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5 Larsen and the Academy Years “My Soul Was Shaking” Family, religion, nature, and place continued to influence Larsen during her undergraduate years. She may have stopped attending Sunday services, but she never expunged the lessons taught by the Catholic sisters: wonder, humility, spirituality, generosity, and grace shaped her core; they were overlaid with clear thinking, pragmatic efficiency, formidable tenacity, inexhaustible energy, and determination that brooks no opposition. She’ll be a “cradle Catholic,” even if a lapsed one, to the grave. The natural environment of Larsen’s Minneapolis childhood remained when she enrolled at the University of Minnesota; it was just four miles from her parents’ home, where she continued to live. Family stayed visibly present. Although her intellectual world and circle of friends expanded, she wouldn’t venture far from the upper Midwest until she was an established composer in the 1980s and traveled as a professional. Beyond these continuities, another constant in Larsen’s life was the steadystate social upheaval of the times. The year she headed to the university, 1968, had seen the Tet Offensive in January and the My Lai massacre in March, flashpoints for outraged antiwar youths. American troop levels in Vietnam reached well over half a million, their highest in the entire fourteen-year conflict.1 Martin Luther King Jr. and then Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated in April and June that year. In August the Democratic National Convention became the scene of riots when Mayor Richard J. Daley called out the Chicago police and Illinois National Guard to quell thousands of demonstrators at and around the International Amphitheatre, the convention site. Using rifle butts, billy clubs, tear gas, and mace, guardsmen and officers roughed up and injured over a thousand people, including three dozen news reporters. Protestors gathered outside the Chicago Hilton Hotel, chanting, “The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching!” and indeed, millions of Americans were glued to their TV screens watching the Midwest political theater, just as they witnessed the mayhem occurring in Vietnamese rice fields half a world away each evening on the news. The Soviet Union 100 chapter 5 used the convention melee as evidence of the U.S. government’s brutality and suppression of its citizens. It became commonplace to tag war protestors “Communists.” The generational divide that had cracked open in the 1950s with rock ’n’ roll music and car culture became a chasm in the 1960s. Patriotism, so closely associated with military service during World War II and the 1950s, was not so easily defined in the Vietnam era. Unrest continued in Larsen’s second year in college when in November over five hundred thousand peaceful citizens gathered in Washington, DC, to protest the war.2 Discontent reached a new high, however, after December 1, 1969, when the first of a series of draft lotteries took place: all males born between 1944 and 1950 became eligible for military service; a young man’s birth date and then his first, middle, and last name initials determined the order in which he would be called to serve. Panic seized an entire generation of male college students and their friends who foresaw their educations and lives being interrupted at the very least, and the real possibility of death fighting a war that many judged indefensible and doomed. Without hesitation, the composer dates her political activism to the December 1 lottery and the complete helplessness she and her friends felt as they watched television and saw one male colleague have his birthdate pulled randomly from a rotating drum early in the evening, meaning he was headed for an induction center, and another friend, by chance have his birthdate called later, meaning he was likely free to continue his life uninterrupted. The government joined the church and patriarchal family structures as a third system that Larsen wouldn’t trust. In each case she had no input and no voice; she was powerless against invisible forces and felt disenfranchised. If the Great Depression and World War II had shaped her parent’s generation, the incessant threat of nuclear annihilation, social upheaval, and the Vietnam War marked Larsen’s own. Roiling civil unrest provided a continuous backdrop against which her academic years unfolded. Larsen’s consciousness regarding a gendered society was ratcheted up a few notches when she entered what she described as the “monastically” ordered academy.3 It took her a few years to fully appreciate the degree to which university life and the world of music composition...


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