JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Howard Hanson’s music will once again be heard at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Wahoo this Sunday.
The world-known music educator and Pulitzer Prize winner was baptized at the church and played the organ there while growing up in Wahoo.
Hanson (1896-1981) first played his “Symphonic Rhapsody” for the public on Oct. 27, 1919 in San Jose, Calif. This Sunday, Oct. 27, a special program in Jacksonville, Fla. will celebrate the 100th anniversary of that performance and will be live-streamed to Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Wahoo, as well as to Stockton, Calif. and Rochester, N.Y.
The lecture-recital by Dr. Scott Watkins starts promptly at 5 p.m., central time.
Watkins, a professor of piano at Jacksonville University, is writing a book about Hanson and during his research discovered Hanson’s unpublished manifest for “Symphonic Rhapsody.” He edited the music and it was published by Carl Fischer in 2017.
“It may not be his most significant piece, but it was the piano piece he played most often,” Watkins said.
He called “Symphonic Rhapsody” an amazing piano piece that offers a lot of variety to the listener.
“It has a lot of great features associated with the music of Howard Hanson,” he added. “It’s just beautiful music.”
Sunday’s lecture-recital will start with Watkins playing one of Hanson’s piano pieces written in 1917. He will then offer a talk with a slideshow about Hanson’s early years.
Never-before seen photographs, handwritten letters and other research done by Watkins will show Hanson as he grew up in Wahoo and then become a professor and later dean at the University of the Pacific in San Jose, Calif.
This all took place before Hanson became the director of the famed Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y in 1924 and won a Pulitzer Prize in 1944.
But a part of Sunday’s presentation will begin before Hanson was even born in Wahoo in 1896. Watkins has found the records of when the American music composer’s parents came to America from Sweden and that journey will be a part of the lecture.
“Anybody who loves any history, especially European history, will not be disappointed in the program,” he said.
Hanson’s time spent with Chautauqua will also be a part of the program.
Following a short intermission in the program, Watkins will be back at the piano to play another Hanson piece. He will then talk about “Symphonic Rhapsody” and the approximately 90 minute program will close with a performance of this music.
There will be a question and answer period after the program. A live connection between Wahoo and Jacksonville will be established so that the audience at Bethlehem Lutheran Church can ask questions too.
Making a connection between Hanson’s hometown, New York and California for this anniversary celebration was important to Watkins.
“Mostly, I want to involve all of them and thank them, especially those from Wahoo,” he said. “It’s important for Wahooians to know the treasure that Howard Hanson was to America and how important of a role his hometown was to him in his upbringing.”
Watkins, who has made two trips to Wahoo for his research, said he likewise has fond memories of the town and the people.
Wahoo is just one of the places that will receive Sunday’s live feed from Florida. The Eastman School of Music and the University of the Pacific, now located in Stockton, Calif., will be a part of the coast-to-coast event too.
This type of event would have probably found favor with the Wahoo-born composer.
“I think Hanson himself would be excited about the technology we have now,” Watkins said.
Just like it was in 1919, “Symphonic Rhapsody” will be played the day before Hanson’s birthday.
A special pre-birthday celebration and grand re-opening of the Hanson House in Wahoo will also take place on Sunday, Oct. 27.
Hanson House will be open to the public from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. The home, located at 12th and Linden streets, has been under repairs since a crash last November at the nearby intersection sent a pickup into the dining room.
Tours of Hanson’s boyhood home will be given and, from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., Nancy L. Schoen will play Hanson’s piano.
For more information, contact Mary Bergan with the Saunders County Historical Society at 402-443-3090.