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The National Symphony Orchestra tours North Dakota
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The National Symphony Orchestra members prepare for a concert in Fargo, North Dakota. (MPR Photo/Bob Reha)
The National Symphony Orchestra visits North Dakota this week. It's part of the American Residency program the orchestra began in 1992. In two weeks the musicians will have performed 200 concerts and workshops across the state.

Fargo, N.D. — Hundreds of elementary age kids file into a performance hall in Fargo. They're here for a concert by the National Symphony Orchestra, probably the first orchestra concert a lot of them have ever seen. Assistant conductor Emil de Cou, bows, raises the baton and the performance begins.

The kids sit quietly for 45 minutes while the music swings from one extreme to another. Emil de Cou says performing for young people is very rewarding.

"You really feel that you're making a strong lasting impact on these young people, because it's something they'll remember their whole life," says de Cou.

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Image Emil de Cou is the assistant conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra

Emil de Cou says performing for children can be a challenge.

"You can never fool children," he says. "Adults will sometimes applaud just out of being polite, there is a certain social interaction that you learn when your older. Kids will always give you the honest response. And seeing them excited or seeing them engaged, you know your doing the right thing and you know your approaching it the right way."

The concert ends on a patriotic theme that brings a handful of kids to their feet. Judging by the smiling faces, most of them have had a good time.

"I liked the Beethoven," says one boy. "I've heard a lot of Beethoven's work and I just like all his work."

"I liked the ending because it was good. It made me remember about my cousin who served our country," says a girl from the audience.

The orchestra's stop in Fargo is the mid-point of its residency. The musicians spent most of last week in western North Dakota.

One stop was in New Town, on the Fort Berthold Reservation. Marilyn Hudson is the administrator of the Three Tribes Museum in New Town. Symphony officials asked to perform a special selection in Lewis and Clark country. Marilyn Hudson says the landscape is the perfect backdrop.

"They (the orchestra) geared a lot of their music toward that experience. In fact, they had a special piece composed by a North Dakota native called Cycles in Time," says Hudson. "It (the music) had to do with the Lewis and Clark expedition. We also took them on a tour, because they knew Lewis and Clark had passed right through this area."

Hudson says a visit from the National Symphony Orchestra can motivate kids and give them the memory of a lifetime. She says it will be a boost for the music program in the local schools.

Assistant conductor Emil de Cou says visiting North Dakota has been a humbling experience.

"You feel that you're doing really, honestly important work, and returning in some degree what you've been given as a musician," says de Cou. "(It's important) as someone who has a responsibility to our fellow citizens, to give back from all the great gifts we've been given."

The National Symphony Orchestra will conclude its residency in North Dakota Tuesday night with a concert in Grand Forks, at the Chester Fritz Auditorium on the University of North Dakota campus.

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