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October 24, 2021

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Bluffton alumnae give back with May 2 reunion recital

Kathryn (Lehman) Harsha and Kirsten Halker-Kratz are giving back to the Bluffton University music department that helped mold them 20 years ago.

Harsha and Halker-Kratz, who graduated from Bluffton in 1995 and ’96, respectively, are returning to campus Saturday, May 2, for a piano and organ recital that will also serve as a fundraiser for the music department. The May Day event will begin at 4:30 p.m. in Yoder Recital Hall.

Harsha is now executive director of the Carroll County (Md.) String Project, while Halker-Kratz is executive director of the Chester (Pa.) Children’s Chorus. But they fondly recall their experience at Bluffton, where the gifts received at the recital “will go toward a discretionary fund in the music department for students to be able to afford workshops, conventions or other career-oriented endeavors,” they write in the program.

Among their most influential faculty members was their piano teacher, Dr. Lucia Unrau, now a professor and chair of both the music department and Bluffton’s communication and fine arts division. She will join them on “Out Standing,” a piano piece for six hands that her former students describe as honoring her “outstanding” teaching efforts.

“I have very fond memories of working with Kathryn and Kirsten,” Unrau says. “They were highly driven as students, and that has continued in their adult lives as they are very successful in their chosen careers.”

The reunion recital, overall, is a collection of numbers “that share our passions for old and new music, beautiful phrases and a bit of humor,” Harsha and Halker-Kratz note.

They will also present piano pieces for four hands, including a new interpretation of Wilfred Owen’s World War I poem “Anthem for Doomed Youth” by composer Girard Kratz, Halker-Kratz’s husband. Soloist on that number will be baritone Lance Ashmore, a member of the voice faculties at Bowling Green State University, Ohio Northern University and the University of Findlay.

In addition, the alumnae will perform a piano-organ duet and two organ duets, including “Toot Suite” by P.D.Q. Bach, the fictitious composer created by musical satirist Peter Schickele.

Also a former flute student of Dr. Adam Schattschneider—a Bluffton professor of music as well—Harsha earned a master’s degree in orchestral conducting at the Cleveland Institute of Music. The Baltimore, Md., resident has conducted orchestras, operas and choirs across the country, and serves as music director of the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center’s “Sing Out!” benefit concert series, which has raised more than $1 million for the center. She and her husband, Tom, have two children, Alexandra and Christian.

Halker-Kratz earned bachelor’s degrees in both music and chemistry at Bluffton. She added a master’s degree in piano pedagogy and organ performance at Bowling Green, and a professional studies certificate in nonprofit executive administration from the University of Pennsylvania. She has been cited for her work in Chester by the mayor’s office, and also serves as director of music ministries at Trinity Lutheran Church in Havertown, Pa. She and her husband have two daughters, Caroline and Charlotte.