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Student orchestra performance moves vets to tears

The Moorhead High School Orchestra played at the USS Arizona Memorial Visitor Center at Pearl Harbor on March 9, 2017. Special to The Forum1 / 2
Bob Lind, Neighbors columnist2 / 2

Jon Larson can tick off many memorable events he's had during his 40-plus year career as an orchestra director at Bemidji (Minn.) High School, Minnehaha Academy, Minneapolis, and now at Moorhead High School. But he says one of the most moving highlights occurred this year in Hawaii.

Beginning Dec. 7, 2016 and continuing in 2017, the military base at Pearl Harbor has been hosting performances by musicians from all over the United States in observance of the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Last March 9, the Moorhead High orchestra was the one which had that honor.

Here, on the anniversary of the attack, is the story of the orchestra's experience.

The concerts, the tears

The orchestra had performed at Pearl Harbor before when it participated in festivities in 2009 celebrating Hawaii's 50th anniversary of statehood. So when Jon learned that musical organizations were being sought for the Pearl Harbor observance this year, he sent in an application and it was quickly accepted.

"Our first performance was at the USS Arizona Memorial Visitor Center located at Pearl Harbor," Jon tells Neighbors. "The orchestra performed a concert of a variety of American music, including 'God Bless America,' 'The Navy Hymn' and 'The Stars and Stripes Forever.'

"The students played their instruments with passion, understanding the significance of our performance at the Arizona Memorial.

"There were several veterans and families of veterans in the audience, and many of them were visibly moved by our performance.

"Two of our students had grandparents who were stationed on ships anchored in Pearl Harbor during the attack on Dec. 7, 1941," Jon says. "One grandparent was stationed on the Arizona and died in the attack. The other grandparent was on the USS Maryland and survived the bombing.

"The second concert we performed was at the USS Missouri, the battleship on which the papers formally ending World War II were signed. The Missouri — the last active U.S. battleship — is anchored just a few hundred yards from the USS Arizona Memorial.

"The Moorhead orchestra was scheduled to perform on the pier next to the ship, but when we arrived, I was informed that we would be performing on the deck of the Missouri.

"The performance space was on the stern of the ship surrounded by flags from every state.

"Once again, we performed our American music repertoire.

"It was very emotional for me to conduct these 90 students.

"As we concluded the concert, the military host at the USS Missouri asked to address the orchestra. She was in tears as she spoke. She had been very moved by the students' performance and wanted to tell us how important the concert was to the veterans and the active duty personnel who were in the audience.

"Our host presented the orchestra with an American flag that had flown over the USS Missouri. We then learned the Moorhead High School Orchestra was the first civilian orchestra ever to perform on the deck of the Missouri.

"Finally, our military host requested that we perform 'The Navy Hymn' as an encore, which we did.

"When we finished performing, I noticed that most of the orchestra students were also in tears.

"It was an experience," Jon says, "the students and I will never forget."

The flag from the USS Missouri given the orchestra and the orchestra's photograph are on display at the Moorhead High School.

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