Afdahl’s retirement signals end to ‘Friends’ concerts

February 21, 2019

The annual Lee Afdahl and Friends concert, one of Rochester’s most popular musical traditions, will probably have its final happening Sunday.

That’s because Afdahl, director of music at First Presbyterian Church, is retiring after a 50-year career in church music.

“I knew I wanted to do church music already when I was in high school,” Afdahl said. And that’s exactly what he has done, in Michigan, in St. Paul, and since 1991 in Rochester at First Presbyterian. That’s a lot of Sundays seated at the organ.

Now, Afdahl, known internationally as an organist, handbell choir director and composer, is looking forward to other activities that will take up his time on Saturdays and Sundays.

“We show horses and show dogs, and it will be fun to participate in those events on weekends,” he said.

Before retirement arrives, though, there’s this small matter of an Afdahl and Friends concert. What started out years ago as a performance with a couple of associates has turned into an annual centerpiece of the “A Festival of Music” concert series at the church.

“It kind of evolved into involving other singers and musicians,” Afdahl said. “We found it got to be one of the most popular concerts of the year.”

This year’s concert will feature, besides Afdahl, Ronald Beitel on horn, Christopher Boswell on handbells, Dwight Jennings, Katie Kuisle and Janine Yanisch on saxophone, Kristina Lantz on violin, Jan Matson on piano and Mary Schneekloth on harp.

Afdahl has been hoping for some clear weather so the musicians can get together and rehearse.

“The last three weeks have not been too kind to us with the weather,” he said. “Finding a time that is workable has been difficult.”

The Festival of Music series at the church is now in its 28th season, offering a variety of artists and genres. The concerts are at 4 on Sunday afternoons.

Asked about the popularity of the free series, Afdahl said, “I think it’s the variety. We don’t have the same kind of programs every year.”

Organists, choirs, handbell groups, pianists, brass ensembles, string quartets — all have performed in recent seasons.

“Our sanctuary seats 300 people and we fill it more often than we don’t,” Afdahl said.

The Sunday afternoon timing is ideal for those who want to wind up their weekend with a relaxing concert, as well as for those who don’t care to go out at night, especially in winter.

Plus, Afdahl said, “For many guests of the city who are here for Mayo Clinic appointments, it’s a convenient time.” Since the concerts are free, there is no need to reserve tickets in advance.

“We just try to reach out the community to make the arts available,” Afdahl said.

After Sunday’s concert, the Festival of Music season at First Presbyterian has two programs remaining: the Bemidji State University Concert Choir March 24, and the Bells of the Lake Handbell Choir April 28.

By the way, looking ahead to next year: “I planned next season (of the Festival of Music) even though I won’t be on the staff,” Afdahl said.