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Pioneer Profiles: Reflecting the life, trials of Roosevelt

Chris Brubeck, composer of "Roosevelt in Cowboyland,"?will be in Bemidji for Sunday's Symphony concert. Submitted Photo

BEMIDJI - Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt became the face of American pride and rugged individualism despite his early years as a sickly youngster and then the probably misdiagnosed serious heart ailment shortly after his graduation from Harvard College.

Roosevelt's athletic prowess for boxing, where he was a runner-up for the Harvard boxing championship, or rowing showed no indication of a heart ailment. He chose to ignore the advice of doctors to avoid strenuous exercise and take a sedentary job.

Roosevelt's zest for life took an unexpected turn when, as he wrote in his dairy on Feb. 14, 1884, "The light has gone out of my life."

On the same day, in the same house in New York City, he lost both his mother to typhoid fever and his wife, only two days after giving birth to their daughter, Alice.

"If you would see that in a Hollywood script you would say that's too much, that's too much," said Chris Brubeck, composer of "Roosevelt in Cowboyland," a three-movement work commissioned by the Bismarck-Mandan Symphony.

The composition will be featured during the Bemidji Symphony Orchestra's concert at 3 p.m. Sunday in the Bemidji High School auditorium.

"If you simplify it a lot, you could almost make a fable out of Teddy's life," Brubeck continued. "The first part of the piece has to do with his development as a child, he was a strange little kid.

"He couldn't go outside because of his asthma so he kept reading books in his father's library about all these great adventure heroes like Lewis and Clark and David Livingston. That fuel for his imagination was true for the rest of his life. I sort of wrote an adventure theme for him as a little kid but it is a theme that reappears at different points in his life as a more mature theme.

"This is something that you do as a composer, you use themes to display certain aspects and you keep developing them. You have to know what brought him to the Great Plains; most people don't know that it was the worst tragedy."

Beverly Everett, the Bemidji Symphony Orchestra musical director, sought out Brubeck.

"I chose Chris because of his gift for weaving history, words and music together in amazing ways, and because his music is eclectic and accessible," Everett said.

Brubeck's first composition was a trombone concerto.

Approximately 20 years ago, he composed the concerto and the trombonist for the Boston Symphony heard it and kept asking the conductor at that time if he could play it.

He did play it, it was televised and it won the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers Spirit Award.

"Suddenly," said Brubeck, "Boston kept asking me to write pieces for them and then a lot of people asked me to write pieces for them, so I have been writing for almost 20 years.

"For this piece I used strings and a steady progression of soft chords to show the depth of his sorrow. Of course, with music you can do that.

"Roosevelt has to re-find the core of his soul, he had to pull himself out of his depression and sorrow and he did that by connecting with nature."

Roosevelt's time in North Dakota's Badlands was spent with cowboys and frontiersmen, and he seemed to enjoy their company more than the so-called sophisticated and perhaps superficial people of the East Coast society that he knew.

Roosevelt wrote three books about his life on the range, where he learned to ride horse western style, rope, hunt and work as a deputy sheriff on the banks of the Little Missouri River. Later in life Roosevelt built a second ranch, Elk Horn, north of Medora, N.D., where he would escape when disillusioned with life and politics.

As Roosevelt was later to write, "I never would have been President if it had not been for my experiences in North Dakota."

In Brubeck's notes, he describes about how writing a new piece is uncharted territory, especially when it is inspired by a historical figure like Teddy Roosevelt, and it has to contain the energy of his immense, some would say grandiose, personality.

"According to all accounts, he had remarkable stamina and the ability to multi-task," Brubeck said. "He pushed himself to the limits. These traits do not conjure up a calm and serene score; this man was more like a tornado on the great American Landscape."