American Voices

Concert Activities


What is American music? Learn more about many unique voices and styles in this Young People’s Concert Experience recommended for grades 3-6. Enjoy a concert video featuring performances by Minnesota Orchestra musicians and commentary from host Sarah Hicks, along with opportunities to respond to the music through drawing and dance. There are also instrument demonstrations, information about the featured music and composers, and multisensory activities from Twin Cities partners exploring the “American Voices” theme.


  • “Your Story, Our Story” At Home Art

    Create an artwork of a place that makes you feel most at home, with local artist Lucy Michell.

    Pick your Space
  • Tell Your Story Through Dance

    Express yourself through movement and dance with this activity from the Walker Art Center.

    Make Your Dance
  • What is Sound?

    Find out how sound works in a series of activities from the Bakken Museum. Discover different ways that vibrations are generated and more.

    Learn About Sound
  • Write Your Own Music

    Join Toneworks Music Therapy Services to discover how you can make unique music with objects found around your house.

    Write Music
  • Make Your Own Instruments

    A step-by-step guide to making your own instruments at home using common household objects.

    Make instruments


Sarah Hicks, host

Conductor Sarah Hicks, the Minnesota Orchestra’s principal conductor of Live at Orchestra Hall, has led a broad range of programs since joining the Orchestra as assistant conductor in 2006. Her notable projects with the Orchestra have included co-creating the Inside the Classics and Sam & Sarah series with Orchestra violist Sam Bergman; conducting a live-in-concert recording with singer-rapper Dessa released in 2019 on the Doomtree Records label; leading numerous original Orchestra programs including Home for the Holidays, A Musical Feast and A Scandinavian Christmas; and conducting many of the Orchestra's Movies & Music concerts. Away from Orchestra Hall, she recently conducted performances of Disney Pixar’s Coco at the Hollywood Bowl as well as the orchestra in ABC’s live televised production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid

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Osmo Vänskä, conductor

Since becoming the Orchestra’s music director in 2003, Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä has led the ensemble on several major international tours, including historic tours to Cuba and South Africa and six visits to Europe. His recording projects with the Orchestra have met with great success, including a disc of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony issued in summer 2020. In January 2020 Vänskä began a new tenure as music director of the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra. He is also the honorary conductor of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra. Vänskä, who began his music career as a clarinetist, has recorded Bernhard Henrik Crusell’s three Clarinet Quartets and Kalevi Aho’s Clarinet Quintet for the BIS label and is in the process of recording several duos for clarinet and violin which he has commissioned with his wife, violinist Erin Keefe.

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Charles Lazarus, trumpet

Trumpeter Charles Lazarus, a member of the Minnesota Orchestra since 2000, has charted a unique course during his tenure with the Orchestra. As a soloist, composer and bandleader, he has masterminded and starred in four original orchestral shows featuring his jazz ensemble, and created “Merry & Bright” for the Orchestra's annual holiday fare. In 2015, he premiered Steve Heitzeg’s concerto American Nomad, commissioned by Paul Grangaard. His composition A Perfect Square, paired with Michael Hall’s book of the same name, was recently made into a children's animated short film. His four solo albums showcase his wide-ranging talent and feature collaborations with diverse composers, arrangers and performers, including members of the Minnesota Orchestra. He is on the faculty of the School of Music at the University of Minnesota.

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Minnesota Orchestra

The Grammy Award-winning Minnesota Orchestra, founded in 1903 and led since its centennial by Music Director Osmo Vänskä, is recognized for distinguished performances around the world, award-winning recordings, radio broadcasts, educational engagement programs, and commitment to building the orchestral repertoire of the future. The Orchestra tours regularly throughout Minnesota and nationally, and has also toured abroad in Australia, Canada, East Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and South Africa. It performs a wide variety of music at nearly 175 concerts in a typical year, primarily at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. It is beginning its 2020-21 concert season with a series of Friday night concerts in Orchestra Hall featuring smaller ensembles of Minnesota Orchestra musicians performing for TV, radio and online audiences.

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  • Strum

    Jessie Montgomery

    • Born
      New York City
    • Premiere
      April 2006


    A native of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Jessie Montgomery is among the foremost composers of her generation. Active as a composer, violinist and educator, for two decades she has been affiliated with The Sphinx Organization, and she currently serves as composer in residence for The Sphinx Virtuosi, the Organization’s premier performing ensemble. The Mannes School of Music in New York recently appointed her to its composition and violin teaching faculties.

