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Bruce Larsen Extended Biography

Organist, choir director, arranger, composer, producer, choral teacher, historian

Bruce A. Larsen, a leader in the area's sacred music scene for 50 years, died August 3, 1996. He leaves behind an impressive musical heritage, the legacy of a half century in various roles as organist, music and choir director, arranger, composer, producer, choral teacher, and historian.

Larsen, born June 8, 1922, in Iron Mountain, Michigan, began his college studies at St. Norbert Seminary, Wisconsin. He was drafted into the army in 1941 and served as a chaplain's assistant in the European countries of France, Belgium and Germany. While in these countries, Larsen experienced, first hand, the classical music, art and architecture which influenced his life. Discharged in 1945, he moved to the Twin Cities, attracted to the area's rich culture of sacred music.

After receiving his degree in organ studies from the MacPhail School of Music, his career threaded its way through several area institutions: choral director at the University of Minnesota Newman Club 1946 to 1958; organist and founding music director at the Church of the Holy Childhood in St. Paul 1946 to 1949; organist and choral/music director at St. Olaf's Catholic Church, Minneapolis, 1949 to 1964; and choral/music director at the Basilica of St. Mary, Minneapolis, 1964 to 1968. Larsen then returned to Holy Childhood where he continued as music director until 1987. After his retirement from teaching, he continued to guide the music program there until his death.

Larsen founded the Holy Childhood Schola Cantorum (school of singing) to develop and maintain a choir capable of performing the great works of the sacred choral repertoire. The school and schola continue today, and almost half of the present men's schola began singing at Holy Childhood as boy sopranos, some as long as 40 years ago. Although the Schola began as a men's and boys' choir, it now includes women and girls.

Larsen was no ordinary "director". Totally immersed in the quality of music he produced, Larsen was involved simultaneously with the vocal training of many of his singers; arranging orchestral scores for masses and hymns, researching historical, classical and modern musical literature, and performing as an organist specializing in French and Romantic music.

His love of music was a magnet that drew musicians into his service. Constantly in pursuit of great music to introduce to his audiences, his concerts and religious services included compositions from all eras: plainchant and polyphony, masses, oratorios, motets, and anthems of the baroque, classical, romantic and modem periods. Priests and musicians associated with Larsen admired his ability to masterfully coordinate music into the liturgy of each Sunday and special occasion.

Through constant and diligent research Larsen discovered many pieces of music unfamiliar to American audiences and, in the process, he created a vast personal music library. His career was marked by Twin City Area premier performances of many significant works. Among them were Giacomo Puccini's Messa di Gloria, Anton Diabelli's Hesse Pastorale in F, the Franz Liszt Requiem, Louis Vierne's Messe Solennelle, Franz Schubert's Stabat Mater, Samuel Rousseau's Messe Solennelle de Paques and Messe Pastorale, Emile Paladihle's Stabat Mater and Messe Solenelle de la Pentecote, Cesar Frank's Mass in A, Henri Busser's Messe de Domremy, and Camille Saint-Saens Christmas Oratorio.

His own compositions include songs, choral settings, orchestral arrangements for numerous masses, classical and modem, and original descants for many hymns such as Silent Night; Jerusalem, My Happy Home; and Alleluia! Alleluia! Let the Holy Anthem Rise. Many of his arrangements are included on the compact disk Alleluia! Let the Holy Anthem Rise, recorded by the Holy Childhood Schola Cantorum.

Although music was nearly all-consuming for Larsen, his artistic output reached into other areas as well. Those that knew him well describe him as a true Renaissace personality, citing his skills at original architectural designs (a church he designed is located in Delton, Michigan), sculpture, and drawing. His passionate pursuit of knowledge in architecture, philosophy, psychology, metaphysics, classical literature, and mythology inspired enthusiastic discussions with friends. Many friends will remember Larsen by his "Frank Lloyd Wright" excursions seeking out and exploring Wright's architecture.

As a true memorial, Larsen's love of music and the arts will continue to nourish all of those who were associated with him. His legacy is a deeper understanding and appreciation of music and life.

For more information on Bruce Larsen:

My Dream by Bruce Larsen

Paula, Peter N. "Choir Director Works to Glorify God." The Catholic Bulletin 24 Dec. 1976, Profiles in Faith sec.: 2. Print.