Prof pens tribute for Minnesota’s 150th

Dean Sorenson was commissioned to capture Minnesota history in a song.

As Minnesota blows out the candles for its 150th birthday, a new state song seemed liked the perfect gift.

The state’s birthday song, titled “Shines for All to See,” made its debut Jan. 12 at the sesquicentennial kick-off event at the Roseville Visitor’s Association’s winter jazz festival.

Dean Sorenson, director of jazz studies at the University, went to the drawing board after being commissioned by the visitor’s association and the Minnesota Sesquicentennial Commission.

“I wanted to distill 150 years of Minnesota history as well as my own thoughts and experiences into about three-and-a-half minutes’ worth of music,” he said. “I had to use a very broad brush, to be sure, but feel very good about the end product.”

Sorenson’s background in music consists of a bachelor’s degree in trombone performance from the University and a master’s degree in jazz and commercial writing from the Eastman School of Music. He’s taught at the University since 1999.

Initially, the Roseville Visitor’s Association wanted the song for its first Winter Jazz Blast, geared toward middle school and high school bands, and then the Sesquicentennial Commission helped cover the costs, Jane Leonard, executive director of the Sesquicentennial Commission, said.

“He did his own homework and the song was a great result of that,” she said. “This song will be a living legacy of this moment in time for Minnesota. It provides a snapshot of our creativity and our love for our state.”

Leonard said she liked that the song was being written for school bands to perform.

“You literally play your part together with others to make great harmony,” she said. “It’s a good metaphor for what statehood is – working together for the common good.”

The association didn’t give Sorenson guidelines to create the work, Julie Larson, executive director of the Roseville Visitor’s Association, said.

“He is a big shot of his own on the jazz scene,” she said. “I figured he was the pro.”

The work was especially challenging, Larson said, because the song needed to capture what Minnesota is.

“St. Paul has the European flair – small-town feel with big-city amenities,” she said. “While Minneapolis is the sophisticated sister with cosmopolitan appeal.”

Sorenson said he approached this song differently than other pieces he has written because writing lyrics is relatively foreign to him.

“Since I spend very little time ever doing things like that, it was fun to dig into an area that was relatively new,” he said.

But Sorenson started the writing process the same as he would anything else.

“I begin most writing projects by brainstorming,” he said. “I write down whatever comes into my head, even if I know it is going to be awful and then take those raw materials and craft the piece from that.”

Larson said the song is a good sing-along song.

“I liked it right off the bat when I first heard it, and like it even more the more I hear it,” she said. “I bet you I could sing it by heart now.”

The song will be performed next at the Minnesota Twins’ season opener May 10.

“I would rather it be performed by everyone in Minnesota,” Sorenson said. “Music should be participatory, and is a means for us to come together and celebrate our sense of community.”