Vermillion revels in sights and sounds of holiday season

Vermillion was treated to sights and sounds of the Christmas season Sunday, thanks to a partnership between the University of South Dakota Music Department, and the Dakota Hospital Foundation.

More than 700 people filled the Vermillion High School Performing Arts Center at 3 p.m. Sunday for a holiday concert featuring various USD instrumental and vocal groups.

Following the concert, townsfolk gathered at Sanford Vermillion Hospital to take part in a reception and official lighting of the hospital's Tree of Lights.

The beneficiaries of Sunday's events aren't limited solely to music lovers, or those who revel while surrounded by brightly lit trees decorated for the holiday season.

The day's activities are designed to serve as a gift of health – specifically mammography screening – to people who otherwise couldn't afford the procedure.

"Part of this was a collaboration with the College of Arts and Science for a year-long series that we're calling 'Celebrating the Liberal Arts and Sciences,' and it's involved with lectures and guest artist presentations, and this holiday concert was part of that year-long series," said Dr. Larry Schou, acting dean of the College of Fine Arts at USD.

"It's also a collaboration with the Dakota Hospital Foundation, because this is a fundraiser for their digital mammography program which is fighting breast cancer," he said. "It's a nice, multi-purpose event, and it's attracted hundreds of people."

"This is the third year that we've done the Tree of Lights celebration, and it's the second year that we've partnered with the USD Music Department for the concert," said Gene Lunn, Dakota Hospital Foundation director. "We were looking for some way to make our event bigger, and I think they (the USD Music Department staff) were looking for some way to make some kind of partnership with community.

"It all came together following a conversation, and it's really turned into a great holiday festival event," he said. "The concert has always been well attended, and the event gives good exposure for our Tree of Lights project."

Proceeds from the Tree of Lights project will assist in covering the costs of mammography services for the underinsured and underserved population in the service area of Sanford Vermillion Hospital.

"People have the Christmas holiday spirit, and hopefully they are donating at the door for the Tree of Lights, which is another portion of this, and we have a new element, a silent auction of some art pieces, and some of the hotels and restaurants in town have donated items to be auctioned off as well," Schou said following the concert. "Months and months go into preparing for this. This is the second year of collaboration with the Dakota Hospital Foundation. We usually try to do something like this every year, consistently on the second Sunday in December."

The Dakota Hospital Foundation "sells" the lights that decorate a large evergreen tree located on the Sanford Vermillion campus.

"For anywhere from  $5 to $25, people can purchase a light as a means of recognition, or in memory, or honoring someone, or as a way to express season's greetings to a friend or a relative," Lunn said. "It's a fundraiser for us, and we always get some really good comments from people who see the tree, and the way the entire hospital campus is lit up for the holidays. It adds to the community, I think, and definitely adds to our fundraising efforts for the digital mammography program."

The holiday concert serves not only to raise needed funds to improve the quality of health care in the region. It also gives university musicians the opportunity to perform.

Sunday's concert featured USD's brass choir, chamber orchestra, Chamber Singers, concert choir, jazz ensemble, men's and women's chorus, symphonic band, and symphony orchestra.
"It gives our students and our faculty a chance to show off all of our talents in the music department. All of the ensembles perform on the main stage, and it's actually grown the past few years to where we have small groups, including two string quartets, a horn group, a woodwind choir and a woodwind trio that performed out in the commons area before the formal concert for the audience," Schou said. "So we're adding music upon music.

"This is always a fun event, it's showcasing music and the university and it's getting townspeople involved, and also parents," he said. "A lot of the audience members were parents of the students who were on stage."

Schou said including all of the music department's various ensembles in Sunday's concert gave audience members a good sampling of the types of music regularly performed by USD students.

"By offering this sort of a collage during this concert, people may decide that they like one form of music over the other, and then come back and enjoy one of our regular concerts during the year," he said. "Many people don't realize that we have string quartets, a chamber orchestra, a large symphony orchestra, multiple bands, including a jazz band, and multiple choirs. There's a lot of music going on in Vermillion."

The fundraising that took place Sunday will help the Dakota Hospital Foundation achieve its goal of providing a minimum of 50 free mammography tests for the uninsured, the underinsured and the elderly.

"Research from the South Dakota Department of Health and the American Cancer Society indicates that we have a much higher mortality rate in Clay County than in surrounding areas," Lunn said. "There could be many factors involved in that, including lack of education about testing, or perhaps an inability of some women to pay for the testing so they don't have the procedure done.

"So the foundation is partnering with Sanford Vermillion in doing a marketing and education program, and hopefully we can attract some of that underserved population to come in and request and get a free mammogram," he said.

Last year, a blizzard struck Vermillion on the day the holiday concert and tree lighting was scheduled. The event was still held, and still attracted a sizeable audience.

This year, with the weather cooperating, turnout was stronger, and both Schou and Lunn are encouraged by the community's participation.

"This is something that we want to continue to do as a holiday event, and there are a lot of different things going on in Vermillion," Lunn said. "This event is focusing on the fundraising efforts for the digital mammography program.

"We were very pleased, and even Mother Nature cooperated this year. There is always more room for more people to participate, but we've been really pleased with the turnout, and the way that people are supporting our fundraising project," he said. "It's growing, and it's something that we look forward to doing annually on an ongoing basis."

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