The Southwest Minnesota Arts Council is pleased to announce Brian Pearson of New London as the recipient of the 2016 Prairie Disciple Award, which acknowledges a person – this year, an arts educator – who has been instrumental in promoting the arts in the 18-county area of southwestern Minnesota.
Just retired this June, Pearson was the band director at New London-Spicer middle and high schools for 37 years, and continues to be a valuable and always willing participant in countless other music activities in the area.
Nominator Mary Pieh of Willmar said, “He works tirelessly to make music a vibrant entity at school and in the community. Brian has a consistently positive attitude, and is very responsive to helping his band students go above and beyond just their band class requirements. He commands the students’ respect by being invested in their success.”
“When our daughter became part of the band experience under Mr. Pearson,” said Laura Molenaar, parent and science/5th grade teacher at New London-Spicer, “we were delighted to receive our first ‘Wildcat Gram’, a note from Mr. Pearson informing us that Emily was doing well in band, working hard, and a joy to work with. We soon realized that Mr. Pearson did this same service for all of his students. The number of encouraging messages, considering over one hundred students each year, an average of at least two encouraging messages per student per year, over thirty seven years, is an astounding feat!”
Another parent, Naomi Noeldner, said, “For over a year he has supported our oldest son and his friends in their own, extra-curricular, student-led jazz ensemble. He has helped them make connections in the community to set up gigs, generously loaned them equipment and allows them to use the band room to practice. Most importantly, he lends his expertise when they find themselves struggling with a piece of music. All this goes above and beyond his role as teacher and is graciously done on his own time.”
In addition to teaching and mentoring, Pearson has composed and arranged music for New London-Spicer Schools bands and choirs and for various programs at the elementary school. “Teachers come to him with an idea,” Pieh said, “and he takes it from there, usually spending after school time to compose and record. He composed and led music for sing-alongs at the annual 5th grade trip to the Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center.”
Molenaar added that “an untimely death of a fifth grade student led to the creation of an arrangement, ‘George’s Song’, performed for George’s parents and classmates. It was a moving memorial at the graduation ceremony that would have been George’s in 2015.”
Pearson’s influence extends well beyond the New London-Spicer schools. Bill Gossman, artist and New London mayor, said, “Brian’s career as a music teacher has enriched many student lives. Brian’s career as a musician has enriched everyone else. At one time or another, nearly all of the musicians in the area have had a musical experience in some way with Brian, either rehearsing, recording, or performing. He is a vital part of the music scene in a large part of the SMAC region.”
Pearson has helped direct and play music for musicals at the Barn Theater (Willmar), Ridgewater College (Willmar), and at the Little Theater (New London); directed the New London-Spicer Community Band; helped area musicians record themselves at the recording studio in his basement; played in The Prairie Winds Concert Band, the Willmar Area Symphonic Orchestra, the Blues Brothers Band, the Mill Pond Jazz Orchestra, and his own band that plays at weddings and other events; filled in as a last minute substitute for many groups; and played at the nursing home.
Fellow musician Mark Freitas of Willmar said, “Brian has been a great example of a versatile professional musician, teacher, church musician, composer, arranger, conductor, recording artist, and sound technician. We’ve played together in the Mill Pond Jazz Orchestra (which he founded and led for its first year) for 10 years. Brian has held the title of ‘Most Valuable Player’, having directed, performed on trumpet, flugelhorn, flute, keyboards, bass, drums, and vocals. Brian has a positive attitude that is contagious and very much appreciated in our region. When he participates in any capacity, he is known for elevating the level of quality, fun, and effectiveness.”
Pearson’s contributions have also reached area churches. “Brian has always made himself available for any and all musical needs with the local churches,” retired Pastor Duane Semmler of New London said, “not just Peace Lutheran in New London where he is a member, but also at the requests of neighboring churches in New London, Spicer, and the greater Willmar area. Several times he has also composed songs for the Vacation Bible School curriculum, used by most of the 10,000 churches affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). I have no doubts that his life will continue to be filled with music in retirement, using his ability, availability, and passion to enhance music in this entire region.”
The son of music teachers, Pearson grew up in St. Cloud. He attended St. Cloud State University, where he met his wife, Sherry. A music teacher as well, Sherry has also just retired from a career at New London-Spicer Schools. They have two children.
Asked what advice he would give to other wanting to be involved in the arts in their communities, Pearson recommends, “Join a church, a choir, or band in your community and before you know it you will be way too busy!”
Please join the Southwest Minnesota Arts Council board of directors, staff, members, and volunteers in honoring Brian Pearson for his contribution to the arts in southwestern Minnesota. The award will be officially presented to Pearson at the SW MN Arts Council Annual Celebration on September 24, 2016 at the Dassel History Center & Ergot Museum, Dassel, MN.