Recently, it was the privilege of the VocalEssence Ensemble Singers to be invited to Mexico City as guests of the Symphonic Orchestra of Minería and the National University of Mexico funded by Fomento Educacional. The 30 professional Minnesota singers joined forces with 30 professional Mexican singers for a week of musical collaboration — and it was pure magic! With all the turmoil in the air about relations between the U.S. and Mexico, it was a thrill to experience total goodwill and joy as the singers espoused the VocalEssence motto: Together We Sing!

I have had the pleasure of visiting Mexico City each year for the past 10 years interviewing Mexican composers and inviting them to come to Minnesota and compose music for students in elementary, high school and college choirs as part of the VocalEssence ¡Cantaré! program — so far 18 Mexican composers have participated in the program! As part of our week, the Ensemble Singers presented a concert of music from the U.S. to an enthusiastic audience of 600, ending with dozens of flowers being showered on the stage and a demand for encores.

As VocalEssence begins its 50th anniversary season, I cannot think of a better way to express the warmth of Minnesotans than visiting our neighbors to the south. We felt like musical ambassadors of our state and country as we shared our voices and felt the extraordinary kindness and generosity of the Mexican people. It was a life-changing experience for all of us and we look forward to welcoming these wonderful singers and the amazing Symphonic Orchestra of Minería to Minnesota to experience our warmth in return. It was truly M&M: Mexico and Minnesota!

Philip Brunelle, artistic director and founder, VocalEssence


‘Do kids with disabilities feel welcome?’ At these places, yes.

The Sept. 8 article “Do children with disabilities feel welcome in church?” highlighted how many churches are failing to meet the needs of families who have children with conditions such as autism and attention deficit disorder.

I’d like to invite the paper to visit us at Grace Church in Eden Prairie to learn more about our Barnabus ministry:

From Sunday school classes, parent groups, respite nights, prayer team support and several other activities, this volunteer lead team strives to make this program available to all.

Craig McLain, Eden Prairie

• • •

I read the Sept. 8 article and could hardly contain myself! If only the reporter had known about “Parables”! “Parables” is — among other things — a Sunday-morning service at Wayzata Community Church specifically designed for kids with special needs and special gifts. It is a service not only for them, but with them, since they often help lead it.

I have heard so many parents of special-needs children say they yearned for a church where they — and their children — would be welcomed, where they could worship without worrying about their child’s behavior being disruptive to others. And when they found it in Parables, they felt it truly was a godsend. Everyone is welcome.

Truth be told: On any given Sunday, you will often find many of our church members at the Parables service who normally go to our more traditional services, because Parables is so filled with love and joy that you can’t help but leave the service feeling uplifted and inspired. I encourage any parent who has yet to find a church home where they feel completely welcomed to come and experience the Parables service at Wayzata Community Church and witness the beauty of all of God’s children. I guarantee you it will be life-changing.

Caryn Schall, Minnetonka


Program isn’t privatization, but vigilance is warranted

In his Sept. 12 counterpoint (“Public housing being preserved, not ‘privatized’ ”), Minneapolis public housing director Greg Russ pointed out how the Star Tribune fuels alarm among tenants when, with little context, it uses the term “privatization” in connection with the Rental Assistance Demonstration, the HUD program enabling ownership restructuring of public housing. This is something the newspaper should address — however, implementation of RAD does warrant vigilance among tenants and advocates.

In an assessment of RAD released earlier this year, the Government Accountability Office found a number of places RAD fell short of its promise and failed federal mandates. In some cases tenants were not informed of their rights, and during construction were relocated with little notice and to inconvenient places. The office discovered that HUD had few mechanisms for monitoring the redevelopment process or results of RAD.

While these shortcomings exist, thousands of tenants have ended up with much nicer and safer homes under RAD. Over five years, billions of RAD-generated dollars have financed restoration of public housing, averaging $60,000 per apartment. Minnesota’s underfunded public housing desperately needs this resource.

What should be debated is not whether public housing agencies should participate in RAD but how communities can ensure compliance with the numerous safeguards provided in RAD legislation. Tenants and advocates should encourage RAD proposals to move forward but demand that mandated tenant rights are included in any redevelopment contracts and that affordability be permanent.

Chip Halbach, Minneapolis

The writer, a part-time housing consultant, founded the Minnesota Housing Partnership.


There’s a red nose, greasepaint in Republicans’ closet, too

To all the pundits and just plain folk opining that the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings are a circus and the Democrats are the clowns, listen up! The only reason the Republicans weren’t the clowns at the Merrick Garland hearings is that they refused to hold them.

Elaine Frankowski, Minneapolis

• • •

The appointment of a Supreme Court justice is extremely serious, with so many varying issues facing our nation. I am tired of hearing the media and questioners continually bringing up Roe vs. Wade in regard to the possible appointment of Brett Kavanaugh for that lifetime position. That case was decided years ago. If any attempt would be made to overturn it now, I expect every women in the U.S. to rise up in rebellion. Not because we all want abortions surely — I am prolife myself — but because we will no longer stand for a group of old men in Washington, or even a kindly pope, telling us what we can do about our reproductive choices. Concerned doctors can give us advice, sincere discussions must be held with husbands, but beyond that, decisions are now up to each of us — individually.

Judy Starkey, Wayzata

• • •

The Sept. 12 editorial cartoon by Michael Ramirez depicts the Kavanaugh train about to mow down the Democrats. And when the Democrats take over the White House, Ramirez can just reverse the roles of the two parties, depicting a Democratic nominee about to mow down the Republicans. Exactly how is either depiction good for the country in the long run?

Cartoons are supposed to be funny on some level. This one is just sad — on every level.

Mary McLeod, St. Paul