Five decades later: BSU English professor to give senior voice recital
BEMIDJI – Mark Christensen began his studies at the lab school of Bemidji State Teachers College in 1959.
“I think it’s kind of cool that I’m going to graduate from Bemidji State 54 years after I started there,” said Christensen, who will be giving his senior voice recital this weekend.
The recital begins at 3 p.m. Saturday in the Carl O. Thompson Recital Hall of the Bangsberg Fine and Performing Arts complex on the BSU campus. The concert is open to the public at no charge.
The Christensen roots go way back in this area, so far back that Mark Christensen can point to his great-grandfather, who was a doctor, and grandfather Norman, who owned a pharmacy, both in Cass Lake. The grandson Mark intended to be a medical doctor and received a degree in pre-med, chemistry and English from the University of Wisconsin-Superior in three years.
Christensen was advised to take a year off before attending medical school, because of his young age, so he decided to take some graduate classes in English.
“Immediately I was asked to become a graduate teaching assistant at University of Minnesota-Duluth,” said Christensen. “I could go to school for free and actually get paid. I had no intention to become a teacher but I certainly was going to do my best and do it well.”
Christensen said three weeks into the class, one of his students, a retired Air Force officer, told him how much he was enjoying it.
“I looked at him and realized that I was, too,” said Christensen. “By the end of that year, I didn’t even apply for med school. I have a hungry mind and I like being taught by students. I am getting enriched every time I have a class.”
Christensen eventually followed a path set out by his father Norman, who was a professor of American Literature, literary criticism and Shakespeare at BSU and UW-Superior.
Christensen said teaching high school English for seven years added to his “sense of mission” and that was when he went on to attain a doctorate in English education.
“I wanted to inspire education students to know that teaching is a wonderful life,” said Christensen. “I will have 38 years of teaching, 23 of which has been spent at BSU, next year. I have this sense of renewal and without that, the work goes flat and it isn’t exciting anymore … I wanted to influence high school English teachers so they would know enough to make renewal a part of their teaching.”
Christensen recalls playing the alternating male lead in “All the Way Home” with theater professor Louie Marchand in 1963. Christensen does not hesitate to capture serendipitous moments when they occur.
One such moment happened in 2001 when he told a colleague, Brad Logan, a BSU vocal music professor, that he would like to sing. That began a period when Christensen was both singer in the Bemidji Chorale and private voice student with Logan. When Fulton Gallagher retired from BSU and returned to teach private lessons, Christensen began studying with him.
“The act of singing is, of itself, very pleasurable,” said Christensen. “I don’t have this need to perform as others do. Singing, as opera singers do, comes from the legs and it’s an act of control, and that control is a physical act.
“So we go through a long training period to learn how to take control of the upper range and then we work on nuance, tone color, adjusting to the space and tuning to rooms. The bass voice is very resilient and can go on for a long time.”
Christensen has focused his studies on solo operatic singing, but admits that his fans from Opera Night usually request “Ol’ Man River” from Showboat or “Some Enchanted Evening” from South Pacific.
Whatever the genre, be it musical theater as his role in “Kiss Me Kate” with Bemidji Community Theater to opera with the Loon Opera Company in “Madama Butterfly” or Menotti’s “The Medium,” Christensen always brings his passion to the fore.
“I think it comes from sympathetic reading of literature I project into the character,” said Christensen. “I have been reading stories and poems to students for years. I read to make them believable so the students will have the full emotional range of the experience.”