In mid-September of 2014 I headed to Minnesota for my first one-month stay as a 2014 McKnight Visiting Composer with the American Composers Forum. Composers who receive this grant are asked to spend a minimum of two months in Minnesota pursuing a self-designed community residency project. My project proposal was to compose a song cycle about the history and culture of sled dog mushing in northern Minnesota as connected to the contributions of 19th century Ojibwe mail carrier – John Beargrease – who worked with his sled dogs to deliver the mail during the winter months from 1880 to 1900 between Two Harbors and Grand Marais, and as reflected in the spirit of The John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon that takes place annually in January. I followed the route traveled by John Beargrease, meeting with mushers and sled-builders, librarians, writers, historians, musicians, and people who have lived along that north shore area for generations, learning as much as I could and gathering materials for the song cycle. I then returned in mid-January of 2015 for my second one month visit, followed the marathon first-hand and had the opportunity to spend an afternoon mushing with Matt Groth.
In December I  returned to Minnesota and had the opportunity to hear the Borealis Chorale and Orchestra perform their annual winter concert. It was a complete treat to meet the members of the BCO, to hear their stellar singing and musicianship and enjoy the varied selections in their winter program. They also premiered “Snowfall” – the last song of the song cycle. It is an honor to be in the room on an occasion such as this where you get to hear something you’ve written being performed beautifully. There is gratitude that goes out beyond the stretch of the place where you sit, listening… toward people around the world who are sharing music in settings much like this, singing songs, listening to songs, that are familiar, or new… an ancient and universal history of coming together.
Now the song cycle is completed. Here in Sonoma County Take Jack is rehearsing for the upcoming Minnesota concerts. We fly out on January 28th for a week of rehearsals and concerts with the Borealis Chorale and Orchestra, can’t wait!  We’ll also follow the 2016 John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon and help kick it off by singing national anthems at the race start. Then, when we return home, we will be joined by a chorus and orchestra here for a west coast premiere on March 19th.
World premiere concerts will be directed by William Beckstrand, and performed by The Borealis Chorale and Orchestra with Take Jack, on Friday, Feb. 5th at The Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Grand Marais, and on Saturday, Feb. 6 at Sacred Heart Music Center in Duluth. Children from Hermantown Elementary School, directed by Jerry Kaldor, will perform one of the songs for the Duluth concert, and children from Sawtooth Mountain Elementary School, directed by Kerri Bilben, will sing during concerts in Grand Marais. Stonebridge Singers Drum, from Grand Portage, will honor the occasion by joining the Friday night concert in Grand Marais.
And now it is March. We are in rehearsals for the west coast premiere concerts. Any and all – get some TICKETS and come give this a listen!
MARCH 19, 2016 3:00 PM or 8:00 PM
Glaser Center, 547 Mendocino Avenue, Santa Rosa, CA
Conducted by Omid Zoufonoun:
Take Jack • 9-member collaborative ensemble from Sonoma County, including Clare Broussard, JT Devine, Robin Eschner, Bill Horvitz, Dennis Hysom, Shari Kovner, Chris Smith, Mike VanDordrecht and Gene Wright 
with chorus • Kitchen Choir, directed by Sarah Saulsbury
and orchestra • Steve Adams, Cory Wright, Kyle Bruckman, John Tuttle, Oliver Tuttle, John Bidwell, Philip Beard, Sarah Zaharako, Katie Harlow and Joseph Sabella
Header photo • Nace Hagemann


  1. I look forward to reading about your experiences throughout this project. It was nice to meet you at the John Beargrease Board of Directors meeting last night. Best of luck!


  2. Robin, thank you for coming to the Beargrease meeting last night! Its exciting to have the opportunity to watch you bring to life through music the story behind the race!


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