January 2012

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work to inspire Someone You Should Know: Jan Swenson A rousing finale to a career dedicated to the community By Elishah Oesch "If music be the fruit of love, play on!" Shakespeare's words never seemed more fitting to describe a person's life as they do for Jan Swenson. To put it simply, music is her passion. "I love what it does to you inside and I love how it makes you feel. I love what you can give to others when you're playing something really wonderful," she muses. Swenson's love affair with music began at an early age when her parents encouraged her to sing and play an instrument every day. By the time she finished high school, she had learned to play both the piano and the French Horn to perfection. While being skilled at two instruments is an accomplishment in itself, Swenson did it with an added obstacle: She was born with only one full arm. "My mother insisted that I take piano lessons even though I had only one hand," Swenson says. "She wanted me to know how to read notes." Swenson's mother had another motive, as well. She wanted her daughter to know that she was no different than anyone else. It's a sentiment that Swenson has lived by to this day. "I didn't want anybody to feel sorry for me. I wanted to be sure that I was just as good as you, if not a little better. So, it really made me a very determined, hardworking person," she says. Swenson continued to follow her musical passion through her college years at UW-Madison. It was then that her work in music took flight. After earning her master's degree, she began teaching and directing choral music to large groups, including the River Val- ley Area Community Choir, which she's directed since 1968. For Swenson, directing a choir and using the voice as an instrument has been another thing she loves about music. "If you look at music through history, people have always used their voices as ways to express feelings. Music says things that words can't," she says. Though Swenson has never really had a problem with words. She speaks her mind, inspiring her musical groups to perform at their highest level. Her son, Doug agrees. "She's very direct. She's clear as a bell. If she thinks something she will let you know, but it's all out of love," he says. The result of her work has been a legion of supporters, students and fans across the community. And while she has shared her love of music with them for decades, now she's taking a little more time for herself and retiring from directing big choral groups. "I just thought it was time," she says. Like most great musical compositions, there's a type of refrain to Swenson's work. Her last directorial bow came after the December performance of one of the most popular and well-known choral pieces of all time, "Selections from The Messiah" by George Fred- eric Handel. It is a piece that has played a role in her career from the beginning. "I started out with the Messiah, and this is my last concert so I did a revisit of [it]," she says. What a fitting finale to a musical career. ••• Find the River Valley Community Choir on Facebook. Elishah Oesch is co-anchor of WKOW27's Wake Up Wisconsin. See Swenson's story on Wake Up Wisconsin on Jan. 4 and 27 News at 10 on Jan. 5. Get Involved: Expand your musical world with these community offerings Edgewood College Campus- Community Ensembles Choir, jazz and band ensembles bring together Edgewood College students and community members. Visit Festival Choir of Madison A choir of 30-plus singers of varying backgrounds show- cases their talents at com- munity events and concerts near and far. Visit Madison Area Technical Col- lege Community Groups A show choir, jazz band, orchestra and municipal band are open to all in the Madison community. Visit theatre-and-music 36 BRAVA Magazine January 2012 Sound of Madison and Yahara River Choruses Part of an international orga- nization of women who sing a capella harmony statewide. Visit mad.html or yahara.html Wisconsin Chamber Choir A semi-professional chorus made up of community voices performs various concerts throughout the year. Visit wisconsinchamb- Photo by Shanna Wolf

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