LONG PRAIRIE CHAMBER ORCHESTRA
Timeless Music - Creative People - Memorable Performances
TAKING A BOW - LPCO Director leads his last performance
Written by Nancy Leasman
Long Prairie, a community of about 3500 residents, has been fortunate to host a chamber orchestra in a continuous run of nearly 50 years. While the Covid challenges of the last two years have caused more interruptions than any other events during the history of the orchestra, the group endures. It continues to fulfill its mission “to provide engaging programming of orchestral music for the enrichment and enjoyment of our performers and audience.” While retaining its name of the Long Prairie Chamber Orchestra and known as the LPCO, it draws on talent and experience from the surrounding communities.
The LPCO was formed in 1974 in celebration of the United States Bicentennial. Orvis Dahlen, who taught instrumental music in the Long Prairie schools, along with his wife Reta, and friends Lowell and Janet Klukken, organized the first performance which was held at the Long Prairie armory.
In the early years, the orchestra performed at the Long Prairie Arts Center and at the historic Christie House. When the new Long Prairie/Grey Eagle High School and auditorium was built about 20 years ago, the LPCO acquired a new practice and performance venue.
As a non-profit arts organization, the LPCO has benefited from grant support from the Five Wings Arts Council. This support has been a boon and confidence builder for the seven orchestra directors who have led the musicians.
In his illustrious career, current director Mark Graf has garnered a wealth of musical practice which he has offered to central Minnesota musicians for the last eight years. Graf earned a Bachelor of Arts in Music from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and a Master of Music in Vocal Coaching and Accompanying from the University of Illinois. He has conducted opera productions in Florida, Ohio, Kansas, Tennessee, Virginia, Alabama, Delaware, District of Columbia, Louisiana, New York, and Alberta, Canada.
Graf began his music career as many do, in the fifth grade. He recalls a photo of him when he was quite small, seated at the piano with a recorder in one hand. He focused on the piano and then moved in the direction of opera.
He was the resident associate conductor and director of the young artist studio for the Florida Grand Opera, adjudicator for Metropolitan Opera auditions, and music coordinator and rehearsal pianist for the Pittsburgh Opera.
In addition to his Long Prairie assignment, Graf is currently the Music Director of Bethesda Lutheran Church in Alexandria. He has led several Alexandria Area Arts Association’s Andria Theatre productions, including: Into the Woods, White Christmas, Willie Wonka, Wizard of Oz, and Hello Dolly!
Graf doesn’t remember exactly how he came to lead the LPCO. It may have been through the Heartland Symphony of Brainerd. Some of the LPCO musicians also played with the Heartland Symphony which Graf directed for a time.
Having made the decision to leave the direction of the LPCO to the next generation, Graf is pleased that his final concert was an all-opera program. Singers from Concordia College in Moorhead were invited to perform arias and ensembles along with the orchestra on April 9. “I didn’t really plan for my last gig to be an all opera program but with my background in opera, I’m happy it turned out that way.”
“I’m stepping back, seeing what will happen,” Graf said. He may spend more time, “making junk out of junk,” his humble way of saying he likes using reclaimed wood for repurposed projects.
LPCO board member Jim Downes appreciates that Graf’s organizational skills will leave the orchestra in good shape for his successor. “He’s done so much planning. He’s dedicated to music and wants to share music. He’s been a wonderful manager, shares his thoughts and invites ideas.”
Part of the business of leading an orchestra is empowering the support cast and key positions within it that keep things running smoothly in its day to day operations, as well as providing consistency when leadership changes.
Jessica Kroll Bash is a longtime violinist with the LPCO and its concert master. The concertmaster, always a violinist, is responsible for dictating bowings to the first violin section, playing solo passages, understanding the conductor's ideas and communicating them in technical terms to the rest of the orchestra, leading the orchestra in tuning before rehearsals and performances, and assisting with aspects of the orchestra's management. While conductors may come and go—with differing styles and approaches—the concertmaster provides the orchestra with consistent and technically oriented leadership. Jessica joined the orchestra through her grandmother, Teri Petron, who also played the violin.
