Lake Country’s Thriving Arts and Cultural Scene offers Something for Everyone


Lake Country provides many opportunities to experience quality live musical performances, including those from the Heartland Symphony, and Legacy Chorale. (LAMF and Heartland Symphony photos courtesy of Dave Boran)

“IT SEEMS WE HAVE AN ABUNDANCE OF AUDIENCE, NOT A LACK OF PROGRAMS,” announced a smiling Scott Lykins, Lakes Area Music Festival’s artistic and executive director, to a packed house at one of the group’s recent Winter Series Concerts.

Attendees were happy to share programs and notes were taken to print more next time. At-capacity crowds are more the norm these days as Lake Country is quickly becoming known for the professional-level music organizations located here, their unique collaborations, and the quality of life this thriving cultural scene produces for community members
and musicians alike.

Whether it’s vocal or instrumental music, there’s a group to satisfy the need to either sit back and enjoy the show, be on stage performing, or work behind the scenes. The Heartland Symphony Orchestra (HSO), The Legacy Chorale of Greater Minnesota, and Lakes Area Music Festival (LAMF) keep the calendar full year-round with concerts and attract musicians anywhere from within a 50-mile radius to national and international locales and range from amateurs to professionals. They all play for different reasons but share the common goal of creating experiences that cannot be duplicated anywhere else.

For Claire Rud, HSO violinist and LAMF board member, joining HSO was a way to ease the transition when she and her family moved here in 1993. Before the move, she did research to see if there was a community orchestra. She was in luck. The HSO has been a 50-plus member staple in central Minnesota since 1976 and is currently under the direction of Alexander Corbett.

“Having the HSO available for people to continue playing after formal schooling is really important and definitely speaks to the culture and quality of life here,” says Rud. “It’s also been wonderful to expose our kids to live classical music at very early ages.”

Sarah Aamot, artistic director of the Legacy Chorale, wanted to create the same opportunity for vocalists. She was living in the Twin Cities when she had the idea to start her own choir. “Not in the cities, though,” she recalls, “that area was already saturated.”

Aamot had done substitute teaching at Brainerd High School in the early 1990s and made connections with music teachers and other local singers. In 2001, after guest conducting at an alumni event in Brainerd, Aamot was encouraged to form the choir here. “The first auditions for the Legacy Chorale were held in the fall of 2002,” she says. “We started with thirty-nine vocalists and now, in our sixteenth season, we have up to seventy. There’s so much talent in this area.”

For Lykins, “Being located in my own hometown is a major part of how LAMF got started and it’s a major motivator for me to continue working hard to ensure its success. We are thrilled to be heading into our tenth season.”

The month-long festival each August draws musicians from symphonies and ensembles around the nation where they only have one month of the year off — August.

“I think many of the musicians choose to spend their vacation playing at LAMF because even though there is work involved, it still feels like a vacation in one of the best places to spend the summer,” he explains.

Besides twice-weekly concerts and an opera performance, the festival hosts master classes, a music camp, and social events where community members can mingle with musicians, along with conducting outreach and mentoring activities.

A scene from Lakes Area Music Festival’s opera, “Carmen.” Performers are Carolyn Sproule as Carmen and Mackenzie Whitney as Don José.

Even though each organization has a unique mission and niche, the music scene in Lake Country can definitely be described as the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Collaboration between these groups has been a key factor in the growth of audiences, support, and visibility. Heartland Symphony audiences were treated to guest appearances by the Legacy Chorale and the Brainerd High School string players at a recent Christmas concert. The LAMF Community Concert has featured the Legacy Chorale, numerous Heartland Symphony members, as well as young area musicians.

“The possibilities for future collaborations are endless,” suggests Aamot. “It’s really exciting to think of the next major work we could perform and other creative programming that could happen.”

Community members bring this full circle by giving back to the musicians and supporting these groups with hours of volunteer services such as ushering, fundraising, and hosting visiting artists.

“There are so many passionate people in the lakes area that step up and help out. It’s obvious they take pride in these events,” says Rud.

Lykins agrees and adds, “A community’s support is an important motivator for artists to produce their best work. When musicians see every seat full, hear the roar of applause, and are recognized by a standing ovation, they can see how much our community appreciates them.”

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