They might sing an original song. They might crack a Norwegian joke (or two). They might talk about growing up in south central Minnesota, their crazy family members or how to make lefse.
But no matter what they discuss during their Sunday performance in Mankato, you can bet the performance by the trio of women who comprise the group “Sister” will be genuine and authentic.
“We bring everything we are as sisters to the stage,” said Kara Millerhagen, who represents the writing talent of the oft-performing act. Alisa Leonard is the arranger and lead singer while Kjersten Dysthe provides the marketing muscle.
“What we have on stage is an organic dynamic that can only be harvested by being real sisters.”
They began as daughters of a music teacher in a home outside Hanska. Music was ever-present, including holidays when grandma would sit in a rocking chair and sing “Silent Night” in Norwegian.
They sang often in church but their breakthrough performance came during open mic night at Shakey’s Pizza when the trio sang “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.” Afterward, the youngsters began staging performances around the state as the Norvold Sisters. In 1991, they won the Minnesota State Fair amateur talent contest.
Since then, the sisters haven’t stopped performing together (insisting they really do get along). And they’ll bring their eclectic repertoire of original music, storytelling and comedy to Mankato for a performance to benefit VINE Faith in Action on Sunday.
All proceeds will benefit VINE’s continued effort to raise $4.3 million to renovate the abandoned Nichols Building into an adult community center.
“We’ve been discussing different fundraising ideas,” said Kayley Ostermann, VINE’s event coordinator. “And everybody we talked to who has seen (Sister) has been really impressed.”
Today, the sisters all live in the Twin Cities with children and families. Though, they perform as often as ever at festivals, womens events and church groups.
The sisters have a number of CDs that feature much original material and they said their success and longevity are attributable to their perseverance.
“We really didn’t understand that what we had was a rare thing,” Millerhagen said. “We really had to take full ownership of what that meant. ... There’s nothing magical about us. I simply think we’ve chosen to stick it out.”
And the result, Millerhagen said, is a self-directed career largely free of the creative controls placed on artists that rely on marketing and production companies to drive their music.
Millerhagen said she and her sisters sing the songs they like and play for the audiences they feel fit their niche. Though they continue to expand their reach, Millerhagen said the sisters have attained level of comfort with each other on stage and have no intention of altering the formula.
“I love what’s happening with Sister on stage,” she said. “We’re so relaxed. We’ve been through it all. We’ve been through the school of hard knocks.”
Millerhagen said audiences will relate to the underlying message of their show, which is one of joy and gratitude. It’s a message that she said is in direct conflict with many of themes in contemporary music, a message that was ingrained by their rural upbringing.
“Our music reflects what’s right in the world,” Millerhagen said. “You can attribute that, partly, to where we grew up. The values you learn in small-town Minnesota really stick with you.”