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Mpls. musician Jeremy Messersmith to play with Hopkins High orchestra

A special guest will take the stage with the Hopkins High School orchestra Feb. 19: indie-rock/pop artist Jeremy Messersmith.

A Minneapolis-based musician known for his poppy sound, Messersmith has released five albums since 2006, with pieces that run the gamut from life in the Twin Cities to love. In 2010, NPR Music editor Stephen Thompson named Messersmith's album The Reluctant Graveyard one his favorites of the year.

Messersmith will play with Andy Thompson, who wrote string arrangments for the concert. Thompson, who usually plays drums in Messersmith's band and was one of the engineers on Taylor Swift's album Red, will be on piano this time.

The pair is rehearsing weekly with students in preparation for the concert, according to a release from the district. Messersmith will perform nine original songs with the orchestra, including "Welcome to Suburbia" and "Organ Donor," and will do some on his own. 

This marks the fifth time the Hopkins Orchestra has worked with a professional musician for its February concert, the release said.

“The collaboration with Jeremy Messersmith has been a fabulous experience for our orchestra students,” said orchestra director Alison Swiggum in the release. “They have enjoyed learning about the professional music business from Jeremy and they see how their stringed instruments can be used in such a wide range of music.” 

Valentine's party officially over at St. Paul school

There will be no reprieve, no candy hearts, for children hoping their principal might drop plans to cancel Valentine's Day festivities at Bruce Vento Elementary in St. Paul.

But if Principal Scott Masini knows his school community as well as his high-profile supporters maintained at a school board meeting Tuesday night, the disappointment will not be widespread.

In the past two weeks, district leaders have been besieged with critical emails after a letter that Masini planned to send to families announcing an end to celebrations of "dominant holidays" like Valentine's Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas was leaked and posted on a Facebook page.

Masini wrote that his East Side school, which is largely nonwhite, needed to "find a way to honor and engage in holidays that are inclusive of our student population."

The letter never went out. But Sharon Freeman, a district assistant superintendent, confirmed Tuesday night that the school is, indeed, canceling Valentine's Day activities. This after she told board members that she was "very sad" that the trust between Masini and the staff members whom he works to involve in school decisions had been broken by the leak and the uproar it created.

"His mission is to always make sure every decision is made in collaboration," Freeman told the board.

Board Chairman Jon Schumacher, who has visited the school and observed work on a vegetable garden there, noted that the district encourages its principals to get to know their communities, and that Masini's outreach efforts were an "example of good community engagement."

Masini's letter also had echoed a longstanding school board policy that states: "Schools shall discourage programs and festivities arranged to celebrate holidays and other special days, and shall strive to eliminate them, except where such observances are required by law."

Michelle Walker, the district's chief executive, said Tuesday night that principals still are free to continue with any Valentine's Day activities that have academic tie-ins -- such as having kindergartners cut out paper hearts as part of a "how to" exercise.

Looking ahead, the "holiday policy" may get a new look from a school board working group that periodically reviews such matters. Board Members John Brodrick, Chue Vue and Mary Vanderwert volunteered Tuesday to serve on the panel. 

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