Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - May 29, 2009

No room for angels - but the music was heavenly

David Littrell, Kansas State University distinguished professor of music, had scheduled his recital - a celebration of his 50 years of playing the cello - during the time my News and Feature Writing class met. Youngest daughter Katie is a member of his Gold Orchestra and I had heard David play, so I didn't want to miss the performance.

But I didn't want to cancel the late-April class either. So I decided it would be good experience for the budding reporters to attend the event and write a story about it. For the most part, I was pleased with the articles they wrote.

"The only thing missing from the All Faiths Chapel Auditorium Monday was a choir of angels. But there was simply no room!" was one student's lead.

A bit corny, but I liked it!

And she was right. The almost 500-seat auditorium was packed with K-State faculty and students, members of David's family, Gold Orchestra students and families, and community members.

David's mini-memoir related how he began playing in fourth grade, almost by accident. One day in May 1959, he was absent from school. That was the day Helen Wunderlich went to recruit string players at Manhattan's Lee School. She told the class she needed someone who was good in arithmetic and liked music to play the cello. David's classmates pointed to his empty chair. The next morning his friends informed him they had "elected" him to play the cello - and it changed his life.

He took private lessons from K-State Professor Warren Walker for 12 years. By eighth grade, he thought he might like to be a college cello teacher. His father bought David an $800 cello, which he paid back by mowing lawns.

Since that time, David has taught music to thousands of K-State and Gold Orchestra students. His passion for teaching is as strong as his passion for the music itself.

The music David chose for his recital - pieces from Antonio Vivaldi, Johann Sebastian Bach, Franz Joseph Haydn, Dmitri Shostakovich and David's wife Laurel - was lovely.

But even more moving were the reasons he selected the music.

Son Nathan accompanied him on Vivaldi's "Concerto for Two Cellos in G Minor" with Nathan playing the $800 cello his father had purchased so many years before. The two embraced at the end of the piece and the audience erupted into applause.

David then played two J. S. Bach pieces. He considers Bach to be the greatest composer of all time, and his pieces are regarded as being among the more technically challenging compositions for cello. When David finished, applause filled the auditorium once again.

"Show-off," I heard one Gold Orchestra mother say, smiling when she said it.

Many more pieces followed, including Albert Hay Malotte's "The Lord's Prayer" and "River of Glory," the latter written by his wife Laurel. Selections from works by Haydn, Shostakovich and Squire completed the performance.

But the standing ovation when the concert ended wasn't the end of the celebration. Instead, David invited everyone to a reception at Cedar Creek School.

The school, donated by the Manhattan Round-Up Club to the Manhattan Chamber Orchestra in 2008, is yet another of David's passions. He and Laurel thought the property could be used for equestrian purposes and for music courses and camps. So the two, with the help of Gold Orchestra members and parents, cleared out cedar trees and brush, cleaned the inside of the school, added a new roof and windows, painted walls, cleaned up school benches, waxed the wood floor and put a blackboard and posters - one, of course, of Bach - on the walls.

David and Laurel have spent more than a thousand hours of work on the school property. He describes it as a "labor of love." But that number pales compared to the hours he has spent during the past 50 years learning, teaching and practicing his music.

And one of the things he teaches his students is that, try as they may, much of what happens to them in life is not really within their control. So what they can do is prepare themselves for those unexpected events. After all, sometimes an event that changes their lives might arrive on a day they are absent.

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