Music with Minnesotans: Bruce Kramer

by Alison Young, Minnesota Public Radio
September 3, 2013

Hopkins, Minn. — Bruce Kramer is a very special human being. He's warm, funny, inquisitive and generous. He ponders subjects deeply and speaks passionately about the things he loves — and in complete paragraphs.

Like many listeners to our sister station MPR News, I got to know Bruce through a series of interviews with Cathy Wurzer.

This vibrant man who has traveled and worked all over the world and served as Dean of the College of Education, Leadership and Counseling at the University of St. Thomas, lives with a devastating illness called Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

But the reason I got in touch with Bruce is because in his very first conversation with Cathy, he mentions that it's music that helps him now. For most of his life, Bruce directed choirs, and the deep enrichment that comes from sharing the beauty of making sound together has been deep and long lasting.

"I love the fact that I could bring amateur musicians together and have them find something that they didn't think they could do. And then suddenly they look up and there's this shimmer of sound, this beauty around them and I would tell people, 'That's the face of God. That's what you're really hearing right here is the face of God.'"

ALS is a cruel disease. When Bruce and I taped our conversation, he was in a special chair and had only the use a small portion of his body to work the controls of an incredibly sophisticated sound system. But his mind is sharp, his humor intact, and soon I felt like a friend talking about the finer points of a variety of recordings and ensembles we'd both heard over the years.

Besides sharing our 'musical geekiness' I felt like a kindred spirit when it came to how we experience music. Clearly Bruce is no longer a performer but a full-time listener, but he tells me that it was giving music to others - helping people feel the transformative aspect of music and its ability to provide solace - that gives him great joy.

In fact, Bruce calls his playlist "Music for Healing." And that connects with his philosophy about illness — something he calls "dis-ease." We all suffer in our own ways, he tells me, whether physical or financial or relational or emotional, and healing can come in many forms.

"We tend to equate healing with curing, with fixing. There is no fixing for life. We're all headed to the same place. I'm just going faster. But there is healing that I have. If I can find myself in a space that I feel quiet and secure and loved, isn't that a healed space?"

After talking with this incredible person — and sharing this music — you too will feel your own sense of healing.

Bruce Kramer's playlist:

Morten Lauridsen, Sure on this Shining Night - Conspirare

Eric Whitacre, Lux Arumque - Cantus

Samuel Barber, Knoxville, Summer of 1915 - Dawn Upshaw/Orchestra of St. Luke's

Moses Hogan, Great Day; Ain't it that Good News - Moses Hogan Chorale

Next week, our guest is Bain Boelke, the Founding Artistic Director of the Jungle Theatre. His childhood baby grand sits in the Jungle's lobby and he stays close to music by playing a little Mozart every day before any of the other staff arrives.

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