Every school day, through heavy snow and cold winter mornings, Laurids Madsen takes the train from West Jordan to Highland High School.
The exchange student from Denmark chose the school because of its proximity to the Salt Lake School for the Performing Arts, where Madsen splits his time among math, science and, his true calling in life, percussion. The young percussionist has been performing since the age of 6 his father directs a military band in Denmark and had only one big concern when he found himself in Utah as part of the Aspect Foundation's American Host Family Program.
He needed a teacher, and the best one he could get.
"The first goal when he got here was to continue learning," said Selma Lehmitz, Madsen's host mother. "His determination and willingness to put himself out there has opened up a lot of doors for Laurids."
Finding an instructor who could challenge a student with a decade of experience was a daunting task, but Madsen was resilient. He ended up studying under Keith Carrick, the Utah Symphony's principal percussionist, and, later, Michael Sammons, the director and arranger for the University Marching Band. In a matter of months, Madsen was learning from the best percussionists Utah could offer.
A mix of sheer talent, expert tutelage and perfect timing has kept Madsen in the spotlight. He moved from the high-school orchestra to the Salt Lake Symphonic Winds and the Utah Youth Symphony Orchestra. Madsen also will be the percussionist for the American West Symphony's March schedule, providing the beat to Brahms, Beethoven and Bernstein.
In Denmark, participating in a high-school exchange program is encouraged Madsen's father spent time in Florida when he was a teenager. Perhaps Utah isn't the first choice of students, but satisfaction is high after their time in the state is up. Madsen's first reaction when he arrived in the Beehive State was simply how friendly and open everyone was, from his host family to his classmates.
"It seems like everyone in Utah is just nice and welcoming," Madsen said. "I don't know it's how all Americans are I think it's a special place."
Utah also remains one of the top exchange programs in the United States. With a population that consists of a multitude of returned missionaries, many families consider hosting students from areas where they served their missions. Madsen is the second student the Lehmitz family, whose ancestors come from Denmark, has hosted.
Heather Christopher, Western regional sales manager at the Aspect Foundation, stressed that while the majority of host families are married couples, the foundation doesn't discriminate in any way. Through the application process, Christopher has placed exchange students in single-parent homes as well as some headed by gay parents. She feels the experience is one that broadens horizons.
"These students really become fully committed family members," Christopher said. "The amount they are able to learn from each other and the relationships they are able to build is remarkable."
At a glance
Laurids Madsen, a percussionist since the age of 6, hopes to attend college in Boston or New York City when he finishes high school.
Madsen is the second exchange student from Denmark the Lehmitz family has hosted. The first, Julie Jessen, was an athlete at Copper Hills.
Those interested in learning more about the exchange program can visit the Aspect Foundation's website at http://www.americanhostfamily.org.