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The Neligh-Oakdale choir was offered the experience of a lifetime—the chance to sing in concert with internationally acclaimed band, Foreigner.
And they have their school secretary to thank for it.
“We have to give Jenny Kinnan all the credit,” teacher Nate Metschke said. “John, Foreigner’s manager from Las Vegas, called. We had to call him back right away. He started calling in Norfolk and started working his way out to surrounding schools. So I called him, and he said, ‘The first school to commit to this is going to get to do it.’ I knew Mrs. (Jamie) Sehi was going to be our new teacher, so I started trying to get ahold of her at Norfolk Catholic because I didn’t want to say yes without her permission. I got ahold of her and she said, ‘Let’s do it.’ But if it weren’t for Jenny, this wouldn’t have happened. I was in the gym practicing for the spring concert in April, and she ran down there and gave me the phone number, so I called them from the gym.”
Metschke said his only concern was that the concert would fall on Labor Day weekend.
“But everybody’s here, so it didn’t matter at all,” he said with a smile.
On Sunday night, 12 Neligh-Oakdale choir members, nine current and three recent graduates, made up the small ensemble who sang as special guests of Foreigner at the Divots DeVent Center concert in Norfolk. The choir is under the direction of Jamie Sehi, who is in her fifth year teaching, but first year at Neligh-Oakdale.
Current choir members include seniors Dani Beyer, Jordan Knievel, Isiac Kurpgeweit, Cade Wilkinson and Hannah Brady; junior Jorden Fulsaas, sophomores Trinity Kurpgeweit and April Williams, and freshman Ethan Gregory. Joining the choir for one final performance were 2018 graduates Megan McWhorter, Wynter Fulsaas and Jason Ramirez.
The choir took the stage to perform with Foreigner during the band’s biggest hit single, “I Want to Know What Love is.”
Foreigner’s set list also featured hits like “Double Vision,” “Head Games,” “Cold as Ice,” “Waiting for a Girl Like You,” “Dirty White Boy,” “Feels Like the First Time,” “Urgent,” “Juke Box Hero,” and “Hot Blooded.”
The stage manager met with the school choir between the Tesla and Foreigner shows to line them up by height and practice entering and exiting the stage.
“Once Juke Box Hero starts, start making your way over to the stage area on the right,” she said. “Juke Box Hero is really late in the set, so you guys can just hang and watch the show until then.”
As “Juke Box Hero” began to play, the group made their way to the staging area donning their jeans, maroon bandanas and matching T shirts, which were custom-made for the occasion.
“The kids were all having a great time at the concert, and when Juke Box Hero came on, the kids started jumping around and walked over with such pride,” Jamie Sehi said. “I think that is when it finally sunk in that it was really going to happen. We got over to the right side of the stage and it seemed like the longest three minutes waiting for the manager to come and get us.”
Then the choir finally got the signal to head backstage.
“Once we were backstage, the stage crew was helping them get pumped up and made them feel like part of the gang,” Sehi said. “Then it was here. The moment they had been waiting months for.”
After “Juke Box Hero” ended, the music slowed way down and Foreigner’s lead singer Kelly Hansen told the crowd to put their arm around the person next to them and “let the love flow to that person.” “We should spread love everywhere,” he said, setting up their next song.
The emotional ballad filled the air as Hansen belted out the lyrics to “I Want to Know What Love is” and encouraged the crowd to sing along.
As the song got underway, the Neligh-Oakdale choir slipped onto the upper stage behind two microphones. “Being the first one on the stage, I was hoping that I wasn’t going to trip and fall,” Trinity Kurpgeweit said.
“They walked up excited, but a little nervous and took their places,” the new choir director said. “I stood at the edge of the stage behind the curtain, just staring at them with so much joy! It was so cool to watch them experience this moment of a lifetime. I had a lot of music opportunities growing up that were awesome, but this was an entirely new level.”
The choir swayed as they sang to Foreigner’s chart-topping song.
“I was just watching in amazement and then a camera flash from the audience caught my eye,” Sehi said. “Then I looked to my left. There were people out as far as you could see with phone flashlights.”
Near the end of the song, a guitarist invited Jordan Knievel to step down and jam on his guitar. She enthusiastically added her own riff. At the conclusion of the song, the lead singer praised the entire choir.
“Let’s make some noise for this beautiful choir on stage tonight,” Hansen said. “They are the Neligh-Oakdale High School Choir from Neligh, Nebraska. Come on, make some noise for them.”
Loud applause erupted through the spellbound crowd.
“I just want to say thank you guys,” he said. “You guys sounded great. You look great. Hope you had a good time tonight. We appreciate you being here.”
Hansen followed up by asking those in attendance to talk to their school officials to plead with them to maintain funding for all of their school music programs and pay our teachers more.
As he pointed to the Neligh-Oakdale choir, he said, “I want you to take a peek at how beautiful your future looks. Thank you guys. Let’s make some noise for them on the way out.”
The students walked, single-file off the stage with huge grins on their faces.
“People lined up, giving them high fives the entire way back to the event center,” Sehi said. “I know it wasn’t a Husker football tunnel walk, but the amount of support the kids had was overwhelming.”
She said it was “definitely an experience they will never forget.”
