NEW GLARUS — Accordion in-hand, a high school student takes the gymnasium stage in front of his peers.
He raises the instrument — much to the surprise of those around, who didn’t know he played — and from his hands flows the tune of the Spaghetti Rag.
As the last note sings out, the crowd goes wild.
That was the moment that now-retired New Glarus School District band and choir director Larry Daehn said he knew he wanted to make music his career — a career that culminated in him winning the Edwin Franko Goldman Memorial Citation Award from the American Bandmasters Association this year. He will be presented the award at 1 p.m. April 14 at the Chalet Landhaus
Daehn, now 81, is joining a list of well-known recipients, which includes former President Bill Clinton, in earning this award for “conspicuous service in the interest of bands and band music in America,” according to the American Bandmasters Association.
He follows up 2020 recipient, Oscar-winning John Williams, who created music for Star Wars, Harry Potter and other famous films.
Daehn’s music publishing company, Daehn Publications, now being distributed by C. L. Barnhouse, and his “compositions and arrangements that have become international in scope ... warrant this award,” according to the ABA’s book of winners.
Daehn, a career music educator who taught at New Glarus School District for 27 years, started his company in the early 1980s, he said.
“I was writing music and sending it to publishers, and of course, very little of it got published,” Daehn said, so he decided to pursue the self-publication route instead. Eventually, he expanded to work with around 50 additional writers.
I always believed in inclusivity for music and arts.Larry Daehn, former New Glarus band director
“I learned an awful lot about the publishing business,” Daehn said. “It required a lot of work,” but with the effort he put in, he wound up getting about 100 published pieces out, he estimated.
The ABA noted that Daehn’s work “ranges from the most elementary in difficulty to the more challenging and can be found on virtually every contest list in America.”
Daehn’s fascination with music took off when he started playing instrumentally back in fourth grade. There was an accordion school in his hometown, and the teacher got him to sign up for lessons.
From there, he never looked back, always seeking to learn more.
Since he went to a country school, Daehn said he didn’t get the chance to take band class until high school, but he sang and played the accordion until then. When he hit freshman year, he picked up the cornet and loved that, too.
“I always liked music,” he said, so straight out of high school, he went to college to earn a bachelor’s degree in music education. He played in college band and learned the rest of the instruments — from brass, to strings, to woodwind and percussion.
“You learn them all hopefully well enough to teach them,” he said, “(And) you do get better on them, along with the kids, when you teach them.”
He eventually got good enough to write acclaimed pieces for them.
Before he’d even wrapped up his studies at university, he got a job offer to begin his career as a music teacher. Back in those times, he said, parochial schools would sometimes hire an almost-certified music instructor who didn’t require a full teacher’s salary, to save their limited funds.
Little did he know at that point that he would someday be commissioned to write The West Point Bicentennial March to premiere at Carnegie Hall. He had no idea back in this early stage of his career that he would someday get a seat at the prestigious venue to hear the members of the band perform his piece. But sure enough, that was on the road ahead of him.
Once Daehn earned his diploma, he switched to teaching at a public school, and eventually he found his way to New Glarus School District, where he made some changes to the band and choir room.
When Daehn started, he said that the glee club wasn’t open to boys.
“I always believed in inclusivity for music and arts,” though, he said, so he launched a mixed choir, and he wound up with 80 student participants in it.
He also frequently had more than half of the student body enrolled in band, he said, and he got others still who weren’t in either band or chorus to take part in school musicals, which he directed.
Daehn decided to remain single so he would have more time for the hundreds of kids he had as students throughout the years, he said.
“I always figured I couldn’t have spent so much time at the school if I had had a family,” he added.
It made it all worthwhile when they went to festivals and the students he coached got praised by the judges, since it meant so much to them to get that validation from a stranger that they were doing good work, he said.
“I love the competition” of band, he said.
He traveled with the music students across the country earning titles and commendations for their music.
All of my students know who Mr. Daehn is, because I try to bring him in as much as possible. He’s just such a treasure.Amy Doefer, current New Glarus band director
Even after he retired from the position, he only put down his conductor’s baton at the New Glarus schools temporarily.
While Daehn’s work became internationally known, he still has kept coming back to the district to help out with conducting.
“All of my students know who Mr. Daehn is, because I try to bring him in as much as possible,” said Amy Doefer, the high school’s current band director. “He’s just such a treasure.”
A few years ago, Doefer commissioned him to write a piece based on essays the students wrote to him on what music in New Glarus means to them.
Daehn conducted as they played the piece — To Those Who Dream — which has since been published, in concert.
Daehn’s previously-published pieces meant Doefer knew of Daehn before she had actually met him, she said.
“He was a name on a score,” Doefer said. She remembers playing pieces he wrote when she was in school.
They became close in no time, she added, and Daehn would often bring in snippets of songs he had written to see how the kids liked them.
Then COVID-19 hit the region, and the show — in terms of high school band productions, at least — of course couldn’t go on. But it was during the time after which the pandemic had already turned life upside-down that Daehn got an email from a member of the ABA with some positive news: he had nominated Daehn for the Edwin Franko Goldman Memorial Citation award.
A couple of months ago, Daehn found out that he had won. He says that being recognized as the 2021 recipient is probably the nicest thing that has ever happened to him.