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The Connecting Power of Music

Posted at 3:47 PM on February 10, 2010 by Rex Levang
Filed under: Musician stories

For today's entry, I'm passing on an email from Michael Barone. The piece described sets the words of Abraham Lincoln to music, and you can hear it in its entirety on Thursday in the 11 p.m. hour, as part of The New Releases.


Wednesday's mail contained a new CD featuring a timely piece of beautiful new music, Michael Daugherty's "Letters from Lincoln," a live-concert recording with the Spokane Symphony. Thomas Hampson is the perfect soloist -- involved, intelligent, intelligible -- and Daugherty's score is touching and thoughtful.

In the "small world" department (and small print, too), I was reading the CD's album credits and noticed mention of the Bruce Ferden Fund for New Music of the Spokane Symphony. Blast from the past! Way back, in my early days in Minnesota (1968-1972), Bruce was a brilliant student of Loris Tjeknavorian (himself a brilliant young conductor, at the beginning of a very colorful career) at Moorhead State University.

By happy coincidence, Bruce also was fast friends with the very musical (and attractive) middle daughter of a general practice physician in Sauk Centre, Dr. John C. Grant. Dr. Jack was one of MPR's earliest members and sponsors. Jack also was an organ nut, had a small instrument in his house, and also built the pipe organ for the little Episcopal church in Sauk Centre where he played every Sunday. He and his wife Phyllis even put on a Christmas Eve Lessons and Carols Service at their little church (a la King's College, this way before the broadcasts on MPR and nationwide). They had to do seven or eight "performances" to accommodate community interest, as the building could barely hold 120 people.

Anyway, because of my organ background and interest, Jack pulled me into the Grant family sphere early. Though I did not marry the doctor's daughter, one of my MPR colleagues (Arthur Hoehn) did marry the elder Grant sister, and I played for their wedding. Bruce Ferden also was a regular at the many round-table discussions during holiday gatherings at the Grants' home (there was more musical talk going on there than in Bruce's home town of Fosston). Later, I watched with delight and amazement from the sidelines as Bruce evolved his career...and then in 1993 was shocked and saddened to learn that he had died of A.I.D.S. It seems like so long ago...and he was accomplishing so much.

Receiving the CD of Daugherty's touching tribute to our historic President Lincoln today reminded me of these other wonderful people in my own history (Jack and Phyllis Grant, bless them, are also "history"), and it was very satisfying to see that Bruce Ferden's memory is being kept alive through a commissioning program in Spokane where he was the symphony's music director for six years.

It is a small world, and the power of music reaches into every corner.

--Michael Barone