- Associated Press - Sunday, September 20, 2015

WILLISTON, N.D. (AP) - Ernie Haase believes in things like callings.

When the Grammy-nominated, Gospel Hall of Fame Cathedral Quartet he was part of broke up in 1999, he decided it was his calling to start his own. Four years ago that group performed at a church in Hawthorne, New Jersey, when a pair of young girls began dancing exuberantly to the music.

After the show, their father approached Haase offering an apology for any distraction his daughters might have caused.

That father turned out to be none other than J. Mark McVey, a distinguished veteran of the Broadway stage who holds the distinction of having portrayed the role of Jean ValJean in Les Miserables in New York, London and countless points in between.

For Haase, calling had now met coincidence. An exciting new project was bound to be launched.

“He said, let’s get a church van and go into town and get some lunch,” Haase told the Williston Herald (https://bit.ly/1LcEctY ). “He’s 56 now and ready for another chapter in his life. He’s still singing Broadway but in a different light.”

Out of the discussion of their shared passion for Broadway musicals and gospel music came the idea for “Inspirational Broadway”, a touring show featuring Ernie Haase and Signature Sound with J. Mark McVey.

Its first tour opened earlier this month at the Johnny Carson Theatre in Norfolk, Nebraska, then hit Loveland, Colorado, and then, Inspirational Broadway landed on the stage at the Williston High School auditorium for the first show of the 70th season of the Williston Concert Association.

“All these great songs from Fiddler on the Roof, Showboat, Carousel and others, done in a way nobody’s heard before, in a five-part harmony,” Haase said. “It’s been overwhelming the type of response we’re getting. The show last night, we had five, six, seven standing ovations. It just leaves people inspired to back into the world with fresh hope and fresh purpose.”

None of this would be possible were it not for the ongoing efforts of the Williston Concert Association, which is kicking off season No. 70 with an eye toward building a new, younger leadership base to drive the mission forward.

“This has afforded us an opportunity to come together and enjoy some very talented it would be hard for us to see otherwise,” said board member Jan Ludvig, who has been involved with the WCA since her days in high school. “I have to say I usually go there without expectations and most often I leave overwhelmed - just class acts and I’m just amazed with the nature of what they offer and how the audience responds.”

It’s finding the next generation of people like Ludvig that’s key to the WCA continuing to thrive.

It’s also informed this season’s less classical selection of shows board president Jacki Keck calls “more relaxed.”

“When I moved here from Iowa City, I missed the opportunity for my children to hear live concerts of what I would consider quality music,” Keck said. “There have been some very loyal members who have been members for 20 or 30 years. But it’s similar to the change in Williston in that people have either died or moved away who are maybe the stalwart members of the association.”

Ludvig said finding new members hasn’t been easy.

“We don’t know how to reach more people; that’s something that’s really been a struggle in Williston,” she said. “There’s all these new people who come and we feel like we’re a little nugget in Williston and we don’t know how to shine bright enough for people to come.”

Perhaps the uplifting gospel-Broadway songs of Ernie Haase and Signature Sound will help hearken a new day for the WCA.

“It’s a boom town. You can tell as soon as you get there, there is something going on - a new vibrancy in the air that’s cool to see,” Haase said.


Information from: Williston Herald, https://www.willistonherald.com

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