In Memoriam – Ken Leghorn

The Juneau Symphony mourns the loss of Ken Leghorn, who played violin in the orchestra for 37 years. He was so many things to so many people, and we all loved him.

We collected the following remembrances of Ken’s musical life, including one from his wife, Julie. Please enjoy them. If you have a remembrance to add, send it to info@juneausymphony.org. At the bottom of the page, please also find links to other published memorials and articles about Ken.

Rick Trostel:  To me, Ken was a friend, employer, employee, outdoor buddy, musical colleague, fellow father of a daughter.  His work with the Student Symphony strings was always so helpful for the students and the orchestra as a whole – always so business-like with humor and grace added in generous amounts.  I feel so fortunate to have worked with him, played with him, and “grown up” as an adult with him.

A few years ago, he and I took a ski trip to the Juneau Icefield – five days, just the two of us.  I brought my trumpet to serenade the rocks and snow (and to stay in shape for the next Juneau Symphony concert!).  I also got to play an impromptu service for the spreading of some of his mother’s ashes on top of Nugget Peak.  Here is a picture of Ken, reflected in my trumpet bell during that ceremony.  And below it is a picture of Ken climbing to the great beyond.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bruce Simonson: It was Ken’s idea to have a youth concerto competition.  The first winner was Ajay Gullar — maybe 1989?  This competition has been very good for the symphony, and has resulted in showcasing many of Juneau’s talented youth.

From Nancy Darigo:  This is indeed very sad news.  I heard of it at the last concert from Justine and could hardly believe it could happen to such an otherwise healthy active guy with so much to offer in life.  Although I knew him from playing music, it was the mutual interest in outdoor activities that we seemed to connect on.  Ken was the 1st person that ever hosted me playing in the JSO.  He seemed to know everyone in town; he took me along to someone’s birthday party, and casually made skiing plans after running into a friend on the stairs.  I remember being  impressed by what a nice bunch of active folks (my age!) lived in Juneau because of him.  On a subsequent JSO trip, though I stayed somewhere else, Rick (trumpet) was assigned to drive me and offered to go kayaking, which ment driving over to Ken’s garage full of toys to borrow the gear.  I also remember Ken hauling all the Californians out to the glacier last year in a multi-vehicle field trip after having brunch at his house – a fun time was had!  Even though a couple years might go by between when I’d run into him, he always greeted me like a long-lost friend with genuine interest in what’s been going on.  I will miss him and always think of him as a Juneau icon.  My sincerest sympathies to Julie and family.

Sally Schlichting: He used to perform in his Xtratuffs on stage with the JSO.

Amy Lujan: Ken will be sorely missed.  He was one of the friendliest and most welcoming members of the symphony to me, and it’s incredible that he played in so many concerts, while also working on so many other projects for our community (which I learned much more about at the JCF reception!)

I also go to know Ken when we were working on the Music Director search, and his interest in making the best possible choice for the JSO’s future really came through.

Most impressive was his hospitality to our visiting musicians.  Those I’ve talked with who had an opportunity to go to one of the events at his house had great things to say about Ken and Julie, and the hospitality he provided.

Ken will truly be missed.

Guohua Xia: We miss Ken; all the young musicians miss him.   When we have rehearsals and performances, I always look for Ken.  In the last few years, Ken helped the Juneau Student Symphony, string ensemble, Mini-fiddlers and Suzuki violin kids.   He tuned violins, set up places, and managed the stage.   He was there for performances at community day, Folk Festival, Chamber Music Night, fundraisers and recitals.   Ken did it all without being asked.

At many rehearsals and performances he would sit with the kids and coach them as they played.   Our last performance was at Auke Bay — the Juneau Student Symphony concert in January.  Ken helped tune the instruments and then played at the concert.  He played with the string ensemble but not the student symphony — he told me he wished he could play with all of the programs, but he was tired after the ensemble music due to his illness.     The Juneau young string players  remember all that he did for us and all the progress we made.  We miss Ken’s love,  his professionalism, and his contribution.

Gregg Rice: I just wanted to extend my sympathies to the orchestra over the loss of Ken Leghorn.  I haven’t played with the orchestra for a few years, but I will always remember Ken’s friendly face, and welcoming hospitality when I would fly up from Seattle to join the symphony. He was such a positive, cheerful individual and tremendous asset to the orchestra and to Juneau.

