MORRIS - As a high school student, Kenneth Hodgson knew that he wanted to be concert director. After a visit to St. Olaf College as a high school student from Washington, he decided to study at the college to learn "how to make a choir sound like that."
"Choral singing is about working to get singers to sing together - to sing expressively," said Hodgson. "But also to get each section to blend together to sound like one voice, so no one voice stands out. That's what I wanted to learn how to do."
At the time, St. Olaf College was one of the few schools to tour both nationally and internationally, allowing Hodgson to tour with the choir.
"I wanted my students to have somewhat of the same experience that I had," said Hodgson. "That was always my goal, to give students the opportunity to sing in an ensemble and experience a sense of community."
After fifty years of teaching and 34 years at the University of Minnesota, Morris, Hodgson said it's time for someone else to come and experience the fun. Hodgson will be retiring at the end of this semester after directing one final Carol Concert next weekend.
After graduating from St. Olaf, Hodgson returned to Washington, with the hope of landing a high school choir director position. After teaching at the middle school level for two years, he decided to return to school for his masters degree. Upon graduation, he spent three more years at the middle school level before landing a job as a high school choral director.
Before long, Hodgson found himself directing at Coeur D'alene junior college in Northern Idaho. After directing for a year, Hodgson planned a choir tour to Minnesota. During the tour, his choir performed a chapel service at Concordia College. As he was waiting in the wings of the chapel, the Concordia choir director asked if Hodgson would be interested in an opening they had as a choral director.
"After that, I didn't know how I was going to keep my mind on business and get through our performance," joked Hodgson.
Hodgson spent the next five years directing and working on his doctorate. Once he received his doctorate, he came to UMM in 1978. Since then, Hodgson's choirs have toured nationally every year.
"It's a professional experience that is enriching to the students. Touring builds up the quality of singing and performing. After the last performance, students know that they've done well, but more importantly they know how they got there."
There are two things that Hodgson said he will miss after retiring: the music and the students.
"Not every state has tremendous choirs. Minnesota has the most active and finest choirs in the U.S.," said Hodgson. "UMM choir alumni are thick as flies. They gather together and reminisce."
Hodgson lives just outside of Morris with his wife on a five acre farm. Retirement will give him the opportunity to work in his garden that has been expanding over the years.
"In four to five years we hope that we can be somewhat self-sufficient from the garden," said Hodgson. "Maybe raise a couple of pigs, beef, and possibly chickens."
Hodgson has also been busy starting up a small vineyard on his farm.
"I have no idea how it will work, but it's not a huge investment," said Hodgson. "I may end up pulling it up in a few years and doing something different."
"I'll come back," said Hodgson regarding future choral performances. "I want my first two months of retirement to be very quiet months. But I'll definitely come back."
This year's Carol Concert performances will be Hodgson's last as he is retiring at the end of the semester. The Carol Concert is a narrative concert that usually has some theme associated with it, such as a Charlie Brown Christmas. This year's theme is 'Twas a Night Before Christmas.
"Carols are part of the national tradition and heritage," said Hodgson. "The concert is a fin way to teach people carols they don't know."
The Carol Concert will take place at Assumption Church on Friday, Nov. 30, at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 1, at 8 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 2, at 2 p.m. Bello Cucina will be serving a meal 90 minutes prior to each show in the lower level of Assumption Church. Tickets for both the dinner and concert can be purchased in advance by calling (320) 589-6077 or online at https://www.tickets.umn.edu/UMM/Online/.