Duo from St. Mary's in Alexandria to perform 'The Story of God' at New York's Carnegie Hall
Father Matthew Kuhn and St. Mary's Music Coordinator Erin Takle will be performing at the historic stage on Feb. 19 along with members of parishes from across the country.
ALEXANDRIA — It's one to cross of the bucket list for two locals from St. Mary's Church in Alexandria.
On Sunday, Feb. 19, church leader, Father Matthew Kuhn, and St. Mary's Catholic School Music Coordinator, Erin Takle, will make their debut on stage at New York's Carnegie Hall.
The duo will perform with 250 other vocalists from parishes from across the country for "The Story of God: A Journey of Faith, Hope and Unity."
Their journey to Carnegie began in March of last year when one of the show's headliners, ValLimar Jansen, spent a weekend in Alexandria for a holy retreat to give presentations about music as well as teaching about acting out Bible stories. ValLimar is a singer, composer and recording artist known for her work with contemporary Christian music. Kuhn says, "If you have to describe her in one word, it's entertaining."
"It was probably the best reaction to a retreat that we've had," said Kuhn. "People really liked her and came back strong every night. The crowds got bigger."
On ValLimar's last day in Alexandria, she told Takle that she would be performing at Carnegie in less than a year's time and she wanted Takle to join her. Takle at first dismissed the invitation as a joke but ValLimar was serious. Little did Takle know that behind the scenes Kuhn was talking with ValLimar about showcasing Takle's singing talents on a bigger stage.
"She said, 'Oh, I've got an idea.' She didn't tell me it was Carnegie Hall," Kuhn said.
When Kuhn found out that Carnegie hall would be the venue, he asked if he could get a ticket to watch Takle. ValLimar said, 'Oh no, you're coming too,' as in, he will also be performing.
ValLimar had heard the duo sing during mass and knew they would fit right in for the New York show.
Kuhn says the show will tell Biblical stories through gospel, African-American spiritual and contemporary Christian music sung by a few headlining soloists and church choirs from across the country.
"We're a part of the choir, which I think is still a crazy experience. It'll be fun to meet everybody," said Takle, adding that she is very excited and grateful. "(Singing at Carnegie Hall) is like the Super Bowl for musicians."
"It's a bucket list thing," said Kuhn.
While Kuhn and Takle will be background voices in the show's mass choir, they each have a brief solo in "The Lord is My Shepherd." They have been given sheet music, backing tracks and instructions to get them prepared for the big day.
"You can practice as much as you can up until the concert then you just give it to God," said Takle.
"It's a big deal but at the same time, we get to sing for the Holy Mass every day. That is way more important to me," said Kuhn. "What I like about it (a Carnegie concert) is that it's all church music. It's not a vanity concert. It's spreading a little joy, lifting people up and giving them a moment to celebrate God."
Kuhn has been the pastor for St. Mary's for a year and a half with 13 total years as a priest. With his father being in the military, he moved around a lot while growing up but his family always had a farm near Millerville. He graduated from St. Olaf College with a degree in music education and took up a brief gig as a music teacher before entering seminary school.
Kuhn's introduction to music began in his childhood. He says it has always been a strong tradition in his family from his grandparents to his parents and now to him.
"My parents did music here (St. Mary's). They had a group called, 'We Your People,' way back in the late '70s, early '80s. Mom played fiddle and piano and dad plays bass. They both sang so we sang," said Kuhn. "Everywhere we went, we've been church musicians."
Takle was born and raised in Alexandria. She started singing at St. Mary's 15 years ago in the Young Adult Choir under the direction of Laurie Youngers. After graduating from Jefferson High School in 2011, she went on to earn a music degree with a concentration on vocal performance from the College of Saint Benedict. After college, she traveled with choirs across Europe before coming home and settling into a job at St. Mary's Catholic School. Last May she became the full-time music coordinator.
"In terms of where I got the music background from, my dad hums a lot. He says he always has the music in him. And my grandma could name any song. You could just say a phrase and it would have her think of a song and she would start singing it. I have that too, evidently. So, I get a little bit from both sides," Takle said.
Beyond performing at Carnegie, Kuhn is looking forward to reconnecting with friends and fellow priests in New York while Takle has a few Broadway plays she will be attending with her parents.
"I just hope (Takle) comes back," Kuhn said jokingly.
When asked why music is important to them, Takle said, "I was always taught that when you sing, it's like praying twice." Kuhn agreed and said that quote is from St. Augustine.
"Music is my form of expression. It allowed me to be who I am," said Takle.
Kuhn describes music as a whole-person activity, especially when you use it to praise God because it uses your body and soul. He explained that during college, he was struggling with his faith. But, music always made things right. He said the school's choir director made the choir room feel like a church.
"When you're doing it for God, he just loves it. Anything you give God, he is going to appreciate," said Kuhn.
The two made it clear they are not searching for recognition but they want everyone to know that great things happen when you put your life in the Lord's hands.
"Look out because you don't know what he'll do with you," said Kuhn.