Baraboo concert promises healing in wake of controversial prom photo

May 9, 2019

Art forms are like people, different but interconnected. Baraboo performers are using songs, words and dances from a variety of cultures to show all types of people are celebrated.

On May 19, the University of Wisconsin-Platteville Baraboo Sauk County Campus and Community Choir will present its annual spring concert at the Al. Ringling Theatre.

The concert is titled “Would You Harbor Me? Would I Harbor You?” and is the latest in a series of events held in response to a photograph that went viral of Baraboo High School boys appearing to deliver a Nazi salute before prom last year.

Choir director Deanna Horjus-Lang selected songs and speeches that illustrate the importance of tolerance. “It is an outreach through music to help a community heal,” she said.

Circulation of the photo online in November linked Baraboo with bigotry, bringing widespread scorn that forced the community to take a hard look at itself. Events titled “Baraboo Listens” and “Baraboo Acts” were organized in response to the controversy. The choir concert is billed as “Baraboo Embraces.”

The campus choir delivers a spring concert every year, but this one will incorporate Baraboo High School singers, dancers and readings by community members.

“We just took it as far as we could take it,” Horjus-Lang said. “It gives us a chance to do a bunch of different things.”

Selections of world music include one song Sudanese basket weavers wrote during a 1980s famine, another written in response to murders of Canadian women in domestic incidents, and John Lennon’s “Imagine.” Those pieces will be strung together with readings of words written by Anne Frank, Jane Goodall, Rosa Parks and Stephen Hawking.

“It’s very inspirational,” Horjus-Lang said. “It’s really pretty powerful stuff.”

The 55-member choir, a mix of UW-Baraboo students and community members, typically performs its spring concert at a local church for standing-room-only crowds. Because she wanted to accommodate a larger audience, and use dramatic stage and lighting effects, Horjus-Lang opted to move into the more spacious Ringling Theatre.

“Just to see some people there, because of the subject matter, would be great,” she said.

Her husband Anne Horjus, a member of the choir, noted that in previous years, spectators who arrived late couldn’t find a seat. “Hopefully we’ll have the same problem,” he said.

While the prom photo particularly disturbed Jewish groups, Horjus-Lang selected pieces for the concert that deal with oppression endured by a variety of minorities. “We wanted it to be broader,” she said.

The concert will be presented free, but donations will be accepted. These will help pay for costs, with any funds left over going to “good acts” in the community, Horjus-Lang said.

She hopes audiences will leave the concert feeling Baraboo is a safe, inclusive place. “This is relevant subject matter about conflict and acceptance,” she said. “It reminds us we all share burdens and joys.”