In the fall of 2009 I was judging the preliminary round of the Van Rooy Competition at The Hartt School. I heard a saxophonist, Scott Edwards, perform the Decruck Sonata for Saxophone (or Viola). The music was sublime and I quickly asked Carrie Koffman, my fellow panelist and the saxophone instructor at Hartt, about Decruck. She told me that the Sonata was an important work for classical saxophonists, but that she didn't know much more. I had to find out more. What else had Decruck written? Were there works for horn (my instrument), winds or orchestra? A Google search quickly revealed several links for performances of the Sonata, but there wasn't even a Wikipedia entry about Decruck. Finally, after clicking what seemed like the 17th page of the Google search, I found an article by a French saxophonist, Nicholas Prost. It described some biographical details about Fernande and the most intriguing information—a list of other works. It turned out that Fernande was not a one-hit-wonder, but instead had composed many large-scale works for the best performers, conductors and orchestras of her time. Why didn't I know about them? Where was the music now?
I searched more using specialized library databases. The databases turned up a few early-career solo pieces and saxophone works, but where were the large, orchestral scores? I tried checking with some contacts that I had in both French and American libraries, but no luck. Finally, after several years of sporadic investigation, I contacted Nicholas Prost directly (I probably should have done this earlier, but hindsight...). Prost provided contact information for Decruck's daughter Jeanine and granddaughter Hélène. In 2012 I emailed Hélène and she quickly replied with more information about her grandmother including a catalogue of works that were lost and a catalogue of works that her uncle Alain (Decruck's youngest son) had in his possession. It turned out that she had done a significant amount of research about her grandmother in 2004. I had to see this music...
In 2013, Washington State University (my employer at the time) awarded an International Travel Grant in order to investigate those personal archives in France. In 2014, WSU awarded a Meyer Award and I returned to France for further investigation. Since those initial visits, I have continued to return to France to interview Decruck’s family members and champion her work. I have been able to electronically scan all of her extant works. I have scanned press clippings, programs and photographs from a family scrapbook. I have visited the Bibliothèque nationale de France and found more manuscripts and documents relevant to my research.
My first project with Decruck’s newfound works was a collaboration with three professional musicians from New York City. Together, we worked to engrave six reed trios for oboe, clarinet and bassoon. The musicians and I recorded and released a CD titled Reeds Amis, The Reed Trios of Fernande Decruck. The musicians have since performed the works all over the world including at the International Double Reed Society conference in Tokyo, Japan. Since that first recording project, I have performed several of Decruck’s orchestral works with both the Jackson Symphony Orchestra (MI) and The Chelsea Symphony (NYC). Many performers are excited about Decruck’s music and several performances and recording projects are planned for the future including the inaugural Fernande Decruck International Competition for Saxophone is planned for March of 2021 in Paris, France.