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Byron Hanson: Celebrating a rich history with Interlochen
A community often has someone who has been lovingly immersed in it for so many decades, that they possess more than its collective knowledge. At Interlochen we call him Byron Hanson.
Interlochen Archivist Byron Hanson retired from full-time work in June of 2015. Please see the bottom of the story for some memories from people who worked with and studied under Byron over the years.
It is often said that Interlochen is a community. A village. And any village (if they’re lucky) has someone in it who has been lovingly immersed in it for so many decades, that they possess more than its collective knowledge. They carry with them its wisdom. In some cultures, she may be referred to as their Wisdom Keeper. In others, he may be the Village Elder. At Interlochen we call him Byron Hanson.
“There are many ways and many possibilities and many roads to learning how we think and how we operate. At Interlochen, a student can imagine a new view, whether it’s a piece of music or whether it’s choreography, or whether it’s a new medium in which to express oneself … I think these things are all produced and provoked here and I think it’s a wonderful education.” —Byron Hanson
The road to Byron’s Interlochen education began in 1958 when he was a teenager in Edina, Minnesota. His high school band teacher received a call from Dr. George C. Wilson, Interlochen National Music Camp Director. Dr. Wilson needed a euphonium player to join the National High School Band for the 31st summer of the National Music Camp. And, to sweeten the invitation, Interlochen would pay half the fee for tuition, room and board. That meant Byron’s family would have to come up with the other half—$300.
When Byron approached his father about the invitation, there were some initial reservations. Edina is home to the Interlachen Country Club and Byron’s father thought he wanted to spend his summer working there. After the confusion was resolved, Byron was given the green light for his first summer at Interlochen. One that would continue each year for the next 57 years.
“Interlochen Arts Camp looked much like it does now,” Byron recalled in a recent interview. “Kresge Auditorium had been built 10 years earlier. The Bowl looks pretty much like it looks today. The cabins were the original ones that had been built in the late 1920s.” And when he arrived at Camp at the age of 17, Byron was assigned the last cabin, second row, No. 16. “From there, we walked back and forth the way kids do now.”
Byron returned to Camp in 1959. The Camp was buzzing with the anticipation. Both Dr. Frederick Fennell and Dr. Howard Hanson (no relation) would be instructing music students that summer. Byron was well aware of the achievements of both masters and was thrilled to be working with them in one amazing summer.
Only a few years earlier, Dr. Fennell created the innovative Eastman Wind Ensemble. “The recordings in those years were really exciting,” Byron remembers. “Many of us grew up listening and marveling to how well these young musicians played under his direction.” That summer Byron was going to be one of those young musicians, playing in Interlochen’s Symphony Band under Dr. Fennell’s direction. “It was exciting for all of us.”
Dr. Hanson was a legend by the time he reached Interlochen in the summer of ’59—Director of Eastman School of Music, Pulitzer Prize winner and composer of Symphony No. 2, “The Romantic,” which contains what has become known as “The Interlochen Theme.” Under his direction, Byron played piano for Interlochen’s performance of Stravinsky’s The Firebird that summer. Recordings from those concerts still exist in Interlochen’s archives.
As Byron looks back on in it, those two summers “absolutely” changed his life. “And I think that’s probably the whole story. You come to Interlochen at a time when you are, in a sense, vulnerable—looking for all sorts of answers and probing all kinds of questions and growing up and listening to a lot of things. Interlochen opens some doors and clears out time to make concert band music or whatever other art a person might be engaged in. It’s (that life-changing experience) that you carry with you for the rest of your life. Interlochen had a big part in shaping that for many of us.”
Byron went on to major in music at The Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y. After graduating, he stayed on to earn his master’s degree in 1965. Throughout the six years of his Eastman education, Byron returned every summer to Interlochen to accompany high school and intermediate operettas, choral festival, high school and University of Michigan choirs. “We didn’t make much,” Byron recall, “but we had a great time!”
Byron returned again for another summer at Interlochen after completing his master’s degree. And like so many other students then and now, he began the daunting task of starting a career. “By the mid-summer of 1965 I had no idea what I was going to be doing in the coming months. I didn’t have a job. I had applied for a couple, but didn’t get any invitations. I was footloose in that sense, like many college kids today are. They go to school and don’t quite know what they’re going to do next. About the middle of the summer, I guess I was pretty naive in thinking something would eventually come my way or I’d have to get busy and find something.”
That summer, Dr. A. Clyde Roller, a conductor at Camp for more than 50 summers, suggested Byron should talk to Interlochen founder Dr. Joseph Maddy. Dr. Roller had learned Dr. Maddy had obtained a federal grant from the Department of Health, Education and Welfare to underwrite costs for a project he had devised. The concept was to bring 33 students to the Interlochen Arts Academy to demonstrate the value the pioneering music instruction techniques that Dr. Maddy and co-founder Thaddeus Giddings had created in the early 1920s. The goal was to validate its wider use in public school music curricula nationwide. Dr. Maddy needed someone to lead this effort and for someone who could be that person’s assistant. Byron became the assistant and said, “That’s how I came to Interlochen full time.”
Byron’s commitment to Interlochen became deeper when he fell in love. Ann Herkelmann had already been the Camp’s Director of Intermediate Girls for 10 years when they married in Dendrinos Chapel in 1982. She became Dean of Students and later Interlochen’s Human Resources Director. Their daughters, Lindsay and Meredith, grew up with an Interlochen education.
