Since 1997, Bemidji State University alumna Angela Mitchell has been directing some of the finest high school choirs in the state of Minnesota.
Under her direction, Stillwater Area High School choirs have performed at the Minnesota Music Educators Convention, Minnesota America Choral Directors conventions, the North Central American Choral Directors Conventions, Minnesota’s Choral Arts Finale, and most recently as the featured high school choir on NPR’s “From the Top” with Christopher O’Reilly. Her ensembles consistently receive Superior ratings at the Minnesota State High School League’s Large Group Vocal Contest as well.
That success has come from a passion for helping all students find their voices. Mitchell said she was first hired to teach a small women’s chorus — the women who didn’t make it into the top-tier choir and who were too old to be in the lower choirs — and to co-teach a non-auditioned mixed voice chorus as well as a 7th grade boys choir.
Mitchell saw an opportunity to re-direct the women’s chorus — to turn it from a home for, in her words, the “left-over girls” into an auditioned ensemble.
“After that first year, I also started recruiting girls from the band and orchestra,” she said. “I wanted to create a place that could and should be a challenging and rewarding musical experience even to those women who didn’t get the top mixed choir experiences.”
During her first 19 years at Stillwater, she said, that opportunity fueled a passion for building women’s choirs that continues today. Her desire to create opportunities for students to fit in and find their voices can be traced back to her time at Bemidji State — where, as a transfer student, she was looking for her own voice.
“I was drawn to Bemidji,” she said. “I came here for the choir, specifically because of its reputation and excellence.”
That reputation and excellence were due in no small part to Dr. Paul Brandvik, the legendary professor emeritus who directed BSU’s choral music programs from 1967-98.
“I was here because of him,” she said. “I saw the Bemidji Choir in high school. They performed at a choral festival that my high school choir was a part of and I was immediately drawn to them. I also sang with a mass choir that day directed by Dr. Brandvik and thought he was brilliant.”
Mitchell was a sophomore when she transferred to BSU, and as it turned out Brandvik was exactly the instructor and mentor she hoped he would be.
“I remember sight-reading ‘Witness’ by Jack Halloran on the first day of rehearsal and hearing the choir’s attention to tone quality, intonation and the conducting gestures of Dr. Brandvik ,” she said. “I realized ‘this is what I had hoped for. This is what I was missing last year.’”
After graduation, a recommendation from Brandvik helped Mitchell land that job teaching women’s chorus at Stillwater Area High school.
Today, Mitchell takes advantage of any opportunity to give her students that same high standard that was her Bemidji Choir experience — including a clinic with BSU’s director of choral music, Dr. Dwight Jilek.
“Last year, the Stillwater choir participated in a joint evening concert with the Bemidji Choir, had a half-day clinic with Dr. Jilek and got to be near the lake on the most beautiful day,” she said. “They were excited to be there, and it was eye opening for them — an awesome experience.”
In addition to her work with Stillwater Area High School, Mitchell conducts Donne Unite women’s choir at the University of St. Thomas in Saint Paul, Minn., and frequently appears as a guest clinician for choral festivals throughout the state. She is a member of the American Choral Directors Association, the Minnesota Music Educators Association and the Voice Care Network.