Celebrating 45 Years of Great Music: The founders of FMAYS
by Jane Linde Capistran
I had the chance to visit with Bruce Houglum in September. He was so kind to stop and visit with me at Concordia while he was spending some time here in Fargo. Since his retirement as the Conductor of the Concordia College Orchestra, Bruce travels between two homes – one here and one in Nashville. Bruce’s daughter Kirsten, once a member of FMAYS, has been a violinist in the Nashville Symphony for many years. Bruce, and his wife Diane, get to visit grandchildren in both Nashville and Fargo!
It was so interesting in hearing the history from Bruce about the start of FMAYS. He, along with the other three educators (Eunice Pitmon, Dewey Possehl and the late Jack Harris) knew the value of bringing area students together to play classical repertoire. They enlisted the conducting skills of Andy Froelich, professor at NDSU and Bill Wilson, professor at MSU(M) to work with the students. He said most importantly it was the area teachers and parents that were the “behind the scenes” figures in making the youth symphony operate. From organizing the rehearsal locations, setting up stands and chairs, scheduling concerts, and being the board – it was all done on a volunteer basis!
I can share a memory of mine when I was hired to organize and conduct the Concert String Orchestra in 1990. Diane Houglum was the board president, treasurer, and she, along with Bruce, were also outstanding parents, audience members and a string teacher! At that time, Bruce was the Director of Orchestras at Fargo South High. During their tenure on the board and as parents, the youth symphony did an exchange concert with GTCYS (Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphony) and traveled to Detroit Lakes for a performance. I was a member of the orchestra when the exchange concert occurred. We played under the GTCYS’s conductor William Jones and performed in the old Festival Hall at NDSU – circa 1974. Other performance venues Bruce recalled were Weld Hall and Hanson Theater at MSU.
Our thanks to Bruce and Diane for their vision, and their many years of dedication to the youth symphony.
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Growing up in Moorhead, I had the privilege of being surrounded by wonderful music educators since my father, Erling Linde, was the Director of Bands at North Junior High and at several elementary schools, as well as an adjunct flute instructor at Concordia College. I remember at an early age meeting Dewey Possehl, Director of Bands at South Junior High, and becoming friends with his talented daughters. I also have a very fond memory of Dewey’s late wife, Marge, as our chaperone on one of the Apollo Strings’ trips. Mr. Possehl was a famous figure in our house, as he instructed both my brothers in their musical education.
When I visited with Dewey about his role in the re-birth of the youth symphony (since the organization’s hiatus in the late 60’s), he noted that he and the committee were aware of the success of the youth symphonies in the Twin Cities, and they were hoping for that to be a part of the culture in Fargo-Moorhead again. Dewey agreed with Bruce Houglum that it was very much “hands-on” for the parents and local music faculty. There were decisions to be made about finding a conductor, where and when to rehearse, and how to support the organization. He recalled being in charge of the programs for many concerts and also the weekly set-up required for the rehearsals. Even though no long-term plans were made for the organization back in the early days, Dewey said their hope was for the orchestra to mature and continue growing. Thanks to his and the other founders’ vision, the community continues to support the youth symphonies.
And Dewey continues to keep music in his retirement! He is an active trumpet performer in area bands, jazz bands and brass ensembles, and also in a duo that entertains in many assisted living communities. Thank you Mr. Possehl, for your dedication and love of music.
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Eunice Pitmon was a string music educator in Moorhead, MN from 1957 to 1980. She directed the orchestras at South Junior High and also traveled to three elementary schools. (I began my studies with Miss Pitmon in 1966 at Thomas Edison Elementary School.) Pitmon was also a violinist in the FM Symphony. She studied at the McPhail School in Minneapolis and operated a music store in Detroit Lakes, MN before teaching in Moorhead. While teaching at South, her String Ensemble performed at MMEA on several occasions. Many of her students were members of the FM Area Youth Symphony.
I had the pleasure of visiting with Miss Pitmon on Sunday, August 16, at the Colonial Acres Health Care Center in Golden Valley (Miss Pitmon is now 94). She told me… “if I could do it all over again, I would do the same thing. I had so much fun teaching the violin to students!”
Hats off to Eunice Pitmon – FMAYS Founder!
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Our final founder to be remembered is Mr. Jack Harris, who passed away in 1996. Jack was an excellent trombonist, composer, and arranger. He and his wife, Thelma, owned and operated Harris Music Center located in Crookston and later in Detroit Lakes. After moving to Moorhead, he became the director of orchestras at Central Junior High, which was in the old senior high building on 8th Street South in Moorhead.
I can remember attending a solo and ensemble contest there and Mr. Harris being such a wonderful host. Central closed in the mid 70’s, and Jack then led the orchestra program at Oak Grove Lutheran High School. While on tour, my college orchestra performed a concert for their students, once again Mr. Harris being such a gracious host.
We are grateful for Mr. Jack Harris’s contributions to the FM Area Youth Symphony.