Music museum’s virtuoso decides to take a rest

Larson

The director of one of the University of South Dakotas landmarks is saying goodbye.

After spending the past 39 years as executive director for the National Music Museum which he founded in 1973 Andr Larson, Ph.D., is retiring, effective Wednesday, Feb. 23.

Its time, Larson said in an interview with the Plain Talk. I have some wonderful young people who can handle the basic running of the museum. That will free me up on a sort of part-time basis.

Larson will continue to work with the museums planned expansion, and university officials say it will take a while to get used to this change.

Its really hard to think about the museum without Andr, said university president James W. Abbott. I think thatll be a shock to an awful lot of peoples systems. But we are pleased that he is able to be there on a part-time basis.

Its been his vision that made the museum what it is, Abbott said. Its been his ability to attract funds and to create a world-class entity. His impact is immeasurable.

I just cant say enough good things about Andr, added Ted Muenster of the USD Foundation. Ive known him 40 years, and hes one-of-a-kind. Hes a remarkable person whos dedicated his life to that museum. He is to the world of instrument collection what Steve Jobs is to information technology. Hes just one of those remarkable characters who surfaces.

After his effective retirement, Larson will continue to be involved in plans for an expansion that promises to add five more galleries and a gift shop to the museum.

I would like to continue the same sort of exhibits so you dont have one sort of thing, and then jump, go into another building and suddenly it looks like an entirely different museum, Larson said.

Muenster said the plans entail adding a second building and possibly a third to the museum complex.

The building known as the South Dakota Union, to the west of the current museum, at some future point will be vacated by the university, and that will be added to the music museum. Then we expect to construct what amounts to a third building connecting the two. Its an ambitious program, he said.

The museums collection started with that of Larsons father, Arne B. Larson, who began accumulating musical instruments around the time of World War I. During the Second World War, he traded tea and canned goods to Europeans for instruments.

Literally these crates of band and other musical instruments would periodically show up at my parents house, Larson said.

He remembers that he and his three siblings each had their own room, while instruments filled the rest of the family home in Brookings, where his father was head of the music department for Brookings Public Schools.

They eventually took over the whole house, he said.

As his father aged, Larson said the question emerged of what to do with the collection, which had grown to approximately 2,500 pieces.

The collection has since grown to include more than 15,000.

I had been a student here at the university, so I talked to the people here and they decided that he should bring his collection here, Larson said. They didnt realize the extent of it, so when it got here, there were truckloads of stuff.

Initially, a selection of the pieces was housed in one room of the museums current location which at the time was the campus library with Arne B. Larson on hand to provide demonstrations.

There was one room that was open to the public, and he sat in a desk and he used to get things out and play them for people, Larson said. Once we got established in there, people started bringing in stuff to donate.

After receiving his doctorate out-of-state, Larson returned to take over as director of the museum.

Essentially, (as director) youre either doing everything or delegating. Its a combination of both, he said. At first, I was doing everything. It was just me and a secretary.

The museum now has a staff of at least six.

Larson describes his role as that of a conservator, dealing with the maintenance of instruments, assisting with acquisitions and developing the galleries.

Muenster said this work will continue after Larsons departure.

There are programming opportunities that we need to look at, that we might use this remarkable resource to serve the entire world, he said. For years, there have been people that have come to Vermillion from around the world to study instruments, and with the technology we have now we can do a better job taking the resource to the world.

Larson said that one of the most exciting moments in his time with the museum has been when it was twice used as the venue for the national meeting of the American Musical Instruments Society.

Most of these people, theres no way to access all of our collections without coming to see it, and even then you cant see it all, he said. Theres satisfaction in things like that, but theres also satisfaction in watching a group of school kids jabbering away about all the stuff that they saw on their way out the front door. Thats the future generation. So theres a lot of satisfaction, not just working with the instruments, but working with the dynamics that you see in how it touches people, which is what musical instruments are supposed to do.

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