Kyle Wiley Pickett: When I was hired in 2000 to be the conductor of the Juneau Symphony, I was immediately impressed with the generosity and kindness of the people of Juneau. Friends and strangers alike invited me to stay in their homes and drive their cars, people were always including me in their social plans, and Juneau-ites were eager to show off their great city and its beautiful natural treasures to my family and me. The community of Juneau has a great enthusiasm to connect with others, to share meals and experiences and conversation, and to make this world a better place by experiencing life together. Juneau’s enthusiastic and generous spirit is truly remarkable at the community level. And on an individual level, this spirit was personified by and perhaps perfected in Ken Leghorn.

I stayed at Ken’s house many times in my earlier years with the Symphony. We talked about music, hiking, and politics. I loved the enthusiasm Ken had for so many different topics, and he was a very easy person to be around with his casual attitude, deep intelligence, and quick smile. He was also possibly the most spectacularly extroverted individual I have ever known, and I say that as a pretty extroverted person, myself. I cannot tell you how often when I was staying at their house that Ken would come back from a walk and announce that, on the way downtown, he’d run into a congressperson, whom he’d invited to dinner, and someone he’d once kayaked with, whom he’d also invited to dinner, and also a family from school, all of whom he’d invited to dinner, and then waved at their across-the-street neighbor, who had already had dinner but would come over later for dessert. And then one by one those folks would show up for dinner, and we’d sit and linger long over the dinner table, talking and laughing and being together.

Our family learned who we wanted to be by watching the way Ken filled his house with friends. Our kids will sometimes say, “Who’s coming to dinner tonight?” and we joke that we’re bringing up our kids to be as social as Ken Leghorn. We haven’t always succeeded, but it truly is always on our minds to be as open and generous and warm as Ken, and to bring people into our home to be with each other and share our lives, just as he did.

Julie York Coppens: I spoke with Ken’s sister Lisa yesterday. Her memories from childhood are foggy, but she thinks Ken started playing violin around the age of 10, and agrees that it was their mother, Nancy, who fostered in them both a love of music. Nancy arranged for them to take lessons through the extension program of the New England Conservatory of Music, took them to many concerts and operas over the years, and encouraged home practice and performance. In Nancy’s final days, when she was being cared for at home in Ashland, Ore., Ken remembered listening to opera recordings with her and smiling as this woman in her 80s suddenly looked like a teen-ager again, swooning over photos of favorite singers like Russian Baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky: “He has such kissable lips!,” she would sigh. Of course Ken looked just as handsome in his concert attire, and that’s certainly one of the ways I will enjoy remembering him. The absolute concentration I saw in Ken when he practiced or performed a difficult phrase — maybe I’m wrong, but he seemed to be working harder, and having more fun, doing that than almost anything else, including scaling a cliff or tracking a bear.

Ken’s father (still living on Cape Cod, though very frail) is a decorated WWII veteran, one of the pilots who flew reconnaissance missions over Normandy before the D-Day invasion, and his later innovations in optics technology and satellite espionage made him a key player during the Cold War: his images helped U.S. military and intelligence officials understand the Soviet arsenal and avoid open conflict. He was a lifelong advocate for peace and a very successful businessman in his day. I know Mr. Leghorn supported Ken’s interest in music, and probably had a hand in Ken’s purchase at age 22 of a Pressenda 1848 violin (worth $2,000 in 1977 dollars), but his own passions lay elsewhere.

Ken informally taught or coached a number of Juneau kids on violin over the years, but I don’t know any details about that. He’s definitely the reason my young violinist still plays at age 12; among the many books Ken should have written is a guide for parents on coaxing reluctant music students to practice and making the most of that time. Some of our most cherished family memories are of recital duets and trios played with Ken, and evenings at home stumbling through (I was the one stumbling, on piano) Suzuki pieces or fiddle tunes together. “The Lovers’ Waltz” by Jay Ungar and Molly Mason was our favorite duet. Ken always wanted me to learn the piano part to a Vivaldi concerto so I could accompany him, but I never did — way too hard!

[Ken] did share one funny story with me about his year in high school studying abroad in France, when he completely bombed a conservatory jury performance: Ken took his mark, nodded to the auditors behind the table, started the piece, played a few bars… then skipped to the end, hit the final note, bowed and walked out. He had no idea what happened after that, whether the jury burst out laughing or just shook their heads in bafflement, but we used to say that U.S.-French relations were never the same. However they did let his daughter Yana into the country for her own junior year some decades later, so I guess all was forgiven.

More about Ken and his amazing life:

Official obituary
Juneau Empire article 4/21/2017
Juneau Empire arts profile, February 2000
Juneau Community Foundation honors Ken Leghorn (video)