State FFA band and chorus are the hidden gem of Minnesota State FFA convention

The State FFA Band of over 100 members and State FFA choir of 80 vocalists performed during Minnesota’s State FFA Convention this year.

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Dave Stordalen leads the State FFA Band through rehearsal at Huntington Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on April 24, 2023.
Noah Fish / Agweek

MINNEAPOLIS — You won't find a more electric Williams Arena — home to the University of Minnesota's men's and women's basketball teams — than during the State FFA Convention.

Hundreds of award-winning FFA students and state officer team members strolled the stage at Minnesota’s 94th State FFA Convention, which kicked off April 23 at the UMN campus in Minneapolis with more than 5,000 FFA members and guests in attendance.

Claiming the best seats but not in the limelight as much were the nearly 200 FFA band and chorus members, selected for their ability to learn and perform composition setlists at general sessions of the convention.

Around 16,000 students are FFA members in the state, according to the Minnesota FFA Foundation, coming from over 200 school chapters. This year, the State FFA Band consisted of 109 members, and around 80 vocalists made up the State FFA Choir.

Dave Stordalen has been director of the State FFA band for the last eight years. The longtime educator in North Dakota and Minnesota is currently an instructor at Martin Luther College in New Ulm, Minnesota, and conductor of the Mankato Area Youth Symphony.


A North Dakota native, Stordalen joined his home state's National Guard band as a freshman at North Dakota State University. He went on to serve four years in the U.S. Army playing trombone, euphonium and tuba with the 5th and 323rd U.S. Army Bands.

"I grew up in FFA, and I learned so much from it from high school that I was looking for an opportunity to give back," said Stordalen, who served as commander and conductor of the Minnesota National Guard's 34th Infantry Division from 2013-17.

Dave Stordalen leads the State FFA Band through rehearsal at Huntington Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on April 24, 2023.
Noah Fish / Agweek

State FFA Band and Choir members have to apply in the winter and are sent invitations in the spring, along with the music they have to learn.

"Through the magic of the worldwide web, we send out all the music and they learn it on their own," Stordalen said on April 24 as his band took a 10-minute break from rehearsal inside Huntington Bank Stadium. "We meet one day before performing and practice for two hours, then we practice a little bit here, and then we set up and do our two shows."

Stordalen said many honor bands operate in the same fashion, but with a bit more rehearsal time.

"I think we're the only state FFA band that only has two days of rehearsals before they jump in," he said.

He tried to manage any jitters in the group during song breaks of rehearsal, reminding them once of the repercussions to staying up all night for two nights in a row. He also prepared them for a performance much larger than their regular school concerts.

"A couple of people said we're playing some of the songs a little too slow. Well, when we're in Williams Arena — that huge, huge room — in order for everything to be heard and come out clear, we want to play things a little bit slower, OK," said Stordalen to the band. "It's still still higher energy, and it'll go fine, as long as you keep your energy up."


David Najjar, the State FFA Choir director, said that preparing a large choir in just a few hours of rehearsal is a balancing act.

"You have to be really detailed in your planning and to have almost every minute accounted for," Najjar said. "You have to be able to know what the issues in the music are going to be before it comes up."

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Dave Najjar leads the State FFA Choir through rehearsal at Huntington Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on April 24, 2023.
Noah Fish / Agweek

Najjar, who teaches choir at Watertown-Mayer High School, said his work with the State FFA Choir is some of his most gratifying.

"FFA kids are one of my favorites to work with," Najjar said. "They're super ready to go, hard working, great attitudes. It's one of the highlights of my professional year to get to do this."

He said having over 80 members in this year's choir was a "really good turnout," and a sign that more students are becoming aware of the opportunity.

"I think sometimes it can be overlooked, but I think in Minnesota, we do a really nice job with it," Najjar said. "There's a big singing culture in Minnesota, too."

Learning the notes

Ellie Morsching is a freshman at Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton High School and member of the 2023 State FFA Band. She started band in the fifth grade and joined FFA two years later, with this year being her first at FFA state.

"I didn't even know this was a thing until this year, actually," said Morsching of State FFA Band, who learned about it through her band director, Adam Hille. "I really enjoyed doing both activities, so why not combine them?"


She described her first State FFA Band experience as "really cool" but it took some adapting at first. She prepared individually but said it's hard to fully grasp the material until it can be played altogether.

Ellie Morsching
Noah Fish / Agweek

"When there's other people that play similar parts as me, it really all comes together, and it kind of just flows together," she said.

Morsching plays the tuba, and said she's always been the only female in the band to play the instrument, until the State FFA Band.

"Most people are guys that play the tuba, and this is the only other girl I've ever met that plays a tuba," Morsching said. "Normally, I'm just surrounded by a bunch of guys."

Another challenge was not knowing anyone else in the band, she said.

"I'm the only band member for FFA coming from my school, but my band director came with me because I was kind of scared," she said. "I thought I was going to be alone, and just have to find my way around, but he came with which is really good."

The band itself looked much different than she was accustomed to, as well, with the French horns no longer in front of her and easy to hear, but across the room entirely.

Morsching said she was most looking forward to playing a Latin flavored composition called Port O' Call, which she said had a nice beat to it. Nerves weren't an issue, she said.


"I think I've been through enough concerts that I'm not quite that nervous," she said. "And even if I mess up, there's other people that can cover for me."

Credit where it's due

Morsching said that State FFA Band and Choir members don't get the same level as attention and credit as other competitive event categories.

"I don't think it does, because it's such a big thing," she said of the FFA music groups. "Most people know what FFA is, and all my family members knew what FFA was, but nobody knows there's an honor band with the FFA. I thought it should be more well known, and so other people know what it is too."

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Members of the State FFA choir rehearse at Huntington Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on April, 24, 2023.
Noah Fish / Agweek

Hille said that State FFA Band and Choir may not have gotten the spotlight it deserves in the past, but he thinks that's changing.

"I think it has been (overlooked) in the past, but I know that they're trying to really bring it more to the forefront," Hille said.

Stordalen said that FFA is a great organization for all young people, and music just offers another door to be included in it.

"There's so many things involved in FFA other than just the regular farming things that you might expect," Stordalen said. "Those are great and wonderful, but they have things like the band and the choir. So there's something for everybody."

Noah Fish is a multimedia journalist who creates print, online and TV content for Agweek. He covers a wide range of farmers and agribusinesses throughout Minnesota and surrounding states. He can be reached at

He reports out of Rochester, MN, where he lives with his wife, Kara, and their polite cat, Zena. He grew up in La Crosse, WI, and enjoys the talent from his home state like the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers and Grammy award-winning musicians Justin Vernon and Al Jarreau.
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