Faculty from Twin Ports celebrate connection in Rainbow Connection concert

Nicholas Susi (Left) and Elias Mokole (Right) perform. Photo by Morgan Pint

Nicholas Susi (Left) and Elias Mokole (Right) perform. Photo by Morgan Pint

On Friday, Sept. 14 the UMD department of music had musicians and vocalists from the Twin Ports area come together to celebrate connection.

This was the second annual Rainbow Connection Concert. It was showcased again because last year it brought up great talking points and positive feelings. Elias Mokole teaches baritone at UMD and was the organizer of the concert.

The concert gave faulty an outlet to express themselves.

“I started talking to my colleagues and they thought it was a good idea to have a place where faculty who identify [as gay] have a way to express,” Mokole said. “I thought, ‘what a great, positive way to have that happen and have it be about our journey, and about what we wanna sing about and play.”

Mokole hoped that others will find it easier to talk about their identities.

“[For] students who maybe didn’t know I was gay, it opened up conversations where someone wanted to talk a little about what that meant,” Mokole said. “They felt more open to do so. It was positive, super positive so I thought maybe we could try it again.”

The concert wasn't a gay event. The performers wanted to express the greatness of connection.

“There's something about music,” Mokole said. “When you send something through it, it doesn't exactly hit you in the head with the message. It allows you to interpret it the way you want to, in your own space. I heard back from students and faculty that came and were like, ‘I felt very uplifted by the messages.’”

Paula Pederson, UMD professor and director of education for inclusive excellence, also performed with her partner Sara Thomsen. Through song, the two try to make the world more loving.

Paula Pederson (Left) and Sara Thomsen (Right). Photo by Morgan Pint

Paula Pederson (Left) and Sara Thomsen (Right). Photo by Morgan Pint

“Singing is one of the ways we work toward that,” Pederson said over email. “The beauty in singing, or any art form for that matter, is that it can tend to cut through the defenses in a way that a speech or lecture might not. It stirs and opens the heart - allowing new perspectives and challenging frames to enter in.”

Last year Pederson was in attendance as a audience member and recalls it being about more than gay pride.

“I was not expecting to find the theme so powerfully presented,” Pederson said over email. “It was more than a variety show with rainbow identified performers. It softened the heart and stirred my thinking. I am thrilled to be able to join on stage this year.”

This year the concert included faculty from not only UMD but also from the University of Wisconsin-Superior and the College of Saint Scholastica.

“Last year, it was just the [UMD] faculty and the music department,” Mokole said. “This year we are representing three campuses. We’ve got the dean of the School of Arts and Letters at Saint Scholastica, [Bret Amundson]. He's a wonderful oral conductor.”

Nicholas Susi, assistant professor at Saint Scholastica and performer who has had solo concerts in Germany and across the US, also performed.

Susi sees his multifaceted identity in all his music and inevitably it will show in his performance.

Nicholas Susi performing solo. Photo by Morgan Pint

Nicholas Susi performing solo. Photo by Morgan Pint

“If the performer has totally engaged with the emotional content of the composition and wishes to communicate it sincerely to others, the performer's life experiences and identity will inevitably become the sources of this emotional involvement,” Susi said over email. “In a beneath-the-surface way, all aspects of my identity become involved in interpreting and performing music.”

Susi hopes to have better understanding and connection in the Twin Ports area from the Rainbow Connection Concert.

“I hope that this event can be beneficial in helping to build an LGBT+ community in the Twin Ports, and that it can help advance the diversity and inclusion efforts of our respective colleges by giving students, faculty, and staff a point of departure for opening up dialogue about sexuality and gender identity,” Susi said over email.

For Derek Brome, a UMD graduate and instructor of low brass at UW-Superior, performing is all about connecting.

“As a musician I have the ability to affect people on many levels,” Brome said over email. “You never know what life experiences someone is bringing to a performance. You never know how something you do is going to affect someone else. The act of connection keeps me performing.”

“This recitals mission is to promote understanding and encourage an atmosphere of acceptance and love,” Brome said. “Everyone has a unique journey through life and no one has the same experience as someone else. It is important to celebrate that uniqueness and still be able to understand our shared human existence.”

The Rainbow Connection Concert was Friday, Sept. 14 at 7:30 pm in Weber Music Hall. To stream the concert performance visit here.

CultureJakob Bermas