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Lanie Houghtaling's family. Percy is the older child.

World premiere of A Family Portrait at Manchester features Grammy-winning Daniel Belcher, Civil War-era letters

Tyler Houghtaling

Update: The Manchester Symphony Orchestra performance of "A Family Portrait" composed by  MU’s Debra Lynn will be broadcast twice on Sundays by PBS 39, the public television station out of Fort Wayne. It will be shown at 2:30 p.m. July 8 and 1 p.m. Aug. 26.

NORTH MANCHESTER, Ind. – Family letters discovered after the death of a loved one spoke of war, of romance, of childhood, of death too young.  The writers’ descendent, a mezzo-soprano, shared them with her friend, a composer who teaches at Manchester University.

More than two years later, A Family Portrait will premiere at Manchester’s Cordier Auditorium with two featured soloists – Daniel Belcher, a Grammy-winning, internationally acclaimed operatic baritone, and Judy Marlett, who found the letters.

A professor of music at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho, Marlett first sent one Civil War-era family letter to Dr. Debra Lynn, director of choral organizations and voice study at Manchester. A few weeks later, Marlett found a few more letters, then a trunk full. Lynn, a Civil War buff who loves writing for musicians she knows personally, was commissioned to compose the oratorio.

The debut of A Family Portrait begins at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 16 in the North Manchester, Ind., auditorium.

It is based on late 19th-century letters written by three of Marlett’s relatives from New York State: Tyler Houghtaling was a Union soldier; Lanie Houghtaling died in her early 20s leaving two young children; and Percy Houghtaling was Lanie’s child and Marlett’s grandfather.

For the composition, Lynn took great care to draw from their personalities and interests, including taking hammered dulcimer lessons in order to incorporate an instrument Tyler Houghtaling enjoyed. She also scoured through scratchy recordings to find now-obscure tunes he mentioned in his letters.

This special presentation of A Family Portrait launches the 79th season of the Manchester Symphony Orchestra. The MSO is under the direction of MU’s Scott Humphries, who will conduct pieces related to the theme of the evening, and Lynn will conduct A Family Portrait.

Two University choirs and the Fairfield, Northfield and Warsaw high school choirs are also taking part. Members of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, as well as readers in authentic period garb, will join them on stage.

In addition, the MSO has arranged with the 30th Indiana group for an encampment near Cordier starting about 6 p.m., to show what a day in the life of a Union solider might have been like, including an 1860s-rules ball game at 6:30 p.m. with Spartan baseball players. All of the outdoor activities are free and open to the public.

Houghtaling family artifacts and projects by Manchester High School and Woodside Middle School students will be on display in the Cordier Lobby.

Admission to the 7:30 p.m. performance is $15 for those 18 and older. Tickets can be purchased in advance at http://www.manchestersymphonyorchestra.com/. Cash or checks will be accepted at the door. Children, and all Manchester University students, faculty and staff, are admitted free.

Lynn, Marlett and Belcher will give a presentation about the performance at 6 p.m. Oct. 10 in the Blocher Room of the North Manchester Public Library, 405 N. Market St.

A Family Portrait is part of the Values, Ideas and the Arts series at the University.

About Manchester University
Manchester University, with campuses in North Manchester and Fort Wayne, Ind., offers more than 60 areas of academic study to nearly 1,600 students in undergraduate programs, a Master of Athletic Training, a Master of Pharmacogenomics and a four-year professional Doctor of Pharmacy. It has students from 20 nations and is home to the world's first undergraduate peace studies program, established in 1948. Learn more about the private, northern Indiana school at www.manchester.edu.

September 2017