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Symphonic variations on a romantic theme: Local couples who fell in love, married through music

Members of the DSSO during a recent rehearsal at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center. Eight couples perform with the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra. Clint Austin / Forum News Service1 / 4
Jean Leibfried plays with the DSSO during a recent rehearsal. Jean and her husband Charlie are one of the eight couples that perform with the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra. Clint Austin / Forum News Service2 / 4
Rebecca and Kevin Peterson recount how they met through music while Kevin wrangles their new puppy, Stella, during a recent interview at their home. Bob King / Forum News Service3 / 4
Betsy Husby and Michael Husby are one of the eight couples that perform with the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra. Clint Austin / Forum News Service4 / 4

DULUTH—Romance can blossom any old time, or so the song says, and perhaps it follows that romance also can blossom any old place.

Even among the kettle drums.

"She just happened to be standing back by the kettle drums during a break in the rehearsal," Michael Husby recalled of his first encounter with his future wife Betsy, more than 30 years ago. "I thought she looked mighty fine."

At the time, both Michael and Betsy were at a rehearsal as returning members of the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra. Although he said his initial interest wasn't reciprocated, Michael and Betsy eventually became a couple, and then a married couple.

Perhaps it has something to do with making beautiful music together, but the DSSO seems to be a fruitful place for enduring romance. The 74-member ensemble includes five married couples, according to DSSO staff. Add substitutes, chorus members, associates and one retired couple, and the total reaches a dozen.

And, in at least some cases, they met through music.

Rebecca and Kevin Peterson met in the University of Minnesota Duluth orchestra when she was a student in the cello section and he was a community member playing viola.

Nine years Rebecca's senior, Kevin, now 54, developed an immediate crush.

"From my perspective, it was like, 'Wow, why wasn't there someone like that when I was that age?' " he recalled recently as the couple, now married 21 years, sat together in the living room of their Hunters Park home.

"And then I was like, 'Why isn't there somebody my age like that?' " added Rebecca, now 45. "I had a crush on him; he had a crush on me."

She sent him a Valentine's Day card — anonymously. They both also played in the DSSO, and he asked her at a rehearsal there if she had sent it.

"And I lied," Rebecca recalled. "I said, 'Nope.' "

In spite of the inauspicious beginning, the two managed to get together and now are the parents of two children, ages 19 and 17, both of whom play string instruments.

The Husby connection also involved Valentine's Day. At the beginning of a Feb. 14 rehearsal, Michael found a red chocolate heart on his seat in the second violin section. After the rehearsal began, Michael glanced around the orchestra, and from her spot in the cello section, Betsy winked at him.

"Well, things moved on from there," said Michael, 65, now married to Betsy, 58, for 26 years, and the parents of two grown sons.

Charlie and Jean Leibfried met in a music theory class at UMD, the couple said, at which she conveniently sat in front of him.

"Jean was a great barrier for me in music theory so I could fall asleep every day," said Charlie, 62.

She still remembers the first time she saw him walk into the classroom, right down to what he wore.

"He was wearing hunter green corduroy pants with a cuff on them, and he had a shirt on that was a cream-colored background with a green- and rust-colored plaid," recalled Jean, 63.

It was love at first sight, she said.

Harris and Diane Balko met at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, where both were in the music faculty; he led the choral program and she led the strings. Diane, now 75, was concertmaster (principal violinist) of the DSSO for 37 years, and Harris, now 85, directed the symphony's chorus for a decade.

Diane already had been on the UWS faculty for three years, she said, when Harris arrived in 1969. "And when he walked through the door at UWS at Old Main, I thought, 'Huh, I might marry this person,' " she recalled.

Asked if he felt the same, Harris, who still has the attention-getting voice of a choral director, exclaimed, "Of course!"

They've been married 47 years.

If music brought many of the DSSO couples together, it's the outdoors that has kept them in the Twin Ports area.

The Petersons are big on running in all kinds of weather. Kevin particularly enjoys running the trails at Hartley Park. Rebecca is training for this year's Boston Marathon, which will be her 38th marathon overall.

The Leibfrieds enjoy cross-country skiing and running; Charlie likes canoeing and Jean hiking.

Michael and Betsy Husby like to hunt, fish, walk and bike.

Being married to a fellow musician has its challenges, the couples said. The Leibfrieds have twin daughters, both of whom took up the violin like their mom; their son plays trumpet like his dad. That used to mean a lot of practicing going on at once.

"We were fortunate to have a big house, and I could find a corner someplace and get away from everybody," said Charlie of practicing his trumpet.

But all of the couples agreed that the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. They have a mutual understanding of the demands that practice, rehearsal and performance time place on musicians, the Petersons said.

In addition to their other duties, the Petersons long have played together as part of a string quartet.

Do they ever play duets together?

"No," Kevin said. "That's why we've stayed together for 21 years."

The players

Married couples who are involved, in one way or another, with the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra:

• Leibfried: Charlie (trumpet) and Jean (assistant principal 2nd violin)

• Husby: Michael (violin) and Betsy (principal cello)

• Peterson: Rebecca (cello) and Kevin (viola)

• Pospisil: Jim (principal French horn) and Jill (3rd French horn)

• Ted Schoen (3rd clarinet and bass clarinet) and Laurie van Brunt (oboe and English horn)

• Hoeschen: Kevin (principal viola) and Carol (chorus)

• Osborn: Vince (bass) and Sharon (chorus)

• Craycraft: Nicole (violin) and Jeremy (sub, percussion)

• Hammerschmidt: Erika (French horn) and Steve (sub)

• Sandor: Alex (piano sub) and Katie (flute sub)

• Mark Danielson and Teresa Smith (both in the chorus)

• Balko: Harris (retired chorus master) and Diane (violin, retired concertmaster)

Source: Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra

 The tunes

We asked some of the musicians interviewed for this story for their choices of a favorite romantic piece. Here's the playlist:

• Violin concerto by Samuel Barber, 1st movement (Rebecca Peterson)

• Cello sonata by Rachmaninoff, 3rd movement (Betsy Husby)

• Violin concerto by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Charlie Leibfried)

• Old jazz tunes such as "Blue Moon" (Jean Leibfried)

• "Meditation from Thais," by Jules Massenet (Harris and Diane Balko)