Archived Story

NYM singer to herald unsung heroes [UPDATED]

Published 2:39pm Thursday, September 30, 2010 Updated 2:40pm Thursday, September 30, 2010

Over the last several years, Elisa Korenne has become known for her songs and stories about “forgotten people” in history, interesting or unique people with intriguing stories waiting to be told.

The New York Mills performer may as well be writing about herself.

Korenne, 35, is a transplant from a bigger New York: New York City. In what she thought was a temporary move, she traveled to New York Mills three and a half years ago to be the resident artist at the New York Mills Cultural Center. Then she fell in love, got married, and she’s been here ever since.

There’s a lot more to the story than that, and Korenne, known in some independent music circles for her singer-songwriter acoustic rock music, is planning on writing those experiences down, both in book form and in an album of songs. For right now, however, she’s focused on her most recent project: a song and storytelling show called “‘Oy Vey’ is Jewish for ‘Uff-Da.’” She will perform the show this Saturday at A Center for the Arts at 7:30 p.m.

The performance, which will feature eight songs interspersed between true stories about upper Midwesterners, focuses on Jewish people living in Minnesota and the surrounding area. For Korenne, who is Jewish, the idea for the show first came about two years ago, when she heard that Rimon: The Minnesota Jewish Arts Council was giving out some grants. She got a grant to do research about the sometimes sparse — but still interesting — Jewish history in the northern part of the state.

That history — and the people Korenne found out about along the way — make up the show.

“I had been thinking about how I was the only Jewish person in a large area,” Korenne said, adding that every now and then she heard stories about other people with her heritage who used to live in the area. “I thought to myself, ‘Maybe there were more.’”

Such lines of thought are nothing new for Korenne, who has been performing the show around the area since June. “‘Oy Vey’…” is the third show in a series she calls her “Ordinarily Unsung Project.” The first project revolved around the untold stories of some unique figures in Minnesota history, and the second was a more general performance about people she had found who didn’t fit anywhere else. “‘Oy Vey’…” is her most specific show in the project to date.

“It’s these true stories about eccentrics and oddballs and unique people that wow me,” she said of Ordinarily Unsung. “They excite me and intrigue me and make me want to know more.”

One example of an unsung hero is Rachel Kaloff, who is featured in Korenne’s latest show in a song called “Mail Order Bride.” True to the title, that’s essentially what Kaloff was: a Russian Jew who was sent to North Dakota by another Russian Jewish family to marry one of the family’s male relatives. Korenne learned about Kaloff through a memoir she wrote that was translated from Yiddish by Kaloff’s son.

“(It was) quite an amazing transition she had to go through,” Korenne said.

Korenne explained that she does the Ordinarily Unsung performances because they seem like the best fit for her as an artist. “A few years ago, I was mostly performing my original songs,” she said. When she started adding the historical twist, she added, she found that “I have more fun and my audiences have more fun when I have more of that storytelling element.”

Saturday’s performance will mark one of the final performances of the original run of “‘Oy Vey’…,” but Korenne said she’ll keep doing the show as long as people want to see it.

People may still want to see it for a while. “I’ve been very surprised at how favorably (local audiences) have responded,” said Korenne. She’s glad that people around Minnesota and Otter Tail County are interested in the stories of a culture not their own — even if they don’t say “uff-da.”

Adult tickets for Korenne’s show are $10 in advance and $12 the day of the show. For students and kids, tickets cost $5. Korenne’s show is the first in A Center for the Arts’ new theater series. Contact A Center for the Arts for more information on series ticket deals.

For more information about Korenne, check out her website at

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