I had the good fortune recently to attend the “Christmas on the Prairie” concert in lovely Hoven, South Dakota. The concert is an annual event held at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church, sometimes known as the “Cathedral on the Prairie.” The concert spoke to much of what makes South Dakota a wonderful place to live.
The concert featured the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra. We should be proud that our state features such a talented orchestra. I was impressed at how big a sound a relatively modest-sized ensemble made.
In addition, Northern State University’s Chamber Choir performed. Yes, I am biased, but I happen to think that this vocal ensemble shows once again that NSU has the finest music program in the state. We can certainly say that there is an extraordinary number of very talented young musicians in our region.
The Chamber Choir was sometimes joined by what is called the “Festival Choir.” This is a group of local volunteers who come together each year to sing at the concert. Their dedication paid off. Who knew that a bunch of farmers and weekend singers could sound so good?
To my mind the highlight of the show was a piece called “A German Christmas.” This piece featured narration by the show’s guest baritone Bradley Greenwald that told the story of German immigrants to our state celebrating Christmas over the course of many years. After the show some of us chatted with Mr. Greenwald and found that he wrote the narration himself based on a history of Hoven that he had been sent. He did the narration in a perfect German accent. The story was punctuated with various German carols.
The story told much of what we have to be proud of as South Dakotans. Although not all Dakotans come from German stock, we all can appreciate the closeness to the land that is part of our state’s heritage. This was a focus of Mr. Greenwald’s narrative. He spoke of the lakes, the wide open spaces, the harsh elements, the cycles of planting, growing and harvest. And German or not, many of us appreciate a good kuchen.
The piece was a happy meeting of high culture and folk culture, the story of a people told by highly trained artists.
Further, imagine my surprise when I took my seat in the church that my group sat right in front of former governor Mike Rounds and, sure enough, Gov. Dennis Daugaard. While I chided the governor about not using his pull to get better seats, it says something about our state that the holders of high office were sitting among the people. Even more remarkable was that, by all appearances, Mr. Daugaard had no handlers around him. He did not put any barriers between himself and his constituents.
This was a true South Dakota moment – music on the prairie with folks from all walks of life mingling and enjoying themselves. I read recently that some think that our state simply embarrasses itself when it stands up for its culture. I suppose that mentality assumes that we must ape the deracinated hipsters of other states. But I say that our state is unique and that uniqueness is to be celebrated.
Jon D. Schaff is a professor of political science at Northern State University in Aberdeen. His opinions are his own and do not represent the views of the university.