Chris Hebert has played the flute with the LPCO since 1994. She served on the LPCO board as the secretary in 2016, and as the board president since 2018. She is also the orchestra librarian. In this capacity she provides and organizes all of the music needed for performances and maintains and curates the library of parts and scores.
“When I started teaching at St. Mary’s School in Long Prairie, Teri Petron asked me if I played an instrument. She grabbed me for the orchestra,” Hebert said, and she has played the flute in the orchestra since that time. “The LPCO played for my wedding,” she added.
Hebert appreciates the leadership Graf has provided for the orchestra. “He knows our group so well and he knows what we are capable of playing. He brings out our musicality. We all have day jobs,” she said, knowing that directing a community orchestra is a different challenge than working with professional musicians. “He doesn’t flaunt his experience. He has a great sense of humor and keeps pushing us and wanting us to do better. He also shakes everyone’s hand and thanks each musician after a performance.”
Graf acknowledges that working with a group comprised of musicians of all skill levels and ages (14-80) is a unique experience but it boils down to just making music together. “I like getting to know people in a group and watching them come together. It was a great experience. A good run.”
Other people involved in the organizational parts of the LPCO include a few non-musicians.
Carol Duke is the operations manager and has been on the LPCO board for 5 years. She relishes her job of planning and decorating for the events, and meeting the orchestra’s many patrons.
Luan Thomas-Brunkhorst, who has been on the LPCO board for more than a decade, wears many hats. She is the publicity and volunteer coordinator, grant reviewer and Facebook administrator. Her husband Jurgen is a musician as well as the organization’s treasurer and website administrator.
Pat Makepeace is the secretary for the LPCO board and works with fundraising.
Gary Taylor, a musician, and Jim Downes, who photographs many of the orchestra’s events, are at-large board members.
Downes, who connected with Graf because of shared ancestral lands and language, praised Graf for his musical talent, organizational skills, dedication to music, and desire to share music. “He knows a lot of musicians and found fill-ins for gaps in the orchestra. He’s a wonderful manager, shares his thoughts and invites others to express their ideas.”
Graf said his ace-in-the-hole, when it came to connections with outside musicians, was his son, Eric. Eric is a cellist and knows younger players through the University of Minnesota. Eric has been a featured soloist for the LPCO as have his peers who have accepted invitations to perform.
“We’re always making music together,” Graf said of time spent with Eric. He practices what he preaches. “I’d encourage anyone in the community, if they play an instrument, to take it up again and play with a group. All a group really wants to do is make music and have fun.”
The Long Prairie Chamber Orchestra believes in engaging with the communities in the area and embracing the talents of aspiring instrumental artists of all ages. The LPCO continues to work toward its goal to offer audiences a chance to experience a variety of orchestral music performances.
Upcoming events: Ensembles from the LPCO will play this summer in Long Prairie’s summer in the park series, produce a fall concert Oct. 29, and host the annual New Year’s Eve concert.
The mission of the Long Prairie Chamber Orchestra is to provide engaging programming of orchestral music for the enrichment and enjoyment of our performers and audience.
Since 1974, Long Prairie Chamber Orchestra (LPCO) has been the talk of the town thanks to its wide range of quality orchestral music concerts. We are the only orchestra of volunteer musicians in a small rural area which was formed by Orv and Reta Dahlen and Lowell and Janet Klukken.
We are open to new members interested in playing with us. We accept all ages that play an instrument. We rehearse on Tuesdays beginning February 15 at the Long Prairie Secondary School from 7:30 pm to 9 pm until the spring concert on April 9th.
If you have any questions, contact Carol Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Long Prairie Chamber Orchestra believes in engaging with the community and embracing the talents of our aspiring artists. Our goal is to offer audiences a chance to experience a variety of orchestral music performances.
As a nonprofit arts organization, we rely on the support of our audiences and friends through free-will donations at our concerts and throughout the year. Our success as an organization is proven by the proud support of community members and local businesses.
Join Us and Make a Donation Today!
“Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy.
Music is the electrical soil in which the spirit lives, thinks, and invents.”
Ludwig Van Beethoven