MINNEAPOLIS, MN (July 31, 2014) — Tesfa Wondemagegnehu has been making a name for himself in the choral community since moving here from Tennessee last year, and just last week was chosen to lead a Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) initiative to promote music education in the public schools. He’ll also head up a new group of young singers, the APM (American Public Media) Radio Choir.
Bethlehem Covenant Church is thrilled that he also happens to be their choir director.
A lengthy feature in the Star Tribune accompanied by a video showing “Won” directing the choir describes how choral music changed his life after he was kicked out of high school for selling stolen pagers. His mother suggested he audition at a Memphis performing arts school. There he was mentored by a choral director he describes as, “a mean old grandma with no filter.”
Wondemagegnehu (pronounced won-dih-MAWG-knee-you) is a joyous director with exuberant spirit that inspires those around him. Dick Sundberg, the church’s president and a choir member, told the Star Tribune, “Most choir directors struggle to get their singers to watch them. With Tesfa, you can’t help it, he’s so animated, always asking us to sing with our ‘big mama voice.’ ”
Before he was hired in his new position, Wondemagegnehu had been working part-time with MPR, which streams classical music 24 hours a day, and also served as assistant artistic director for VocalEssence, a renowned choral music program.
He also surprised the people at Bethlehem Covenant when he applied to be their part-time choir director. He had found the job opening online.
“He had just taken the job as the assistant artistic director at VocalEssence directed by Philip Brunel,” says pastor Ryan Eikenbary-Barber. “He beat out 90 other candidates in a national search. We saw his amazing résumé and assumed that he was overqualified for our part-time position. He was looking for a church, not just a job. He could have kept his job with VocalEssence while taking the promotion at MPR, but he prioritized his job at church. Tesfa has found a family at Bethlehem. It is a joy to work with him.”
“Whoa-oh-oh, break free, come on now,“ Wondemagegnehu exhorted the choir at a recent rehearsal. “Come on now, take me to CHURCH.”
The choir members will tell you, he takes them there.