Ann passed away in April of 2015. Looking back, Byron remembers that they were both “committed to something that we believed in. Interlochen’s process of education and skills and successes that students had was more than enough to convince us that this was a very good place to be.”
Now, 57 years later, Byron says, “I’ve been here in one way or another since I was 17 years old and so it has really been my life. It’s been a wonderful life. It’s been very gratifying and I’ve felt productive and I felt that I was doing something in a small way to help people, and hopefully steer them in directions that would be beneficial for them. None of them were here for a very long time. And yet it seemed that those years had a transforming quality or at least a strong influence on what these folks did later. So we had more than just an ordinary influence, I think, on helping these students get to something that they were seeking. A teacher only gains this understanding years later.”
This transformative Interlochen experience is one Byron would encourage prospective students and their parents to seek. “We have the opportunity here to find some kind of balance; the academic matters that students certainly need to have and the (creative) skills that they need to acquire,” he said. “It’s about having this broader spectrum of experiences. To teach them to be creative. To teach them to think about more than one way of doing it. There are so many things to be learned in this kind of education. Interlochen teaches them to grow and to evolve. I think that is just terribly, terribly important.”
And what about Byron’s own future? “It’s both intriguing and a little scary. I expect to be involved (with Interlochen) in a sense, but clearly it won’t be in a driving sense because I’m backing out and making room for other people to do this.”
One way Interlochen has chosen to honor Byron’s lifetime of selfless contributions to thousands of students, is to establish the Byron Hanson Endowment Fund. This fund assures that his work and his vision continues for decades to come. For more details and how to make a gift to this fund, please contact Stewardship Coordinator Kate Olson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And now, for those of us who so lovingly embrace the wisdom still being imparted by this gentle man, simply imagine a performance in his honor. At its conclusion, the student conductor takes the podium. She raises her baton. The Symphony Band performs the “Interlochen Theme.” The house lights come up. No applause necessary. Just bravo, Byron. Bravo!
Reader Tributes: Memories of Byron Hanson
"I had the good fortune to be in the viola section at IAA from 1985-89. You are mentioned frequently in my classroom. Currently, my classroom is the auditorium of Chopin Elementary in the Chicago Public Schools. I am a general music teacher during the school day for K-8 students. For two hours every day after school, I run the Merit School of Music Bridges Program at Chopin. We have one of the largest string orchestra programs in Chicago.
I tell you these details not to pat myself on the back, but to thank you. Your influence on my life has been immeasurable. I've given my life's work to helping kids learn not just how to play strings, but how to become whatever they wish to be. IAA opened the world to me. While I chose to return home to Chicago for my work, I stay in touch with many alumni of my program as they travel the world, some even pursuing music careers. You helped make that happen. For that, I thank you.
As for memories, there are a few. I never use a baton when I conduct. Your mishap with a baton one evening inspired that. You gave a particularly vigorous downbeat and managed to slice the back of your left ear. You bled on your white tuxedo shirt and, true to the performer's credo that the show must go on, staunched the blood with a kerchief while continuing to conduct.
Another memory is when you asked us for suggestions of music we wanted to play. You noticed that I'd chosen John Adam's Short Ride in a Fast Machine. You took the time to explain why it would be difficult, but was worth pursuing after IAA (this was during my senior year). While I've not yet had the fortune to play that piece, I use that piece often in class for students to write extended responses to during thematic units in my classroom. Many children have heard that piece over the years.
Thank you, Mr. Hanson. Thank you for your inspiration and patience dealing with a rather stubborn young man. I'm still stubborn, but I apply that willfulness to continuing to bring music to children, much as you've done for so many years."
"My thoughts on Byron Hanson:
1. When I went to my reunion and hadn't seen him in almost 30 years he told me what instrument I played (viola) at IAA. I graduated in 1975 and this was in 2004. So many students in that time period. Amazing memory.
2. He is the best accompanist, hands down, that I have ever known. I do a lot of accompanying and always strive to be in a class with him.
3. Again, at the reunion I watched a little of a band rehearsal. His body language while conducting was a deja vu experience from my days in orchestra under him. His style is unique, effective, and constant.
4. I still have fond memories of times at his house when he was sharing a house on the other side of the lake with David Holland. We always walked across the lake to their house in the winter. Being from Texas it was so strange to walk on a lake. Everyone was always made to feel welcome, even though we were mere high school students."
—Carol Duff Love, IAA class of 1975
"I just want to congratulate a former Interlochen Summer Camp friend, Byron Hanson, on a long and dedicated career to the institution! My memory goes back 50 years when I asked him to sing in a barbershop quartet with me that summer of 1965. Just last month I found an audiotape of our performance and reconnected with Byron! With his help we tracked down the fourth member and reconnected with him as well! Best wishes in your retirement, Byron!"
—Roger Blackburn, Philadelphia Orchestra Trumpeter Emeritus
"Byron, thank you for your many years of service to our beloved Interlochen community. You as a conductor and pianist influenced me and it will never be forgotten. Your high standards of musical command and achievement affected us all as young campers. I enjoyed working with you on stage as Kresge stage manager, and then it was a pleasure to return to teach at Interlochen years later and work with you professionally. Of course it never hurts being a brother to Eileen as I still keep in touch with her though Mike Combs. Thanks for all your work on the Archives at Crescendo that I read every time it comes out. Have a great retirement. ... Good luck, thanks for the memories."
—Don Baker, percussionist, NMC 1966-69
Comments have been edited for clarity.