Choral director sets immigration poetry to music

Proceeds from two concerts to benefit Catholic Charities, Rochester associations.

David Kassler.
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A piece of music may not drastically change minds, but David Kassler hopes it'll be a good start.

Kassler, the music director for Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, said he started thinking about "Out of Eden," his upcoming choral work, about four years ago, after the church invited recent Rochester transplants to discuss their own immigration stories.

The White House administration at the time was firmly anti-immigration. The issue was in the news constantly, he said.

“When you’re a composer, issues kind of find their way to your pen,” he said. And as the great-grandchild of immigrants — a fourth-generation immigrant, if you will — Kassler wanted to take a stance on welcoming people into the U.S.

His original idea, to write a libretto using the words of Rochester immigrants as lyrics, hit a roadblock.


Kassler isn’t a writer.

So he turned to poets like Winona writers James Armstrong and Ken McCullough, Ray Gonzalez and Mai Der Vang.

The title of the finished cantata, written for mixed-voice choir and “the king of instruments, the organ,” is “Out of Eden.” It comes from a sense that Biblical figures were all metaphorical “refugees from Eden,” Kassler said.

One major theme in the piece is the building of walls, both figurative and literal, to “other” certain groups of people.

There will be two performances of “Out of Eden.” The first, on Jan. 14, will feature One World Secondary School Choirs from St. Paul prior to the cantata. The second, on Jan. 16, will begin with community members singing songs from their childhoods, and teaching them to the audience before the cantata begins.

Nisha Kurup, a victims' services program manager with the Intercultural Mutual Assistance Association in Rochester, will share "Humko Man Ki Shakti Dena," an Indian song that asks for an end to division.

"Give us the strength to overcome our negative thoughts and before attempting to conquer others, let us conquer ourselves first," Kurup said. "You know, take away all the discrimination. If your friends make mistakes, let's try to forgive them."

Kurup is not a professional singer, she said, but she feels that music is a "powerful connector."


"Anywhere in the world, human miseries and woes are the same," she said. "Art is a very good medium to bring people together, to connect and derive energy from each other."

There is no ticket price, but a free-will offering will be collected at both concerts to benefit Catholic Charities, the Intercultural Mutual Assistance Association and Rochester Area Foundation.

Audience members are required to wear masks and show proof of vaccination before entry.

The cantata will be performed by a choir of professional musicians from the Twin Cities.

Kassler hopes the music will bring in listeners from a range of backgrounds – and attitudes toward immigration.

“There will be people who disagree with the message, and people who agree,” he predicted. “They will be sitting together, experiencing the music.”

Kassler hopes “Out of Eden” will accomplish two tasks: first, that it will encourage listeners to see classical music as a current medium for discussing hot-button issues.

Second, that it “will make us all think about whether or not we’re 'othering,' and what we’re doing to feel more connected to those who are different from us,” he said. “I want people to have an experience that moves them.”


If you go

What: "Out of Eden"

When: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 14, 4 p.m. Jan. 16

Where: Christ United Methodist Church, 400 Fifth Ave. SW, Rochester

Cost: Free-will offering collected at each concert.

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