May 3, 2016
By Elizabeth Flaherty '17 for the CSB/SJU Magazine
College of Saint Benedict President Mary Dana Hinton didn't have to sing when she mentored the Women's Choir this fall. But she still has a powerful voice. And Hinton's message to the choir was important, no matter how it was conveyed.
Hinton shared her research and knowledge about spirituals and the historic black church, the symbolism and significance that spirituals have played historically in culture and the role that spirituals can play in the lives of the CSB/SJU community. She spoke to the choir three times during the fall 2015 semester.
Hinton, who holds a doctorate in religion and religious education from Fordham University, taught religion at Misericordia University (Pennsylvania) and is the author of "The Commercial Church." She has a long-standing interest in spirituals and their role in the historic black church.
The collaboration with the choir "demonstrates how our imaginations and active engagement with historical context can provide an authentic connection to the past, invigorate our current voices and enhance our musical expression," writes Hinton.
"It's nice to get to see a side of her (Hinton) that we normally don't get to see," says Emily Dosch, a sophomore member of the Women's Choir.
The collaboration between Hinton and the choir began at the reception the night before Hinton's presidential inauguration in 2014.
After hearing the choir sing "Saint Benedict's Ever," Hinton asked that the choir sing another song. The spiritual, "The Storm is Passing Over," was chosen. Even though the choir had just begun practicing the song, their performance came off without a hitch.
"It was a great surprise. Everyone in Clemens (Library) was blown away," Hinton says.
Hinton enjoyed the performance so much that she came to every Women's Choir concert she could during the 2014-15 school year. She eventually struck up a conversation with Women's Choir director Susan Cogdill and suggested half-jokingly that "we should do something together."
And so they did. "We found ourselves in June, sitting in the Local Blend (coffee shop) figuring out how we could work together," says Hinton.
Hinton has had to emerge from her comfort zone a bit when she joins the choir's freestyle singing exercises. She does not consider herself to be a singer or performer, but rather a "lover of all types of music."
"I love how music can reach so deep inside of you, and can speak to your deepest hopes and fears, and help to articulate those hopes and fears through song," Hinton says.
In the future, Hinton hopes to continue working with the Women's Choir.
"Hopefully the Women's Choir will say that this was a great opportunity to learn together, and that we shared our voices together, and that we shared our love of music with one another," Hinton says.
Hinton and Cogdill, an assistant professor of music at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University, used the experience to present a session on the individual and collective voice expressed within spirituals at the 2016 Minnesota Music Educators Association Midwinter Clinic in February. Participants learned how the choir and Hinton explored the historical context of traditional spirituals and connected the spirituals to personal, communal and musical expressivity. The choir sang pieces that highlight the musical and historical importance of spirituals.
Editor's note: Elizabeth Flaherty is a three-year member of the Women's Choir.