Two lives filled with music hit new high note
For Randy and Mary Morken of Alexandria, life has been a symphony filled with musical memories that began when they were just toddlers.
For the past 40 years, the Morkens haven't lived without musical high notes in their lives.
During that time, they have taught and accompanied thousands of students and played music for tens of thousands of people.
"I can't even imagine or put a number on the amount of students I have taught over the years. But I have loved every minute of it," said Mary, who was a public school music teacher for 34 years.
Because of this love and dedication to music, the Morkens were named the 2013 Vikingland Band Festival grand marshals.
A HISTORY OF MUSIC
Music has been an integral part of both Mary and Randy's lives for as long as they can remember.
When Randy was 5 years old, he started piano lessons and by the age of 14, he had his first organ lesson.
"I really didn't want to do it. But after the first lesson I didn't want to play anything else," he said.
For Mary, it was her father who gave her the means to love music. Because he was the minister at a Lutheran church, she sang her first solo in church when she was 3, started piano at 7 and because her father needed an organist at his church, started playing organ when she was 11.
Because of this early exposure to music, the couple was highly trained as church musicians on entering college at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall (SMSU). They also knew that music was what they wanted to pursue, Mary as a music education major with a vocal emphasis and Randy as an organ performance major.
It was also through music that they wound up finding one another.
Entering her senior year of college, Mary's accompanist got married and moved to Africa.
"Here I am coming into my senior voice recital and I had no pianist. But I knew he [Randy] played well so I asked him," she said, looking over at her husband with a huge smile. "And that was the end of it, or the beginning of it, I guess."
Mary graduated from SMSU and received her master's degree in music education from St. Cloud State University. She taught at Hills-Beaver Creek and Walnut Grove before coming to Alexandria, where she taught music at Lincoln Elementary School for 27 years.
"I have always loved teaching because I love to see students develop a passion for music that lasts their whole lives," she said.
In addition to teaching at Lincoln, she has been directing the chancel choir at First Lutheran Church in Alexandria since 1986, sings with the First Lutheran praise team and taught beginner trumpet and music theory in the District 206 summer instrumental music program.
Mary retired at the end of the 2012 school year, but music continues to be an important part of her life.
"Alexandria has such a great school system and music department. I was honored to be a part of it," she said. "Even though I have retired, music will be in my life because of the rich music and art culture in Alexandria, the band festival, Art in the Park, Red Willow Arts Coalition, Central Lakes Concert Association and Festival of the Lakes. It is just an amazing place to live and be a part of."
When Randy moved to Alexandria, he started working at Carlson Music and played piano and organ at First Lutheran Church. By 2006 his role at First Lutheran had gotten so busy that he was asked to come on full time as the director of music and liturgy.
In addition to this, Randy is the executive director of the Central Lakes Concert Association, started teaching piano and organ lessons at the University of Minnesota Morris in 2009, and accompanies all the junior high and high school choirs in Alexandria.
"There was one choir concert where they had shut the lights off too low so I couldn't see anything. Thank goodness for the Christmas tree lights or else I wouldn't have been able to see anything. Plus the piece was very complicated," Randy said, recalling that concert and numerous other fond memories. "But that is what I love about accompanying the high school choirs. They perform songs that I would have performed in college. They are at a much higher level. It just shows how great the music department in [District] 206 is and how talented these students are."
Randy also accompanies many of these talented students at music competitions.
But when asked who his favorite person to accompany in the past 40 years was, "Mary" escaped his lips without hesitation.
"Good answer!" she replied with a smile.
AN UNEXPECTED DISTINCTION
For the Morkens, the Vikingland Band Festival has always been a highlight of their summer. They planned vacations around it and their daughter Rachel's birthday party, which was on the same weekend.
"Everyone knew that they went to the band festival and then the birthday party," Mary said, recalling the huge amount of traffic to get back home and the hecticness of saving seats at the festival for family each year.
When Rachel played French horn in the Jefferson High School (JHS) marching band, Randy and Mary traveled to most of the parades and cheered the band on.
Even with their many years of musical experience, the Morkens were still surprised when they were asked to be the 2013 Vikingland Band Festival grand marshals.
"We were so shocked but really excited, too, when we found out," Mary said
"Shocked is the biggest word for it," Randy added with a chuckle. "The first thing we thought was, 'Are we old enough to do that now?' "
What Mary is most appreciative of are the countless teachers she has worked closely alongside over the years who recognized her for this distinction.
"We've written music curriculums together and taught summer school together," she said. "So to be recognized by your music colleagues is really an honor."