“Just the experience looking out into the crowd was cool and when we got off the stage everyone was acting like we were the stars of the show, lining up and giving us high fives,” Isiac Kurpgeweit said.
The students said it was unlike anything they had experienced before.
“It was actually a breathtaking experience,” Cade Wilkinson said. “Being in front of that many people was definitely like a dream come true.”
Dani Beyer echoed his sentiments.
“Being on stage was an absolute dream,” she said. “Being under those stage lights was I dream that I would love to live over and over again.”
Metschke, who drove the bus for the event, said the kids were “so pumped up” after the concert.
“It was fun listening to them on the bus ride home,” he said. “Lots of forever memories were made.”
Sehi said she was thrilled when Metschke presented this opportunity, which came less than two months after she had accepted the job at Neligh-Oakdale.
As part of Foreigner's ongoing charity partnership with the Grammy Foundation, the choir will also receive a $500 donation for their performance. Sehi said she plans to use the donation to improve and grow the choir.
“We’re going to go to a choral leadership workshop on Wednesday in Norfolk,” she said. “It’s an all-day workshop that teaches the kids to sing out, have confidence, be leaders, not just in choir, but throughout the school. And recruit for our program to help it grow.”
Sehi said she prepared the students for the Foreigner performance by having them sing along to “I Want to Know What Love is” in class.
“I originally thought we would do three-part music to learn our parts, but then they said not to bother with parts, just learn the melody so that you could be heard more,” she said. “So we just learned the melody. We practiced, sang it over and over again and talked about some of the other songs they’ve done.”
Sehi said she believes Foreigner chooses that particular ballad for student choirs is because it is one of their most popular songs.
“It is one of the most commonly known, people hear it a lot on the radio,” she said.
The Foreigner concert was the choir’s first concert of the school year, which Sehi said started causing a little anxiety for some of the students.
“I think they were really excited, but the closer it got, they were getting really nervous,” she said. “They thought about all the people that were going to be there. And this is actually our first outing as a choir besides singing the national anthem at some games.”
Her advice to the kids?
“Sing out and don’t be scared up there,” Sehi said. “Just go out there and be yourself, don’t stand there scared. It’s hard, especially when you’re looking out in front of all those people. You tell them not to be scared, but if I was doing it, I would probably be scared too. Just go out there and put on a show. They want to see you sing.”
The students admitted to having mixed feelings of excitement and nervousness prior to the concert as they ate at Raising Canes in Norfolk.
“I’m nervous excited,” Jason Ramirez said.
“I’m nervous because I do not like being in front of people,” April Williams said. “I’m excited because I get to be there with my friends on stage.”
“I’m excited to sing with Foreigner,” Ethan Gregory said. “It’s going to be nice to rock and roll. I was singing the entire weekend.”
“I’m excited because it’s a new experience for everyone,” Jorden Fulsaas said. “It’s a chance for the choir. It’s a really good feeling, like, ‘We’re on stage. We’re here.’ It’s going to be a good experience.”
I’m looking forward to being in front of the crowd,” Isiac Kurpgeweit said. “I’m ready to sing with Cade and put on a show.”
Wilkinson, who has been on a lot of stages for musicals and one act performances, said he’s never been in front of a crowd this size.
“I’m just pumped,” he said. “I want to meet them.”
Jordan Knievel said she was “excited” for the opportunity, but her dad, Tim, was especially looking forward to the concert.
“He’s coming to the show,” she said. “He’s really excited.”
“I was at Jordan’s house, and Tim (Knievel) was trying to get me to warm up and show him a little sneak peek,” Dani Beyer said.
Beyer said her mom, Tricia, “was probably more excited than I was.”
Afterall, Foreigner was originally established in 1976, making the band more well-known to their parent’s generation. In fact, teachers Metschke and Sehi weren’t even born yet.
A couple kids admitted that they hadn’t heard of the band before the choir had the opportunity to sing with them.
Hannah Brady said although she didn’t know who the band was, others she talked with did.
“My boyfriend’s mom was super excited. Susan’s freaking out,” she said.
“I was excited,” Megan McWhorter said. “All of us seniors pitched to Metschke that we could come back and do it as a big choir again just so we could sing one more time. So it left things exciting and fun at the end of the year because we were like, ‘Oh yea, we get to be a choir again.’ So it brings back excitement.”
Now a Wayne State music education major, Wynter Fulsaas said she was “super excited.”
“Coming back from my first two weeks of school, you know, and being able to say, ‘Hey, I got to sing with Foreigner this weekend.’ That’s super cool,” Fulsaas said. “It’s a once in a lifetime moment for anybody my age. I think a lot of my family members were pretty jealous that I got to do something like that or even be that close to a band that famous. Some of my friends at college were asking if I was going home this weekend. And I said, ‘Yeah, I’m going to the Foreigner concert. I get to sing with them.’ And they were like, ‘No way.’”
As they drove by the concert site, Dani Beyer saw the crowd forming as people flooded the outdoor concert area with lawn chairs, but she wasn’t nervous.
“I think it’s a wonderful experience for us kids,” Beyer said. “I’m just hoping to have a lit time. How many people can say they sang with Foreigner?”