Sounding gongs at MSUM to commemorate COVID-19 losses, look to the future

Make Music at Minnesota State University Moorhead is part of a worldwide event to celebrate music. The event was cancelled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Lyn Stoltenow, of Moorhead, rings a gong to memorialize the losses of the past year and look forward to the future during a Make Music event Monday, June 21, 2021, at Minnesota State University Moorhead. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
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MOORHEAD — An event on campus to celebrate music and reflect on the COVID-19 pandemic featured a percussion instrument that makes a complex, resonant sound but is one that anyone can play.

Make Music, held at Minnesota State University Moorhead on Monday, June 21, kicked off at noon with children and adults playing a variety of gongs, or large metal discs, set up on the lawn of the campus mall.

It's part of a worldwide celebration of music being live streamed in more than 1,000 cities in 120 counties around the globe.

Kenyon Williams, director of the School of Performing Arts at MSUM, organized the local event. He said the hour of gong playing, titled “This Moment in Time,” was meant to memorialize the losses of the past year and look forward to the future on this summer solstice, the longest day of the year.


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“So many people lost so much. They lost people, they lost a job, they lost opportunities. It might have been a prom, it might have just been a year of your life that feels like it was whisked away,” Williams said.
Lyn Stoltenow of Moorhead can relate.

She lost her job after the pandemic struck, she worried about an elderly family member who was isolated in an assisted living center, and one of her children had to take a year off from college because she struggled with online learning.

Stoltenow was thankful for the opportunity to share with others through music.

“That’s a neat thought for me … to be able to just feel like you’re connecting with different people all around the world with such a simple thing,” she said.

She and others sat on the grass amid tall trees, using a padded mallet to play more than two dozen gongs set up at 19 different gong stations.


Participants ring two of more than 20 gongs Monday, June 21, 2021, at Minnesota State University Moorhead in a Make Music event to memorialize those lost the past year. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

In addition to inviting the public, Williams also asked percussionists from other schools to collaborate on the event.

Sigurd Johnson, director of Athletic Bands and Percussion Studies at North Dakota State University, said the different sounds made by a gong can elicit all kinds of memories.

“It’s kind of cathartic just to either hit something strong or just to gently get a sound out of it,” he said.

Ryan Loken, a doctoral student of Johnson at NDSU, said every day is a great day to make music, but this one in particular was beautiful.

“You hear the wind coming through the trees, and being able to create some ambient sounds is quite cool, especially as a community,” Loken said.

Make Music at MSUM also includes “Flowerpot Music” at 6:30 p.m., when the public can show up with a flower pot to learn a unique composition by Elliot Cole.

No music reading ability is needed, just a flower pot or metal bowl that makes noise. The event will be live streamed here.


At 7:30 p.m., a professional group of MSUM alumni percussionists known as Varying Degrees Percussion Trio will perform, followed by the world premiere of “Flowerpot Music,” performed by members of the Fargo-Moorhead community.

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