History of music and education in “Nadia”

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History of music and education in “Nadia”

Tammy Hensrud performed as Nadia Boulanger for Mina Fisher’s “Nadia,” the story of the renowned music educator.

Tammy Hensrud performed as Nadia Boulanger for Mina Fisher’s “Nadia,” the story of the renowned music educator.

Lily Kime (‘19) | Chips

Tammy Hensrud performed as Nadia Boulanger for Mina Fisher’s “Nadia,” the story of the renowned music educator.

Lily Kime (‘19) | Chips

Lily Kime (‘19) | Chips

Tammy Hensrud performed as Nadia Boulanger for Mina Fisher’s “Nadia,” the story of the renowned music educator.

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Through a precise balance of music and acting, the Bakken Trio told the story of “Nadia” on Sept. 27 in the Center for Faith and Life Recital Hall. Professor of English Kate Narveson brought this musically accompanied monologue, written by Mina Fisher, with assistance from colleagues and community sponsors.

“Nadia,” an original piece by Fisher, showcases the acting and musical talents of the Bakken Trio by telling the story of Nadia Boulanger, a notable French music teacher of the 20th century.

The Bakken Trio is a musical ensemble based out of Minneapolis. Tammy Hensrud performed as Boulanger, Michael Kim played piano, Co-Artistic Director of the Bakken Trio Stephanie Arado played violin, and Assistant Professor of Music Philip Borter played cello. With the exception of Borter, all of these performers are established members of the Bakken Trio.

Hensrud acted throughout the entire hour-long performance as Boulanger. At certain moments throughout the performance, Kim, Arado, and Borter came on stage and acted as her students by playing the music of notable composers that Boulanger taught.

“Nadia” recounts Boulanger’s life, from her tragic loss of her younger sister Lili to Crohn’s Disease to Boulanger’s growth in popularity as a music teacher. In the beginning of the performance, Lili is represented by a single white calla lily.

Boulanger’s biggest inspiration was her sister Lili to whom Boulanger taught everything she knew. Boulanger quit composing when Lili died from Crohn’s disease when Boulanger was 31. After that tragic loss, Boulanger decided to start teaching.

Boulanger faced opposition early in her career as a music educator; it took her five attempts to be accepted to teach at the Paris Conservatory, the world’s largest music school. Even then, she was only allowed to teach under Igor Stravinsky’s name. Despite these obstacles, she found success and taught some of the greatest composers of the 20th century, including Aaron Copland. Nadia continued teaching until she reached her deathbed at the age of 91, where previous students sang madrigals outside her room. Boulanger’s student Leonard Bernstein was with her when she passed away.

Despite her important role in shaping 20th century music, her story has often been overlooked, until Fisher devoted scholarly attention to this prominent figure.

Fisher is a retired cellist and teacher. She previously served as the principal cellist of the New Orleans Philharmonic and was a member of the Minnesota Orchestra for 31 years, and a member of the Bakken Trio. After a nerve injury that ended her career as a cellist, she returned to another profession she loved, teaching.

As a fellow teacher, Fisher was inspired by Boulanger’s dedication in education. Fisher had never intended to write a play until she heard Boulanger’s story. Fisher started writing the script after five months of research. During that time, she searched for the reason for Boulanger’s popularity.

“Because she was a woman,” Fisher said. “Because she was an outlier.”

This idea is also expressed within Fisher’s script when Boulanger describes how many of her earlier students came to her due to a sense of curiosity.

After writing her script, Fisher went to France to walk the life of Boulanger by visiting her apartment, her church, and walking around her old neighborhood. She gained a greater sense of who Boulanger was. Fisher returned home and rewrote her script.

Lily Kime (‘19) | Chips
Assistant Professor of Music Philip Borter was featured on the cello in the Bakken Trio’s performance of “Nadia” on Friday, Sept. 28.

According to Narveson, “Nadia” was performed at Luther to emphasize the importance of liberal arts and to see how liberal arts has influenced and shaped history.

“We’ve always been a school that’s created committed teachers and cared about that,” Narveson said. “Music is huge, and it’s also a theatre piece so it just seemed to speak to Luther’s strong fine arts program.”

“Nadia” is also a story about the devotion of a teacher. Boulanger has been a name associated with harsh and strict teaching practices, but this performance strived to rewrite her image as a passionate educator who cared about the achievements of her students.

“I can totally relate to Nadia as a teacher,” Hensrud said. “There is joy in seeing your students’ success.”

The intended audience was meant to encompass students of all majors with the play’s combination of music, theatre, and history, but people interested in education were also encouraged to attend. Narveson believed that after seeing the performance, current and future teachers would get a fresh sense of vocation.

Shannon Baker (‘20) thought this event was valuable for someone interesting in writing because it showed the audience how a story can change depending on who is telling it.

“Coming to events that you’re not really sure about helps,” Baker said. “Because as a prospective writer or as someone who really enjoys writing, it’s about getting out of your comfort zone and being willing to try new things.”

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