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2021 Young Musicians

Spring music recitals have existed for at least 80 years or more with some of the early ones sponsored by the Langdon Women’s Club and held in the assembly hall of the Langdon High School. There is no memory of admission charges although that organization did sponsor fundraising events, so it is possible attendance was by invitation. Very likely we got there because one of the neighboring children would be performing. Two of the popular music teachers at that time were Mrs. Bain and Mrs. Dick, who played the organ and piano each Sunday at the Presbyterian Church. My mother, who liked to sing, had joined the choir and got to know both of these ladies quite well. While we had no piano and my mother had taken no lessons herself, she was able to pick out a few fun-type songs on the pump organ which moved to town with us after my grandmother died. Grandma had been sure one day I would learn to play that organ so talked about that often. Fortunately, the aunt remaining on the farm had a piano and no interest in an old-fashioned organ.

When Rodney and I got old enough to reach the pedals, we would sort of play on this organ so piano lessons began for both of us. It was good physical exercise as managing the pedals, the knee swells, etc. required a lot of stretching and movement, but the sounds made were not all pleasant to the listeners or to our teacher when we tried to play the assigned music on her piano. In my memory we were only in one recital, and the lessons stopped after that point- both because my brother refused to practice and because the teacher decided I had developed an “organ touch” that could not be corrected.

When you do not have to perform it is fun to attend the recitals and applaud the hard work of the students on the program, and so a life-long habit formed of enjoying these concerts and, in more recent years, writing about them. Some recitals were evening events when driving in the dark or navigating snowbanks and ice made attendance a problem, so the Sunday afternoon concerts became an annual favorite until they were curtailed by pandemic caution. This year the recitals have been revived, and learning they are not like the Sunday services that can be watched later on computer, I called ahead to find out if there might be a seat in an overflow room. Being assured the crowd might be quite small (really it was normal size!), I ventured out to find that recitals are rebounding to a different level.

Both the early and later recitals had students who played numbers from their lesson books but also some who added in a song they had composed. Some students have tried this under the guidance of an outside composer, but the songs this year seemed to have a more personal touch. It is quite safe to say that neither the person writing this nor most of the readers has actually composed a song of their own. So, when three out of four of the new composers are playing in their first recital and the fourth is also performing a song with words he has written, that is quite a big step for creative younger musicians. Impressed by their bravery, I studied the titles chosen to see what clues would arise in the things that cause children to think musically. The very youngest composers seem to choose weather and outdoor themes. Others might choose a pet as their inspiration. In other words, they choose things around them that they can see or feel. When you listen to them play their songs it is as if the notes dance from their brains to their fingertips. If the song sounds happy, they may even add a little flourish at the end.

Lisa Schuler, who teaches the musicians at these recitals, mentioned the students had chosen some of their favorites for the event. Their choices featured moonlight, stars, blue skies, bluebirds, sunrise and sunset, nighttime and dreaming. As they moved up in age, the tastes seemed to change. Two students chose Chopin. Shanna Gette chose a centuries old Prelude by J. S. Bach. Arianna Haraseth combined sports with music playing “Football Fever”, and Drew Peterson played a lively “Dancing Goblins”. The two seniors, both in the first recital and with something like ten years of music lesson, chose more difficult and classical pieces, but they will be playing a wider variety in their senior recitals in June.

The seniors also had a chance to play duets with younger sisters who are musicians in the making. That comment applies to seventeen students in the recitals who played a duet with a brother or sister, mom, dad, or another relative. This was to make it easier for children social distancing to practice with someone from their own household, and they also made special memories of playing with a relative special in their own life. Yes, there were lots of grandparents and some great-grandparents attending who have had an influential role in the lives of the young musicians and may have a history of attending recitals since they or the current parents were the stars of the events. At least one mother mentioned playing when she was as young as kindergarten. Special thanks to Lisa and other music teachers for all the work they put into events that allow their students to shine.

Growing up I can remember no people my age, regardless of how talented they may have been or thought they were, who had set their sights on Carnagie Hall or Broadway. A few may have thought they could be as popular as Elvis or the Beatles or other remembered groups that followed, but life did not give them that honor or that particular financial reward. Personally, I loved listening to others play the piano or organ and just sort of diddled around playing songs that appealed to me until a Sunday morning when I was still in grade school. The pastor of our country church looked around and noticed none of the regular pianists was present. He announced the hymn, called my name, and announced that I was to play that day. In shock I went to the piano and tried. No, playing for church was not a paid job in those days, and for some today, it is still classed as a labor of love. However timid you may feel, a good song leader can cover a lot of very inept piano efforts. Many years later I am still practicing for Sunday services. The secret to this is that you never quit practicing.

Those who recall being around Maple Manor over the years might remember Zelpha Malo and Rose Malarky who brought their own pianos to the home and spent many hours of their last years playing for their own enjoyment and that of other residents. Many of the residents enjoyed singing, and I remember hearing Rose’s voice rising over the group when someone else played. Myrtle Gjevre had reached a point where she could no longer play, but she brought handwritten notes or sheets of music out to various events with instructions that she wanted the music included in the service that day, and it was. We also enjoyed the stories of the years she had studied music in Minneapolis. John Buchweitz lent his deep voice to many a song (hymn or western) that he felt the group needed to hear. At Osnabrock there was an Icelandic visitor who wanted me to transpose all the music for the day into a different key because he had only brought one harmonica with him, and its key did not match the songs in their hymnal. And I cannot forget the man who liked to dance in his wheelchair so “play something I can dance to” – even if it happened to be a day for communion or Sunday worship. Music is a living part of our lives for those who listen, play, or sing – or even dance in wheelchairs.

The young musicians of today may grow up to be stars on a wider stage, teachers of many forms of music, or form a garage-type band and play for street dances. They may make records that sell and a few that do not. Some from here have gone on to play in military bands that traveled far away. Others may refine their composing skills and make their mark in that arena. They might be the new church musician at your church or mine or the one who helps to light up the hearts and eyes of people nearing 100 in a care home near you. The hours spent with music will not be lost and will be appreciated long after some of us are gone. Thank you not only for the memories but for the promise of the future you represent.

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