'Christmas with the Niskas' concert to feature Blugold alumni, Jazz I and II ensembles

| Judy Berthiaume (story); Jesse Yang (video)

UW-Eau Claire alumni and current students will come together this month to perform a holiday concert at Pablo Center at the Confluence in downtown Eau Claire.

The Niskas — a three-person Minneapolis-based trio of Blugold alumni — will join with UW-Eau Claire’s Jazz I and Jazz II ensembles to present the “Christmas with the Niskas” concert at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 30.

“We are excited to be here,” Lorie Carpenter-Niska says of returning to Eau Claire and playing alongside students who are currently studying at their alma mater. “And we’re thrilled to play with these two award-winning jazz ensembles.”

The Niskas include brothers Kurt and Terrence Niska, and Kurt’s wife, Lorie Carpenter-Niska. All three are UW-Eau Claire music graduates. Kurt and Lorie met while both were studying music at UW-Eau Claire.

The Kurt-Lorie duo began their career singing in the vocal jazz quartet Hot Jazz, which was formed while they were still students. Eventually, their quartet evolved into a quintet called Five By Design, which Terrence Niska joined as the bass singer.

Five By Design has played with 180 symphony orchestras, including a tour with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Recently, Terrence, Kurt and Lorie created a new group, which they called The Niskas.

Throughout their careers, the alumni have stayed connected to UW-Eau Claire, often including current student musicians and alumni in their concerts.

“It is such a great way to stay connected,” Kurt says of including other Blugolds in performances.

It’s rewarding to see other Blugolds grow from ambitious music students into successful professional musicians, Lorie says of the ongoing connections she has with students and alumni.

They performed on campus for the first time under their new name earlier this month at Gatsby’s Gala.

“What a pleasure,” Kurt says of being part of the popular annual event. “It’s been a rewarding experience and it feels good to be invited back.”

What do the Niskas remember most about their time at UW-Eau Claire?

For Lorie, it was the beauty of the campus, as well as the family atmosphere she found, especially within the music program.

The cold treks across the footbridge to get to his music classes in the Haas Fine Arts Center stand out in his mind, Terrence says with a laugh.

Kurt remembers how the campus and music department made him feel like he was part of something bigger than himself, he says.

He also remembers the joy of gathering friends to sing in the stairwells of UW-Eau Claire buildings.

Thirty-plus years later, he’s looking forward to performing on the RCU Stage at Pablo for the Nov. 30 Christmas show.

“We love coming back to Eau Claire,” Lorie says. “It seems like yesterday that we were students here, but it also feels like forever ago. It feels good to be back and to give back. We love it.”

Part of giving back is encouraging current students to work hard and to follow their dreams, Lorie says.

“We’ve traveled all over the United States and to other parts of the world,” Kurt says. “It’s because of what we got to do here with music that made everything else possible.”