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Getting the ‘best of the best’: BSU jazz program attracts, and graduates, world-class performers

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BEMIDJI — It is not unusual for teachers to wipe tears from their eyes while attending the graduation for their students. In this reporter’s case, my Clothing II teacher in a New York high school took me aside and told me I was the worst student she had ever had in her classes. She literally begged me to stop taking classes, which I did; but I continued to sew and teach myself, for wasn’t I the granddaughter of a seamstress from the Ukraine?

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And some 20 years later, while attending a performance at Lincoln Center, I was thinking of  Mrs. King and wished she could see what I had accomplished; and there she was standing before me in the ladies room. She hugged me and said she never forgave herself for those words; I, however, used them to spur myself farther and farther. She told me I made her 40 years of teaching worthwhile.

And thinking back to those days at the Paul Bunyan Playhouse, I remember the bright-eyed young actors who couldn’t wait to don their costumes, especially when I could show them a pattern book so they knew I wasn’t just building them out of my imagination. After all, Raggedy Ann had to have a heart under her dress.

Del Lyren, chairman of the instrumental music program at Bemidji State University, knows about being proud of his stellar students.

He was speaking about two of his students the other day. “I have learned to never underestimate Lexie Kruse, who was invited to audition for the Army Band stationed out of (Washington) D.C.” he said. “She wasn’t intimidated playing alongside musicians who already had graduate degrees.”

Lyren mentored Kruse and hoped that she would choose his alma mater, Arizona State. Kruse is one of the three finalists for solo classical trumpet competition for the International Trumpet Guild this month.

“I didn’t know she was going to the competition,” said Lyren, “I should never underestimate her. A young trumpet student from North Dakota enters a world competition and places third for the finals.”

Lyren also mentioned Andy Cresap, who graduated from BSU a few years ago and now is a performance major at the University of North Texas. Cresap was admitted to the 1 O’Clock Lab Band and is another one of Lyren’s stellar students who looked closely at various graduate schools. Cresap also recently was awarded two prestigious 2014 Downbeat awards from Downbeat Magazine, Lyren said, including best large jazz ensemble and best college latin music group. Cresap looked closely at a few different schools, but really wanted a great jazz and music program, he said. Quite a few of the musicians who studied there have come to Bemidji to give master classes and clinics: Jeff Coffin and Jeff Bergeron to name two.

“UNT is the best in the world, no doubt about it; there are over 2,000 music majors and they  draw the very best students so it’s the ‘best of the best,’” Lyren said. “They have been nominated for six Grammy Awards, we are so proud that one of our music students was accepted for graduate studies there.”

But Lyren and his music colleagues have worked hard at “putting BSU” on the map for the newly integrated bachelor’s degree in Jazz Studies. Adjunct professor Greg Gaston has worked diligently in putting digital music lab forth is another music adventure. Gaston has developed a state-of-the-art digital music lab the past few years; in fact, the only one located north of the Twin Cities.

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