University of Minnesota Morris project is mapping out Minnesota's musical talent

A music professor from the University of Minnesota Morris has created a mapping project to bring together as many state musical ensembles, bands and groups as possible. The goal is to provide these organizations a place to network and find assistance when responding to the challenges facing similar groups.

A crowd watches the Prairie Winds Concert Band on June 6, 2018, at Robbins Island in Willmar where the band performs its summer concert series. The band is one of many community ensembles taking part in Denise Odello's research project Musical Minnesota, which is focusing on community music, its impact on the community and how various ensembles can work together to be successful.
Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune file photo
We are part of The Trust Project.

WILLMAR — Across Minnesota, the strains of music can be heard from a variety of orchestras, bands and choirs, both large and small. There is classical, big band, popular, jazz and ecclesiastical — something for nearly every musical taste.

"Minnesota is a very musical place," said Denise Odello, assistant professor of music at the University of Minnesota Morris. "There are all sorts of groups that are very active in the state. You don't have to be in the Twin Cities to hear great music or be part of a group."

Denise Odello, University of Minnesota Morris Assitant Music professor.jpg
Denise Odello, assistant music professor.
Contributed / University of Minnesota Morris

A major supporter of and participant in these types of organizations, Odello has been working on a multi-year research project focusing on this theme — Musical Minnesota: Mapping the Community Music Ensembles in greater Minnesota .

"I wanted to think about community music making in rural places, especially in Minnesota," Odello said, pointing to the distances people will travel and the time they will put into participating in musical ensembles. "There are some unique challenges that community ensembles in rural spaces face."

screen shot of Musical Minnesota Map June 6, 2022.jpg
The Musical Minnesota map on June 6, 2022. As part of Denise Odello's research project, the map shows where various musical groups are located across the state. Odello, assistant professor of music at the University of Minnesota Morris, hopes to add to the map.

The most visual part of Odello's project is a map, which shows the location of various groups, bands and choirs from across the state. This includes groups from in and around Willmar such as the Willmar Area Symphonic Orchestra and Prairie Winds Concert Band.


"The great thing about having a map is you can visualize how much activity is going on," Odello said.

Odello is also asking the various ensembles and their members just why people, most of whom are not professional musicians, take part. Reasons Odello has collected over the last few years include a sense of community, collaboration, social interaction and a chance for different generations to come together. Many of the groups have members ranging in age from high school and college students all the way up to retirees and seniors.

"How many spaces can you think of where you make these inter-generational connections?" Odello asked. "You are actually working towards a goal with all these people from different walks of life."

The Willmar Area Symphonic Orchestra performs a concert in March 2019 at the Willmar Education and Arts Center. According to Denise Odello, such groups can be an example of what successful cooperation and collaboration can looks like when everyone works together.
Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune file photo

Odello's main goal for the project is to create a product that would be beneficial to the ensembles she is studying, perhaps something as simple as a way to connect these groups. They may be very different in style and size, but could be facing the same challenges — such as finding members.

They could help each other find ways to solve these issues, Odello believes.

"These are groups that will need to stay connected," Odello said.

There is also the opportunity to take what is learned in Musical Minnesota and put those lessons forward as solutions for other areas of need, such as rural community vitality and government.

"These community ensembles are really kind of a functioning, healthy community in microcosm," Odello said, as it brings people together from different backgrounds to achieve something that wouldn't be possible by an individual. "Everybody understands we can't make this work if we are not working together."


Assisting Odello with her research is the university's Clifford J. Benson Center for Community Partnerships. Odello feels the center and the university are good partners for her work, as they focus on community-engaged research and scholarship. Morris is located in greater Minnesota, and can understand the special feeling of community in small cities and towns.

"I am fortunate on the University of Minnesota Morris campus (in) that we have a center for small towns," Odello said. "We are thinking about where we are and how the university can be involved with the people in our rural location."

A few years into Musical Minnesota, Odello is still looking to add more ensembles to the map, no matter their size or how often they perform. Odello's only guidelines are for the ensemble to be open to the public and not be from a church.

Information on taking part in the project can be found on the website at , on Facebook by searching "Community Music in Greater Minnesota" or by emailing Odello at .

"My hope is this is something that keeps evolving. Ensembles are constantly changing and are not something that stays static," and Musical Minnesota can't stay the same either, Odello said. "I see this as an ongoing project."

Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email or direct 320-214-4373.

What to read next
Art classes and meetings in the area
Exhibits on display in the next month
Southwest Minnesota Arts Council events in the next month
How did online sleuths figure out an approximately 30-second scene in "Better Call Saul" was filmed in Rochester?