OWATONNA — Bri Ulrich, India Enter, and Caroline Nelson, who all excelled musically at Owatonna High School and are continuing their pursuits in college, will perform in concert Saturday at the Owatonna Arts Center.
“It’s really cool we’re all looking to music careers in front of us,” said Nelson, who graduated from OHS in 2018 and is now studying classical vocal performance at the University of St. Thomas. “We can talk freely and understand each other.”
Nelson is “most excited” to show off the “variety” of classical music, not only in her own songs, but in the pieces from Ulrich and Enter, on Saturday, she said. “We have composers from the 17th century up through the 20th century” and from countries such as Germany, France, England, and America.
Nelson herself has pieces in four languages Saturday, her favorite of which is Hugo Wolf’s “Elfenlied,” she said. “It’s a cute little song about an elf who goes through the woods and” has adventures.
Though “challenging to convey meaning,” Nelson actually enjoys performing songs in other languages, she said. It’s especially rewarding when she can “make the audience feel like they really get what’s happening.”
“The purpose behind music is giving people something to grasp onto,” she added. Music can deliver the “beauty of this world” through performers to audiences.
Enter, who just completed her freshman year at the University of Nebraska on a music scholarship, will play the third and fourth movements of Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E Minor Saturday, as well as Mark Summer’s “Julie-O,” she said. The former is a “really Romantic piece” she studied in college this spring, and she played it at a St. Paul music camp this summer.
Enter will be accompanied by Constance Goslar on piano for the number, always a highlight, Enter said. “When she accompanies me, it’s amazing, and I just love her.”
“Julie-O” is dedicated by Summer to his sister and their childhood, Enter said. “Inspired by rock, jazz, and acoustic guitar,” the cello actually “impersonates a guitar” on “Julie-O.”
“It’s a very happy, exciting piece,” she added. “You can’t feel sad or annoyed when playing it.”
Ulrich, who will attend the University of Northwestern in St. Paul this fall on a music scholarship and major in piano performance, will “show the different sides of” Frederic Chopin, her favorite composer, Saturday, playing his Nocturne in D Flat Major, Op. 27, No. 2, as well as the fourth movement of his sonata in B minor, Op. 58, she said. The former is “slow and mellow,” with “some angst in the middle,” while the latter is full of “non-stop drama and virtuosity.”
The nocturne also has a “huge range of dynamics, from pianissimo to fortissimo, which you don’t usually see in a nocturne,” she said. “I’ve always loved it.”
Ulrich attended a piano camp in the middle of this month, and she has more recitals like Saturday’s lined up for August before she starts college this fall.
“I love Owatonna, so it’s going to be hard to leave, but I’m excited to meet people in my major,” she said. “It’ll be nice to be surrounded by that.”
Nelson can’t wait to return to Owatonna following her schooling.
“I want to come back to Owatonna as soon as I can and be involved in music in” myriad ways, she said. “I love the small-town feel, the wholesomeness, and we obviously have such a strong music community.”
Her older siblings and her father all came through the OHS music pipeline, and “the tradition of that is very exciting to me,” she said. “I’m a very loyal person, and I do want to give back.”
Enter is grateful for the music education she had in Owatonna, she said. In discussions with her fellow music students at Nebraska, she learned the only ones who enjoyed similar musical opportunities as she did were in cities much larger than Owatonna, so “I definitely see the impact Owatonna has had.”
In Lincoln, she’s played in the pit orchestra — she also did that at OHS — she’s a member of Nebraska’s symphony orchestra, and she did “lots of recitals,” she said. Enter plans to audition for the Lincoln symphony as a sophomore, which “I’m looking forward to, but also scared.”
Nelson knew she wanted to attend a Catholic school with a quality music program, hence her selection of St. Thomas, but she wasn’t sure which area of music to pursue, so she spent her freshman year doing “a bit of everything to keep all the doors open,” she said. “It was crazy, but good,” because she was able to “study music as a subject,” rather than focusing only on a specific element.
Nelson had always “approached violin and voice from two different perspectives,” she said. While she was often wrapped up in “the pure sound” with the former, she just as regularly got “distracted” by the text in the latter.
It’s important to convey meaning when singing, of course, but she realized she was missing the unalloyed “delight” of music, she said. However, she also came to understand she could bring that same pleasure to “the way I listen to and perform vocal pieces.”
“A part of me will never leave the instrument side, and I’ll continue playing, but it became a” fork in the road, and “I had to choose” violin or voice, she said. She feels “good” about her decision, and “there are a lot of options open to me.”
Enter couldn’t be more pleased with her selection of Nebraska, because “the environment is so encouraging,” she said. Some music schools can be “cutthroat and intimidating,” which “would be discouraging for me,” but at Nebraska, “healthy competition” is emphasized.
That positivity is embodied by Karen Becker, Nebraska’s professor of cello and an active cellist in both solo performances and chamber music, whom Enter quickly bonded with on her initial campus visit, and Becker’s infectious élan permeates the cello department, Enter said. “Everyone was really welcoming,” and “all the cellists are like family.”
Music students at Nebraska benefit from concerts, workshops, and master classes with prominent professors and performers who discuss their music, lives, and careers, she said. “We get to learn about the profession we want to do.”
At Nebraska, “practice is easier to do, because it’s why I’m there, and I’m more motivated, because it’s clear what I need to be doing,” she said. Consequently, “I’m practicing more and improving more quickly.”
Though Enter was “worried about being away from home,” the litany of music camps she’d attended over the years acclimated her to that sense of displacement more than she’d expected, so “I adjusted better than I thought I would,” she said. She even found time to attend some Nebraska football games at Memorial Stadium, which, when full of 90,000 or so Cornhuskers fans, actually becomes the third largest “city”—by population—in the entire state.
She was dazzled by the crowds, the noise, and the tradition of releasing thousands of balloons after Nebraska’s first touchdown, she said. And the fans take football exceptionally seriously, as “the mood of people on the streets” after games definitely “depends on if (the Cornhuskers) win or lose.”
Saturday's concert, free and open to the public, begins at 2 p.m.
Ulrich, Nelson, and Enter initially planned to perform at the OAC last summer, but they couldn’t align schedules, Ulrich said. “We’ve known each other since eighth grade, we played together in different groups” in high school, and “we’re friends.”
The trio will team up for one piece Saturday, the first movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s sonata in C minor, Op. 1, No. 3.
“It’s a great piece, and you can’t miss with Beethoven,” Nelson said. “We’re comfortable with it.”
Nelson actually enjoys performing as part of a small group as much as — perhaps even more so — than her solo numbers.
“There’s so much energy and creativity flowing,” she said. “It’s a blast, really.”