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University of Iowa News Release


Feb. 11, 2010

NEH Chair Leach will speak and narrate 'Lincoln Portrait' with UI Symphony

Jim Leach, chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities and former Iowa congressman, will return to his home state in February to give an important speech and provide narration during the University of Iowa Symphony Orchestra performance of Aaron Copland's "Lincoln Portrait." He also will be interviewed as a guest on a presentation of WorldCanvass Studio. All events are free and open to the public.

Leach will give his speech, titled "Civility in a Fractured Society," at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 16, in the Old Capitol Senate Chamber. The Office of the Vice President for Research will honor University of Iowa recipients of recent arts and humanities grants and fellowships. A reception will follow. This program is co-sponsored by Humanities Iowa.

He will appear on WorldCanvass Studio with host Joan Kjaer at noon Wednesday, Feb. 17, in Room 1117B, University Capitol Centre. His narration with the UI Symphony will take place at 7:30 p.m. that night in the Main Lounge of the Iowa Memorial Union.

Leach has been speaking out about the importance of civility in public debate during a 50-state tour, largely in response to a tone of American political discourse that continues to degrade from informative argument to personal attacks and innuendo. His speech on the UI campus Feb. 16 marks his sole visit to Iowa as part of that tour.

During this Black History Month concert, the UI Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of conductor William LaRue Jones, will also perform "In Memoriam: The Colored Soldiers who Died for Democracy," by William Grant Still; "Tzigane" for violin and orchestra, by Maurice Ravel, featuring School of Music soloist Scott Conklin; and the Symphonic Dances by Leonard Bernstein.

Leach, who was invited by Jones to participate in the performance, said of "Lincoln Portrait," "As the most divisive war in our history came to an end, Lincoln called for a reconciliation ethic 'with malice toward none, with charity for all ... .' A month after delivering this somber appeal at his Second Inaugural, he was assassinated. But his words live on, and in an age of discord, their relevance becomes heightened.

"In this historical and social context, I am pleased to join with the UI Symphony Orchestra to celebrate with music and words the leadership Lincoln gave the nation. Hopefully a sense for the model he provided a century and a half ago can help us navigate through the traumas of our times."

"Lincoln Portrait" (also known as "A Lincoln Portrait") is a classical orchestral work written by Copland as part of the World War II patriotic war effort in 1942. The work involves a full orchestra, with particular emphasis on the brass section at climactic moments and is narrated with the reading of excerpts of Abraham Lincoln's great documents, including the Gettysburg Address.

Copland was asked to write a musical portrait of an "eminent American" by conductor Andre Kostelanetz. Copland had wanted to portray Walt Whitman, but it was decided that a political figure was needed. Copland used material from speeches and letters of Lincoln and quoted original folk songs of the period, including "Camptown Races" and "Springfield Mountain."

With this performance Leach will join a roster of prominent "Lincoln Portrait" narrators that includes President Barack Obama, Walter Cronkite, Henry Fonda, Tom Hanks, Katharine Hepburn, Charlton Heston, Samuel L. Jackson, James Earl Jones, Paul Newman, Ted Kennedy, Gregory Peck, Alec Baldwin and Vincent Price.

Leach represented Iowa in the U.S. House of Representatives for 30 years before leaving Congress in 2007, chairing the Banking and Financial Services Committee, the Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs and the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. He also founded and co-chaired the Congressional Humanities Caucus. In 2008 he broke party ranks to support Obama and spoke to the Democratic National Convention on its opening night, after being introduced by Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin.

In 2007 Leach joined the faculty at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School, where he was the John L. Weinberg Visiting Professor of Public and International Affairs until his confirmation as NEH chairman. In September 2007, Leach took a year's leave of absence from Princeton to serve as interim director of the Institute of Politics and lecturer at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Obama nominated Leach as NEH chair on July 9, 2009 and the U.S. Senate confirmed his appointment in early August. Leach began his four-year term as NEH Chairman on Aug. 12, 2009.

Leach graduated from Princeton University, received a master's degree in Soviet politics from the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University and did additional graduate studies at the London School of Economics.

He holds eight honorary degrees and has received numerous awards, including the Sidney R. Yates Award for Distinguished Public Service to the Humanities from the National Humanities Alliance; the Woodrow Wilson Award from Johns Hopkins University; the Adlai Stevenson Award from the United Nations Association; the Edgar Wayburn Award from the Sierra Club; the Wayne Morse Integrity in Politics Award; the Norman Borlaug Award for Public Service; and the Wesley Award for Service to Humanity.

For biographies of Jones and Conklin, visit and

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports learning in history, literature, philosophy and other areas of the humanities. NEH grants enrich classroom learning, create and preserve knowledge and bring ideas to life through public television, radio, new technologies, exhibitions and programs in libraries, museums and other community places. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at

The School of Music is a unit of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

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STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACT: Stephen Pradarelli, UI News Services, 319-384-0007,