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Grinnell in the Twin Cities Newsletter
Featuring Grinnellians in Music

Volume 2, Issue 1
Welcome to the second edition of the Grinnell in the Twin Cities Newsletter, featuring Grinnellians in Music!  We've moved to an all web-based format, so please let us know what you think by emailing (not to be confused with our Twin Cities listserv, which is  If you know of Grinnell alums living or working in the Twin Cities who didn't receive this newsletter, you can forward this email directly to them and they can become subscribers by using the links at the bottom of the email, all through the miracle of Constant Contact.  We feel comfortable making such a shameless plug for Constant Contact because one of the muckety-mucks at Constant Contact is Grinnellian Eric Groves '85.  But since he lives in Boston and not the Twin Cities, that is all the face time he will receive in this newsletter.  Instead, let's move on to the Twin Citians among us.  For this issue, we asked you to tip us off to Grinnellians making music in the Twin Cities, and indeed you did.  A word of warning to those of you who might be reading this newsletter at work: clicking on some of the links within the articles will take you to the artists' MySpace pages, which your employer may or may not be pleased about.

Happy reading!

- Karmi Anna Mattson '97 and Erin Peterson '98
Quick Links
In This Newsletter:
Alanna Walen '92
Neal Hines '93
Eric Edwalds '80
Adam Wirtzfeld '98
James Rechs '97
Charlie Smith '07
Rebecca Eliers '98 and Martha Miller '95
Josh Burke '92
Ian Gamble '90 and John Goolsby '90
Twin Cities Women's Choir

Alanna Walen My friends from the women's softball league had been encouraging me to check out this choir for a couple of years, and I finally went to the first rehearsal of the season.  Before I even entered the Minneapolis church basement door, I knew I was going to be friends with Carol, a woman I just met, who I learned through enthusiastic conversation had gone to grad school with my roommate from Grinnell.  That was 1999, and my commitment to the Twin Cities Women's Choir has grown from tentative soprano to board member, Treasurer, section leader, and occasional soloist.

 TCWC started in 1997 with a group of 16 women who wanted to sing with Mary Bussman, our charismatic director, and with their cash contributions to buy some music to get started.  The choir's mission is "to sing, perform, and affirm the voices of women," and that's pretty accurate except it doesn't convey the fun that we have while doing those things.  We now have about 140 members, with 100-120 singing in any given concert, and we are a community of women from all ages, backgrounds, income levels, and orientations who come together to make beautiful music.  Mary selects pieces primarily from women composers and arrangers, as well as a variety of choral and popular music with lyrics that are inspiring, and arrangements that challenge and reward the singers as well as entertain the audience. 

 In addition to outreach performances at conventions and other events throughout the Twin Cities, TCWC hosts three major concerts each season.  "Illuminations" warms a cold church on a December afternoon with songs celebrating the light from various faiths and traditions.  Our winter concert in February features a collaboration with an artist or group that stretches our musical comfort zones; this year The Brass Messengers joined us, and previous guests have included local jazz musician Bruce Henry, Native American singers, and several children's choirs.  "Divas and Desserts," our May performance, is all about celebrating springtime: guests sit at tables and enjoy coffee and desserts at intermission, the music is energetic and uplifting, and a silent auction and raffle add to the fun.  Tickets for "Divas and Desserts" will go on sale soon; check out for concert details, to buy one of our two CD's, or to join our e-mail list.

Twin Cities Women's Choir

 The real strength of TCWC is in the community we have built.  A February article about the choir on did a great job of sharing quotes and anecdotes to capture the essence of the group.  For anyone who likes stirring music performed beautifully by beautiful women (OK, I'm a little biased), come to one of our concerts.  For any women who have enjoyed singing in the past and would like to sing again, consider joining us in the fall.  I'm sure glad I did, as my good friend Carol can attest.  I haven't felt such a sense of belonging since I left Grinnell.

- Alanna Walen '92
Sumunar, a Javanese Gamelan Ensemble featuring Neal Hines '93Sumunar

Neal Hines '93 can distinguish a Grinnellian from a non-Grinnellian simply by mentioning that he plays with the Javanese Gamelan Ensemble Sumunar.   While this declaration might draw a blank stare from non-Grinnell folk, so acclaimed was Roger Vetter and the Grinnell Javanese Gamelan on campus that even those with no affiliation to Grinnell's music program will nod with knowing familiarity in response ("ah, yes, gamelan").  In fact, Grinnell and Minneapolis are some of the only places Javanese gamelan and dance are taught outside of Java.

Though Neal did not perform with the Grinnell gamelan, he has been playing with Sumunar for eleven years.   While on tour at Wartburg College, they reunited with Roger and the Grinnell Gamelan players, who Neal confirms are well-regarded in the gamelan world.  Sumunar is taught by Indonesians, and Neal says it's a fun and diverse crew.  According to Neal, "Gamelan provides an outlet for active listening like no other I've found.  If you've no musical experience, but interest in doing something that will challenge your mind, I recommend stopping by for a listen."  Visit for information about upcoming performances, or to listen to Sumunar's music.  Neal recommends the recording Sayuk: "It was recorded at the National Music Museum in Vermillion, SD (an internationally regarded treasure) a few years ago.  The Gamelan instruments are of very high quality (decorated in gold leaf) and the recording engineering and level of playing (especially the elaborating instruments) is also high."  Sumunar is planning on touring and performing in Indonesia in 2010.
Eric Edwalds '80
Musical Grinnellians abound at Twin Cities-based Barr Engineering.  While Neal Hines '93 plays with Sumunar, his co-worker Eric Edwalds '80 has been the piano player in Beasley's Big Band for over 15 years.  Beasley's is a 19-piece big band playing in the Count Basie / Duke Ellington style.   They play the first Tuesday of every month at O'Gara's on Snelling in Saint Paul, and the third Thursday of every month at the Wabasha Street Caves , which is an excellent place for dancing. 

Eric also plays small group jazz (solo piano up to a six piece combo) for various gatherings (senior centers, weddings, house parties, etc.).
Adam Wirtzfeld '98
Adam WirtzfeldOne of the more prominent (and unique) musical Grinnellians in the Twin Cities is Adam Wirtzfeld '98, who plays the saw with the Roe Family Singers every Monday at the 331 club (and occasionally elsewhere).  He also plays with a group called Captain Yonder.  Adam was prominently featured in a fascinating Star Tribune article last August as one of only a handful of saw players in Minnesota.  

James Rechs '97 and Jailhouse Payback
Adam Wirtzfeld

Member of the campus band Maelstrom (1994-1997), James Rechs '97 has played in several musical acts since leaving Grinnell, including playing lead guitar for fellow Grinnell alum and folk singer Erin Sugrue '98. James now plays in a band in Rochester called Jailhouse Payback, which has performed live on 89.3 The Current and has written over 60 original songs in two years of playing together. James plays mostly "Americana" style music, and in addition to playing guitar, also loves to play dobro, electric lap steel guitar, harmonica and sing. That's James in the above photo, second from the left.
Charlie Smith '07, from Latin Band to Military Special
Charlie SmithBy David de Young '86

Charlie Smith graduated from Grinnell College in 2007 with a degree in music. That summer, while Smith was off leading camping trips in Wyoming for high school students, a few friends back home formed the Minneapolis-based dance-rock band Military Special (named for a brand of whiskey available only on military bases). Smith joined forces with them later that fall. In just over a year of playing shows and the release of an EP in 2008, the band has gained critical attention in the Twin Cities music media. Articles in City Pages and Rift Magazine praise the band for deftly balancing synth and guitar driven music and their ability to "bring out the dance" in even people with two left feet. Military Special's music has often been compared to Bloc Party for its frenetic dance energy and The Cure for its pained vocals.