    Among Montgomery’s most frequently-performed works is Strum, originally composed in 2006 for the Providence String Quartet and guests of Community MusicWorks Players. She offers these comments on the work: “Originally conceived for the formation of a cello quintet, the voicing is often spread wide over the ensemble, giving the music an expansive quality of sound. Within Strum I utilized texture motives, layers of rhythmic or harmonic ostinati that string together to form a bed of sound for melodies to weave in and out. The strumming pizzicato serves as a texture motive and the primary driving rhythmic underpinning of the piece. Drawing on American folk idioms and the spirit of dance and movement, the piece has a kind of narrative that begins with fleeting nostalgia and transforms into ecstatic celebration.”

  • Amazing Grace for String Quartet

    Jennifer Higdon

    • Born
      December 31, 1962
      Brooklyn, New York
    • Composed
      1998 (original choral version)
      2003 (string quartet version)


    In 1998, American composer Jennifer Higdon became one of many to incorporate the Amazing Grace into a larger composition, using it as the basis for the eighth and final movement of her choral work Southern Grace—a section she dedicated to the memory of her younger brother Andrew Blue Higdon, who had just passed away. Five years later she adapted the Amazing Grace movement at the request of the Ying String Quartet, and she has since also crafted versions for viola quartet and string orchestra.

    Higdon’s Amazing Grace melody begins with the familiar hymn melody slowly presented by the cello in its upper register; the strings then play variations on the tune, everything rooted in the C-major scale. Violin and viola play a duet passage as the tempo quickens, and they are then joined by their cohorts for more variations. In the final minute, the key jumps up a step to D major, giving a bright sheen to the melody’s final full statement. The conclusion is soft and slow, the tension of a sustained pause resolved with one last major chord.

  • Ritmo Indio, A Study in American Indian Rhythm

    Louis Ballard

    • Born
      July 8, 1931
      Devil’s Promenade, Oklahoma
    • Died
      February 9, 2007
      Santa Fe, New Mexico
    • Premiere
      March 8, 1969


    Louis Wayne Ballard made it his life’s work as a composer, educator, author and artist to share music that integrated Western classical traditions with Indigenous American culture. A Quapaw-Cherokee Indian born in Oklahoma in 1931, he created his own unique style of music that blended these cultures and expressions. “My hope,” he once said, “is to have Indian music evaluated on its own terms for its coherence as well as its intrinsic musical values. Only in this way will America have a music tradition truly its own.”

    Ritmo Indio: A study in American Indian Rhythms was written for the Dorian Woodwind Quintet, who gave the world premiere of the work on March 8, 1969, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. For this piece, Ballard received the first-ever Marion Nevins MacDowell Award for a chamber music composition. The second movement (Soul) includes solos written originally for the Sioux flageolet, or Lakota courtship flute—in this performance played on the soprano recorder by oboist John Snow. The theme carried throughout this movement references a paddling song from the Tlingit Indians of Alaska, as they carried the bodies of their dead over the water, singing of their spirits.

  • Four Pieces for Brass Quintet

    Paquito D’Rivera

    • Born
      June 4, 1948
      Havana, Cuba
    • Composed


    Born in Havana in 1948, D’Rivera has straddled the Latin jazz and classical music worlds in a wide-ranging career spanning more than six decades. His earliest steady jobs included playing clarinet and saxophone with the Cuban National Symphony Orchestra and directing the Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna. A turning point in his life came in 1980 when he defected to the U.S. He has since performed solo engagements with ensembles across the world, collaborated on a recording of his chamber compositions with Yo-Yo Ma, and received commissions from a variety of institutions.

    Paquito D’Rivera’s Four Pieces for Brass Quintet date from 2002, and comprise a quartet of movements ranging from three to five minutes, colorfully scored and each with their own personality. The third movement, El Cura, is full of jazz harmonies as well as muted brass in key moments.

  • American Nomad, for Trumpet and Orchestra

    Steve Heitzeg

    • Born
      October 15, 1959
      Albert Lea, Minnesota
    • Premiere
      April 30, 2015


    Steve Heitzeg grew up on his family’s dairy farm in south central Minnesota, which partially accounts for his many works written in celebration of the natural world. The philosophy that guides Heitzeg’s musical spirit is “the peaceful coexistence of all species through music,” through which he addresses social and ecological issues.

    American Nomad was commissioned by Paul and Margot Grangaard for Charles Lazarus, to whom it is also dedicated, and who premiered the work with the Minnesota Orchestra on April 10, 2015.

    The work, the composer writes, “is intended as a sonic meditation across the nation—starting in New York City, then moving through the South, the Great Plains and North, and on to the West and California. I wanted to create a series of soundscapes in the concerto that depict various American landscapes: the Statue of Liberty, fields across America, Joshua Tree National Park, the high desert, Redwood trees, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Pacific Ocean at the California coast.”