Music was an integral part of Martha Thoralson’s family life. Even before making music her career, Martha left a musical legacy at Litchfield High School.
The combination made her an obvious choice for posthumous induction into the Litchfield High School Hall of Fame.
She was born in Litchfield in July 1920, daughter of Daynor and Linda Thoralson. Both of her parents sang at various functions, such as weddings and funerals in the area. The family farm was nearby, but Martha grew up in the city.
As a teenager, she co-wrote the Litchfield Rouser with another student, the same alarm clock that thunders from the stands these days before a Friday night game in the LHS gymnasium. The two won a $10 prize to split between them, and Martha’s music career was born.
After graduating in 1938 from LHS, she earned a degree from the University of Minnesota and taught in New Ulm for a few years before traveling east to attend the Eastman School of Music in Rochester. , New York. It was there that she met her future husband, Karl Holvik, who was also enrolled, and also coincidentally, a Minnesota native. Martha left Eastman to teach in Missouri, and after Karl graduated, the two married and settled in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
While her husband accepted a position at the University of Northern Iowa (Iowa State Teacher’s College at the time), Martha gave private music lessons at her home while caring for their daughters, Linda and Karen. She also led the church choir attended by the family and performed in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Symphony Orchestra, eventually landing a job teaching at Cedar Falls High School.
Music was Martha’s first love and she spent much of her life sharing her gift with others. From private lessons to securing a position at the University of Northern Iowa in 1972, she had the ability to nurture and encourage her students. She was, according to her daughter, Linda, interested in others throughout her life, fun to be around, easy to talk to and had a ton of friends.
“Real friends,” Linda said in an interview, “not just acquaintances.”
His circle of friendship grew as his life evolved.
Linda recalls that her own high school friends loved attending her mother’s classes. Martha was a true educator, her daughter said, but also had a mischievous personality and a nurturing spirit that embraced every student under her tutelage. She actively played the piano, organ, violin and viola, but she had a great familiarity with all stringed instruments.
Linda remembers a young boy whose parents came to her with a dilemma. He wanted to play the cello but was limited due to a disability. Martha, whose commitment to music was boundless, made adaptations so the boy could play the cello. It was these moments that brought great joy to Martha, her daughter said.
While teaching at UNI in 1968, Martha attended a concert given by a group of visiting Japanese students, who were using the Suzuki method of teaching music, and she was impressed. Shinichi Suzuki’s philosophy of teaching small children embraces the idea that learning potential is inherent in every child and that, with love and encouragement, learning to play an instrument would be much like learning language, for listening and imitation.
Deeply impressed by the philosophies and inspired by the curriculum, she founded the Suzuki approach to teaching stringed instruments, and the UNI Suzuki School was born from there. The program encourages a strong relationship between student, parent and teacher, and the goal is “to bring love, joy, peace and sensitivity to all things beautiful and artistic in the lives of children”.
This mantra correlates with Martha’s dedication to others and is a concept that continues to thrive in college and beyond.
Thoralson Holvik’s gift has enriched many lives. There is an endowment for the Suzuki school in his honor. In 2012, she was inducted into the UNI School of Music Hall of Fame. Students wrote essays in her honor, impressing her energy, enthusiasm, and loud voice that echoed through a room. She inspired students to pursue careers in music or teaching and had a profound influence on many young people throughout her career and beyond.
Martha embraced it all, seeing no difference, for example, between her grandchildren and her step-grandchildren. She was progressive in her beliefs and values when it came to social issues. She was by no means a judgmental person; instead, her daughter said she believes deeply in the rights and equality of women and the LGBTQ community.
Upon his death in 2014, many tributes were shared with his family and his legacy lives on. Music was, according to his daughter Linda, the ideal vehicle to share his passion with the world, but it was his personality that inspired others. If she were with us today, her daughter said, she would encourage each of us to find our passion, make it fun and share the joy with the world.
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