that we finally got something because music in the Brainerd area is really quite exceptional,” said Smith, who was the school’s choir director for a quarter of a century and lives in Baxter.

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“We have a rare opportunity to have a very good choir in our communities,” said Jennifer Pedersen, a 68-year-old Baxter resident who has been with the chorale for more than two decades.

The chorale is composed of Brainerd lakes area residents, including those from Little Falls, Hackensack, Longville, Nisswa and Staples. The 60-plus members of The Legacy Chorale of Greater Minnesota, a nonprofit, represent almost two dozen different communities.

“We have a big area of people who are able to sing and sing quality music, so that's what we have been doing for all these years … trying to provide an opportunity for quality music in our communities,” Pedersen said Monday. “I sing in the choir because it feeds me.”


“We didn’t think the day would come.”

— Michael Smith, former Brainerd High School choir director


Sunday’s live performance at the Gichi-ziibi Center for the Arts is free, but free-will donations will be accepted at the door and at the chorale’s website at legacychorale.org/contribute.

“We can produce a beautiful sound if we work together, and we work hard on our music and become a team. And we don't have that opportunity much in our communities as far as the arts, so we’re kind of a one-of-a-kind choir,” Pedersen said.

The chorale partners with schools and other organizations to enhance vocal music instruction for elementary and high school youths, who also participate in the chorale’s performances.

“In a normal season, we put in 11 practices, which are two-and-a-half hours long. And then we do our concerts, which are usually two or three concerts on the weekends,” Pedersen said.

Fauré composed his Requiem, Op. 48 between 1887 and 1890 and the choral-orchestral setting of the shortened Catholic Mass for the dead in Latin is the best-known of his large works, focusing on “eternal rest and consolation.”

“This is like a joyful funeral Mass. … It's got some beautiful tones in it, so it's kind of a dedication to all the people that have passed away to COVID in our community and in our state and worldwide,” Pedersen said.

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The chorale will be masked while singing in Latin during the 35-minute performance because the performers are using the school district’s property.

“The singers and the audience are being required to be masked. And as far as social distancing, most people will sit with their parties that they come with. And then they'll have a couple of chairs in between,” Pedersen said.

Sunday’s concert is made possible in part by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Five Wings Arts Council, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

If you go

  • The Legacy Chorale of Greater Minnesota directed by Michael Smith.

  • Gabriel Fauré's Requiem, Op. 48.

  • 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 21.

  • Gichi-ziibi Center for the Arts, 602 S. Fifth St., Brainerd.

  • Free. (Audience members will be required to wear face masks on school property.)

  • More info: Call 218-270-8212 or email admin@legacychorale.org.



FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchFL.