Photo by Roxanne Frith

Singing Festival Lands In East Lansing Jan. 31

By Shelby Clark

The 12th Annual Mid-Winter Singing Festival, held from Friday, Jan. 31 to Saturday, Feb. 1, will celebrate singing in various genres, from American folk to Southern gospel. The festival will be held at the Hannah Community Center in East Lansing.

Several well-known faces of Lansing music will be on hand, including Bob Blackman as Master of Ceremonies. Blackman is the host of "The Folk Tradition" on WKAR FM 90.5 and also frequently hosts Ten Pound Fiddle concerts.

The festival begins with Dr. Ysaye M. Barnwell, the festival organizer, singing at Fairchild Theatre at Michigan State University in East Lansing. The event, presented by Sistrum (East Lansing's Women's Chorus), begins at 7 p.m. Jan. 29.

The weekend portion of the festival begins with a free children's concert with Lake Effect. The show, sponsored by the City of East Lansing, is at 11 a.m.

Featured concerts of the festival are titled "Community Sings," where all are invited to sing along with the main performers. Dr. Barnwell will host the first Community Sing of the weekend event at 8 p.m. on Jan. 31. She will also lead the festival choir of Saturday's Community Sing.

Dr. Barnwell has sung with Sweet Honey in the Rock, a respected a capella group. She's had an expansive career that's included connections with Sistrum, as well as a composer, arranger, teacher, author, choral clinician and actress. Her work as a Sign Language Interpreter has helped her bring her musical passions to all audiences.

In addition to Dr. Barnwell's choir-conducting talents, Robin and Linda Williams, Joel Mabus, Dan Chouinard, and others will host Saturday's Community Sing, beginning at 8 p.m.

The Williams couple have performed acoustic bluegrass music for decades. Singer-songwriter Mabus has recorded over 20 solo albums of original and traditional music since 1978. Chouinard is known for his piano, accordion and storytelling skills.

In addition to the many concerts, the festival will feature six workshops on Saturday, Feb. 1. Pre-registration is not required. The single purchase of a $10 wristband allows festival attendees to pick and choose different workshops.

Workshops run roughly an hour and will be spread among Room 211, Room 235 and the Banquet Room of the community center. The first workshops begin at 12:20, with the last workshops beginning at 3.

Julianna and Andy Wilson of The Springtails will run "Swing Era Favorites," while jazz musician Claudia Schmidt, along with Ruelaine Stokes, will conduct "Fun with the Spoken Word."

Folk, be it country-oriented or more pop, dominates many of the other workshops. Gospel-folk singer Julie Beutel will teach in "Songs of Peace, Justice and Freedom," and Community Sing host Joel Mabus will host "Singing with the Banjo.

The final workshop, "Five Hundred Miles and More ... Folk-Pop Favorites," will be taught by Michigan-based harmony singers Wanda Degen and Kay Rinker-O'Neal of The Catbird's Seat.

A special workshop, titled "Building a Vocal Community: Singing In The African American Tradition," will be hosted by Dr. Barnwell. The four-hour workshop begins at noon on Feb. 1 and participants will become the festival choir for the Saturday Night Festival Choir performance. Two pieces learned and practiced in the workshop will be presented at the evening event. Tickets for this workshop are $40, which include admission into the Saturday evening Community Sing.

Hannah Community Center is located at 819 Abbot Road, East Lansing. Tickets for workshops range from $10-40, with tickets for singing events ranging from $5 for students to $20 for the general public. Workshops are free for all those 18 and under, or students with valid college ID. The Children's Concert is free.

For more information on the festival, call 517-267-0410 or visit

For more information on other events in the Lansing and East Lansing area, visit BTL's calendar at

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