Smith plays lead synth in the six piece group that derives its sound from two guitars, two keyboards, bass and live drums. He's also one of the co-writers of the band's pre-programmed beats, and he told me he found a lot of inspiration for this from the Latin music he learned at Grinnell working with Gabriel Espinosa (Pella, IA), his jazz theory teacher and leader of the Latin Band. "It's surprising how similar Latin music is to the dance-rock I play in Military Special, rhythmically at least," Smith said. "And I picked up a lot on creating a tight sound under Gabriel's direction." In college Smith played piano in a number of different groups including the jazz band and Latin band as well as miscellaneous groups that played Bob's Underground Café (the former Pub) and Gardner Lounge. Though clearly Smith found no shortage of ensembles to play with, he feels campus bands not directly involved with the music department would be better served if the school would provide more appropriate practice space and equipment for the campus bands organization, Freesound.

When you say someone is a musician, often the next question that comes to mind is, so what do they do for money? To that end Smith is still tied into the arts scene and works in Minneapolis as an usher for the Guthrie Theater and also at the Cedar Cultural Center. He lives in the Powderhorn Park neighborhood where he also teaches music and records music at home.

On March 3rd, Military Special released their first full length album, Civil Union, and they celebrated the album's release with a four-gig stand at the Nomad World Pub in Minneapolis. The shows were part of the club's respected Minneseries showcase which puts musicians in residence on Thursday nights at the West Bank Club for one month along with some of their favorite bands. (The Minneseries lineup with Military Special also included First Communion Afterparty and The Guystorm).

Military Special returns to Grinnell April 30th to play a show with Joe McNerty (Iowa City) and Millard Fillmore (Watertown, MN).

This article wouldn't be complete if I didn't ask Smith for his own recommendations for Minnesota music right now. In addition to the bands playing with Military Special during their Nomad residency he mentions both Look Book as a recent favorite, and says he's also looking forward to the next release by 2008 City Pages "Picked to Click" artist Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles. It was Lucy Michelle and her band, incidentally, for whom Military Special played their very first show at a house party and the U of M in December of 2007.

You can currently stream the entirety of Military Special's new album from

- David de Young '86
Gee, Strings!
When it comes to classical music, staid and sober is so last century. With wit and warmth, the Minnesota Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO) is bringing old favorites and new classics to audiences across the metro area. MPO members Rebecca Eilers '98 and Martha Miller '95 share their string theories with the Grinnell in the Twin Cities Newsletter.

Tell me about the MPO.

Rebecca: The MPO is a community orchestra of volunteers based in the Twin Cities. It also happens to be the nation's first GLBT-affiliated orchestra. The MPO was founded in 1993-San Francisco didn't have a GLBT orchestra until 2008.

Martha: The MPO includes players from a wide variety of backgrounds and orientations who share a commitment to inclusivity, nondiscrimination, and to the performance of works by underrepresented composers.

Though, to be clear, you don't have to be gay to be a member, since both of you are straight. What do you play, and how did you get involved?

Martha: I play the cello. Rebecca plays the violin.

Rebecca: We've both been playing our respective instruments since we were five years old. We met in our Waterloo, Iowa, high school orchestra. About a year after I moved to the Twin Cities, I was looking for some community activities to get involved in. I saw the MPO booth at the Gay Pride Festival in 2000, so I signed up for their mailing list. They really needed string players and were very persistent about convincing me to join! I, in turn, convinced Martha to join with me.  (I'm pretty sure some orchestra members erroneously think we're a couple.) But the people were really welcoming and fun, and the music was interesting, so we're now in our ninth season with the orchestra. I'm also the current orchestra vice president. 

What if the last classical music I listened to was from the movie Amadeus? Am I going to be out of my league at your concerts?

Martha: Our programming committee makes an effort to choose a good mix of "dead white guy" standards (like Beethoven), infrequently played music, and new music. Our concerts have loose themes and fun titles, such as: Hail to the Queens, Sectional Tension, Al-mostly Mozart, and Exploring Our Sectionality. Our conductor, Joe Schlefke, is adorable.

Rebecca: His discussions make the music accessible for even non-classical-music aficionados. I think some of my friends come to the concerts as much to hear Joe talk as to actually hear us play.

I'm almost persuaded. Keep going.

Martha: You get to support two Grinnellians for the price of one.

Rebecca: And you get free homemade cookies after the concerts!

Sold! Now what?

