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Have You Met?

(The day the music died.... Tom Jensen has passed away.  As our hearts break, here is a Blacktie-Colorado "Have You Met" we did on Tom several years ago.  Rest in Peace dear friend.)

There’s no stopping the music for this Maestro…  In fact, more than ever, life is on a “high note” for symphony conductor Thomas H. Jensen.  Bright, articulate and vibrant – with a story to tell about practically every subject, he is the ultimate entertainer.

 Jensen was brought to Denver in 1983 to be the conductor for the Colorado Ballet and then moved on to start “Inside the Orchestra” for the Junior Symphony Guild (which celebrates a rich 50 + year history) in 1986.  He’s been a popular staple on the talk radio scene for years,  a speaker, educator and voice-over talent. 

Jensen is a tireless advocate for youth music and arts education and provides a captivating and mesmerizing experience so children can connect to classical music.  With his total embrace of “Inside the Orchestra’s” mission, which is to bring orchestra music to children at schools throughout Colorado, Tom has enthusiastically committed most of his life to kids with his invigorating programs and up-close and personal hands on approach.  The “Tiny Tots” sit right up on the stage surrounded by professional musicians, and it seems to instantly turn them on to the wonders of classical music.  The shows are always a sell out and fun for the whole family.

To hear Jensen talk about his hopes for the future is beautiful and moving.  This is a man who has experienced the loss of people he has loved, so maybe now it’s time for recovery.  

Some things cannot be stopped, and the commitment Tom Jensen has made to provide every child with the opportunity to experience timeless music is another.

Much is changing in this fast-paced, high-tech world.  Some things should stay the same, and what Tom Jensen and “Inside the Orchestra” are doing with the “Tiny Tots” and other programs needs to stay around forever!

As Jensen says: “As a child, if you don’t read great books like Moby Dick, Huckleberry Finn, or a Tale of Two Cities, or if you don’t hear Mozart, Tchaikovsky or Beethoven when you are growing up, your education is incomplete.”  Maestro Jensen is here to make sure that doesn’t happen.     

 

Tom, you must have been a very gifted child... what do you think was the best thing you had going for you at a very young age?  No, not that gifted. My dad's mother played piano in silent movie houses in the 20s...  she died before I was born, but my parents were insistent that I take lessons. They had the tenacity to have me keep my focus thru elementary school.  My piano teacher was the neighborhood instructor, and wasn't very effective with me. Luckily for me, my junior high orchestra teacher lit the fire for my passion for music.

At what point did you know you would be living your dream? While studying conducting in college, I was given the opportunity to conduct the St. Paul Civic Symphony -- that started defining my dream.  I was 21 years old and was quite scared and thrilled at the same time.

Have you always been pretty clear on what you wanted to do with your life?  I want to cram into my life as many experiences as possible--- never turning anything down: rock bassist; classical bassist; conducting ballet; opera; youth orchestras; children’s concerts; broadcasting: talk radio, TV weather; TV movie critic; standup comedy; voice over work for commercials... I am a published writer.

When you had several chances to leave Denver and move on to another adventure, what made you stay in Colorado?  CO kept giving me great opportunities.

What impact can and does "Inside the Orchestra" make on the City of Denver? Nobody does what we do.  We seat the audience in the middle of the orchestra - I face the audience and narrate while I conduct - the two things I can do: talk and conduct, and we see over 25,000 patrons each year!

How can we get more people to understand the purpose and benefits of "Inside the Orchestra?" This helps. We have an expanding board, a new marketing person, and a new executive director, Shelby Mattingly, who all are helping define what we do.  ISO is the re-branded Junior Symphony Guild, which was known for their designer show houses...  remember those?

What was the defining moment that “lit the fire” in you to stay with this endeavor?  I guess it was around my 10th season, when I realized this gig was growing in popularity and was not going away! Parents, teachers and caregivers were clamoring for our programs.  And the professional musicians, some of whom I'd been working with since '83 when I arrived in Denver, were still enthused about the program.

Can you mention some of your favorite composers? operas? ballet productions?  I got work with Aaron Copland when I was 27, so he'd be one of my favorites. Rossini's 'Barber of Seville' is one of my fondest operas as Bernstein's musical -- 'West Side Story.'  I was given the opportunity to conduct both 'Romeo and Juliet' and 'Cinderella' by Prokofiev, those ballets have the most haunting music.

Can you share one of your most cherished childhood experiences?  I loved the old Tonight Show with Steve Allen. My mother got tickets for the show when it came to the Twin Cities, I think I was in the 2nd grade. We took the bus and it was freezing cold.

I learned to play his 'Gravy Waltz' on the piano. Years later I had the opportunity to interview Steve Allen on KOA Radio, and I related those stories to him.

You are so worldly and most likely have met many interesting people through the years.  Who inspired you the most? First Aaron Copland with whom I studied.  Many interviews on the radio: Gloria Steinhem, former first lady Dottie Lamm, Timothy Leary the 60s guru, comedienne Judi Tenuda, musician Lyle Lovett, Madeline Albright, and Marvel Comic author Stan Lee... he put me in the Sunday Comic strip twice having me play myself on KOA reporting on Dr. Doom.

Who do you consider your mentor?  I have many-- three great conducting teachers: one who taught me rehearsal technique, one who taught me stick technique, and my grad school teacher, who taught me passion.  I did have some mentors in radio: trouble shooter Tom Martino gave me insights in drawing the listeners into the show; and I had a great program director at KOA who took me under his wing -- the late Bruce Kamen, he really believed in me.

What is your pet peeve? People who tell a long story that could be told in mere seconds... and sometimes when they get to the part: "to make a long story short" if appropriate, I sometimes say: "that opportunity was missed eight minutes ago."

Where is your favorite vacation spot in the world, and why? I really haven't had a vacation since the mid 90s-- don't know how to let go... want to learn -- I was in Italy for a opera gig playing bass -- would like to go back there... also, had some work in Barcelona, loved that city.

You have seen Denver evolve and change through the years.  What's been the biggest change in the last 20 years, and what has remarkably stayed the same? More restaurants and more traffic... when I first moved downtown in '83, I would ride my bicycle around the city for exercise at night and there were few cars, now with the Four Seasons and Spire, getting to my high rise takes time -- one has to plan for a potty stop before leaving for home now...lol

What are the similarities of living in downtown Denver to living in downtown New York City? A similar but smaller vibe... I love the feeling of being in my condo on the 29th floor.  I know I can be "out and about" in seconds, or I can stay tucked in and be OK with that... I would die on a cul de sac in suburbia....

Tell us your vision for "Inside the Orchestra" five years from now - 10 years from now? We hope it will expand its outreach to include inside the orchestra for special needs children and a program for adults as well. And I want to take it on the road to other cities.

What can all of us do to help you make your vision a success?  I  believe that a child's education is not complete if they don't hear and experience the arts. Please support us and our mission at http://www.insidetheorchestra.com/ or call 303-355-7855 for more information.  "Inside the Orchestra" stimulates the love of learning and the love of discovery.  I think as a society, we have lost those elements of education. 

How do you want to be remembered? What do you want history to say about you? That I was an innovator, an inventor of a new concept of reaching audiences.... that I was an entertainer first -- and fun to listen to -- that I was a wordsmith on the radio and in print.  And - hopefully people would think of me as a nice person.