In Memoriam: André Larson

In Memoriam: André Larson

Vermillion, SD -- The National Music Museum is celebrating the life of founding director Dr. André P. Larson who died on Friday, March 24, 2017, at 74.

André Larson not only realized the dream of his father, Arne B. Larson, of establishing a musical-instrument museum on the Great Plains, he took its collections to world-class distinction.

Music was Larson’s birthright and element. Born November 10, 1942 in Littlefork Village, Minnesota, to music-educator, collector and bandleader Arne B. and wife Jeanne (Kay) Larson, André Larson grew up in Brookings, South Dakota.

Steeped in music, André was a four-year member of the South Dakota All-State Band and played his clarinet two years in the All-State Orchestra. After graduating from Brookings High School in 1960, he pursued a B.F.A. in music education at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion. In 1964, he ventured into business for himself, owning and operating The Larson Music Company, a music store in Brookings, until 1968. André returned to the University of South Dakota, earning a M.M. degree in Music Literature (thesis topic on the double-reed instruments in his father’s collection) with a minor in Theatre. He spent the summer of 1968 at the Black Hills Playhouse.

André then began doctoral studies at West Virginia University, 1968, in Morgantown. In 1974, he was awarded a Ph.D. in Musicology (his dissertation focusing on the 19th-century British keyed brass instruments from his father’s collection) with a minor in European History. He then began traveling and voraciously studying fine musical-instrument collections at museums like the Smithsonian, the Met, and at Yale University.

In 1972, funded in part by the South Dakota Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts, André took over management of his father’s instrument collection and in July 1973 was named the first Director of The Shrine to Music Museum (now known as the National Music Museum), in Vermillion, housed in the grand former Carnegie Library building on the campus of University of South Dakota. A partnership of the University of South Dakota and a private Board of Trustees, the NMM is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) corporation.

Working closely with University officials like Fine Arts Dean Wayne S. Knutson, and the Museum’s trustees, including its first President, Barnes Abell, André began conceptualizing, articulating and implementing the long-term vision for the Museum. He focused on the development of its collections — “the ultimate measure of a museum’s greatness.” André placed his father Arne's more than 3,000 instruments at the National Music Museum's core and then built boldly on those holdings for the rest of his career. The NMM’s treasures now include many of the earliest, best-preserved, and historically most important instruments known to survive. Among André’s favorites — acquired under his leadership and donor-inspiration — are the famed "King" cello (mid-1500’s) by Andrea Amati; the "Harrison" Stradivari violin; Johnny Cash's "Bon Aqua" guitar; and the D'Angelico/D'Aquisto/Gudelsky guitar-workshop collection.

According to Ted Muenster, who knew André and his father Arne Larson before him for more than 40 years and was a former consultant at the NMM, “André not only had the rare ability to assess the caliber and cultural value of a particular instrument and know the importance of collecting it and preserving it – he was also uncannily able to match that acquisition effort with the right people of means and inspire them to give generously – which is how the Museum came to have the Witten-Rawlins Collection that put the Museum on the world map. He motivated people to share his passion and to be committed benefactors.”

André was also a Professor of Music at the University of South Dakota and established the Center for Study of the History of Musical Instruments there, offering the nation’s only graduate degree in the history of musical instruments.

While providing the resources of the NMM to manage the Membership Office of the American Musical Instrument Society (AMIS) for 18 years (1976–1994), he edited the society’s newsletter (1976–1994) and was elected President of the AMIS for three consecutive terms, 1981–87.

André Larson will be remembered for his bold vision and fierce determination to drive and support the arts, especially in his state of South Dakota. Indeed, upon on André’s 2011 retirement from the National Music Museum, Governor Dennis Daugaard named May 13, 2011 “Dr. André P. Larson Day” in South Dakota, citing André’s 38 years of service to the state. The governor’s proclamation stressed the magnitude of André’s achievement: he “has dedicated himself and his life to music, history, and the collection and study of rare musical instruments. With connoisseurship and indefatigable perseverance, he oversaw the development of the collections of the National Music Museum […]. Vermillion mayor John E. (Jack) Powell similarly declared the day “André P. Larson Day” in the city with the official statement that “the National Music Museum is a great cultural treasure which has immeasurably enriched the lives of the citizens of Vermillion, as well as the people of South Dakota, the nation, and the world beyond.”

Larson had by that time already also been inducted into the South Dakota Hall of Fame (in 2006) for his contributions to the Arts in South Dakota. He had also won the highest honor in his field, the Curt Sachs Award of the American Musical Instrument Society, back in 1990, “in recognition of his achievements as educator, scholar, collector, and exhibitor [… ]” and “in appreciation of his connoisseurship, skill, and perseverance in creating a major international resource in South Dakota for the study, exhibition, and conservation of historical musical instruments.”

At the time of André Larson’s passing, he was living in Arvada, Colorado. He is survived by his brother Arnor Larson; two sons, Nathan and Nikolas; four grandsons and one granddaughter; one great-granddaughter; among many other loved ones. André was preceded in death by his parents Arne and Jeanne (Kay), his sister Annette (Tieszen), and his brother Aaron.

Private funeral arrangements for the family are pending at this time. The National Music Museum and family will announce a public memorial tribute likely to happen in later April in Vermillion.

At the request of the Larson family, memorial donations may be directed to the National Music Museum, University of South Dakota, 414 E. Clark St. Vermillion, SD 57069. Gifts can be made online as well, at

Source: National Music Museum

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