Martha: Our next concert, entitled "Hit Parade," is Saturday, May 30, 7:30 p.m. at Sundin Hall on the Hamline University's campus. Tickets are $16 for adults, $10 for seniors/students, and $5 for children if reserved in advance.  At the door they are $2 more for adults and seniors/students.

Rebecca: And the free Como Park Concert is Monday, June 1, at 7:00PM.

How else do you encourage people to get involved?

Rebecca: We're always looking for people who want to play, volunteer, or support the orchestra. To find out more, e-mail the orchestra using the form at or email me directly at

Rad. Thanks, both of you.
Josh Burke '92
Kerckhoff Laboratories for the Biological Sciences, Pasadena, CA
Josh Burke '92 started playing in bands in high school when he taught himself guitar.  He switched to bass during his sophomore year at Grinnell when his friends' band lost their previous bass player to graduation.  An admittedly mediocre guitar player, Josh quickly developed an affinity for the bass, and continued playing in cover bands during the rest of his time at Grinnell.  After graduation and a move to Iowa City for law school, Josh continued playing in bands.  While much of it was still covers for school talent shows and fundraisers, Josh also joined his first original band.  "I really enjoyed the freedom of being able to do whatever I wanted in a song without worrying about whether it was 'right.'"

Josh took some time off from music after moving to the Twin Cities to practice law in 1995, but after a few years really missed the experience of performing.  He found his first band by answering an ad in the City Pages, and started building connections with other local musicians.  Different bands formed or broke up, and Josh admits that he's been fired a couple of times "by some of the best bands in the Twin Cities."  Josh has tried to build on each of those experiences, and has played in a variety of bands, from metal to rock, playing his own music and also doing fill-in gigs with bands in need.  At his busiest, he was playing 80 shows in a year, travelling every weekend in a van around the Midwest, playing anywhere he could and sleeping on floors.  There was never any real money involved, and Josh didn't harbor any illusions of hitting the bigtime or even being a full-time musician.  "I just love doing it.  Getting emails from people around the country about how much they loved our music was a huge thrill."

 With a small child at home, Josh is playing closer to home these days.  "I still love to play as much as I can, but that's just not where I'm at in my life anymore."  Josh is currently playing with the band Orange Blank, practicing a few times a week and playing a few shows a month.  They will be releasing a new record in early April (recorded prior to him joining the band) and are constantly writing new material.  He swears that he is not going to push his daughter into music, but keeps instruments around the house and is encouraging her to explore her own creativity.  "I've told her she can play anything except guitar, because guitar players are a dime a dozen."
The Moss Piglets
Moss Piglets
The Moss Piglets are a Twin Cities-based bluegrass band that features Ian Gamble '90 and John Goolsby '90. 

The story of The Moss Piglets began when John Goolsby met Ian Gamble while taking a break from studying at Grinnell. Although both were walking in the same direction, they somehow managed to run into each other; the subsequent sound produced was considered their first musical composition. Music had always been important to John and Ian, but it was on that fateful day that they began the process of pooling their distinctive talents to make what some call music, and others call a threat to modern civilization.

Ian and John weren't so much musicians in those years as free-thinking performance artists. They explored the various edges of good taste, nibbling on one section after another until they would throw it all away and start over. Where they were going to school, there weren't many other musical acts in the area save for the occasional yodeler, so performances came quickly. As they explored the outer limits of melodic theory, they also began to explore different identities. They called themselves the Dogz, Highstreet Blues Band, The Night Owls, Out of the Blue, and Jam Bag (the Jam Bag groupies were the best!). It would take years (and a few classes in entomology) to finally arrive at the name, "The Moss Piglets".

For those of you who will be attending Grinnell's Reunion May 29 - 31, rumor has it the Moss Piglets will be performing.
That does it for this issue of the Grinnell in the Twin Cities newsletter.  Let us know what you think of the new format.

Our next issue will appear in late summer/early fall and will feature Green Grinnellians - Twin Cities alumni doing eco-conscious stuff as employment, as volunteer work, or just for their own personal edification.  Send your solar stories and compost chronicles to (not to be confused with our Twin Cities listserv, which is by July 1.
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