Josee Faltz knows the Twin Cities well. "We hosted an AFS student from Minnesota in our house," she says, "so I've been to the museums and to some weddings in Minneapolis and St. Paul."
Faltz lives in Luxembourg, a small European nation bordered by France, Germany and Belgium. This week, she'll be visiting the Twin Cities again but this time, she'll have a much more active role than tourist or wedding guest. That's because Faltz is the conductor and music director of the Men's Chorale of Luxembourg. Making its first-ever U.S. tour, the group will perform Monday at St. Mary's Church in Winona, Minn., and on Wednesday at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis. Both concerts are free and open to the public.
Comprising 45 members, the Men's Chorale of Luxembourg formed in 2006 through the union of seven long-standing singing groups whose numbers had dwindled. "Some choirs had only six or seven singers," Faltz says. "Now we are big again, so we can do much more. We can sing operas and musicals and all kinds of things."
The choir's repertoire is far reaching, and includes pieces by such recognizable names as Gabriel Fauré, Conradin Kreutzer, Claude-Michel Shönberg and Julia Ward Howe. Beyond its songs sung in Latin, German, French and English, the choir also sings in its native Luxembourgish. The pieces in that language are rarely heard outside Luxembourg and will feature heavily in the choir's tour, which also includes stops near Milwaukee, in Chicago and in Los Angeles before culminating in a concert at the United Nations in New York.
The tour was organized by Kevin Wester, executive director of the Luxembourg American Cultural Society, based in Belguim, Wis., north of Milwaukee. Wester's organization seeks to preserve Luxembourg heritage and culture, and to strengthen U.S.-Luxembourg ties through cultural exchange and economic development.
According to Wester, a 19th-century land and subsequent food shortage caused nearly one-third of Luxembourgers at that time to leave for the U.S., where they settled in a triangular area stretching from New York to Kansas to Montana. "But the biggest concentration," Wester says, "is in Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota."
That's why Wester and his colleagues organize the Luxembourg Fest of America in Wisconsin each summer. Last year, Faltz contacted Wester to ask him if he would be interested in having the Men's Chorale of Luxembourg take part in this year's fest. With the festival gigs as a foundation, the choir's tour grew from there.
Many of the choir members are accompanied on this tour by family members and friends. Because one of the purposes of the tour is to share the Luxembourg language and culture, the larger group helps in that pursuit.
Moneymaking, however, is not a motivation; all of the choir's concerts throughout its U.S. tour are free. From a pragmatic standpoint, Faltz says it's just easier to book concerts when there isn't the added complication of charging an admission fee.
"It is not too important for us to get money for concerts," she says, "but it's very important for us that we can perform here. I've found that to sing in other countries and other states is a very good motivation for a choir. It's very enjoyable for us."