Band Trips — 1907 on . . .

During the years following the tour abroad, the band made annual trips of two weeks’ duration to cities of the mid-western states. These trips were made by train and the members were usually housed in private homes. One of the favorite itineraries included towns in west-central Minnesota and eastern North Dakota — Alexandria, Fergus Falls, Fargo, Grand Forks, and Crookston. Another took the group south through Austin, Albert Lea, Mason City, and Des Moines. A third went through southwestern Minnesota into South Dakota; and a fourth took a northeasterly direction to Eau Claire, Rice Lake, Superior, and Duluth.

In later years these trips were extended to include larger and more distant cities. During the late summer months of 1909 the first trip to the Pacific coast was undertaken. The Alaska-Yukon Pacific World Exposition was to be held in Seattle and it was decided that an effort should be made to secure a contract for one or more appearances there. As this was the year I served as acting president of the college, it was not possible for me to take time to arrange concerts and later to accompany the band on the trip. I therefore asked. Mr. Martin Hegland (our Dr. Hegland) who then was a student at the seminary, to act as advance man and secure contracts. He agreed to do this and, needless to say, did exceptionally well. The authorities in Seattle engaged the band for a number of concerts at the exposition. On the way to Seattle another fine engagement was secured in Spokane, a week at Natatorium Park. Three appearances were also made at the then famous chautauqua in Devils Lake, N.D., and many other cities were visited both on the westbound and eastbound trips. The following letter was received by me after the band had been in Spokane: “I take pleasure in stating my satisfaction with the engagement of your band at Natatorium Park. Comments made by our patrons all were very favorable. The personnel of the band is especially worthy of mention. My observations warrant the statement that they are exceptional young men, enthusiastic in their work. Their behavior is a credit to your institution. I feel they are entirely worthy of the success they are attaining.” Signed: J. W. Pace, Manager Natatorium Park.

The daily Missoulian gave the following review of the concert: “In a program that ranged from Sousa to Wagner the St. Olaf Concert Band charmed completely the audience that filled Harnois Theatre last evening. With a membership of forty-five and an instrumentation that is eminently satisfactory, the St. Olaf Band can rival almost any of the larger organizations of its kind in the United States or Europe and, insofar as interpretation of music is concerned, is on a par with any. It is easily to be seen that the faultless expression and technique with which the band plays is due chiefly to its director, F. Melius Christiansen. His perfect confidence in himself and in the organization shows itself in every move of his baton and he knows his music as he does his men. He is not at all eccentric in his work, but his modest unobtrusive method brings out the music as well as the antics of the most gymnastic bandmaster could possibly do. From the crash and the fanfare of the heaviest passage to the gentleness of the lightest he leads his band in a manner cool, self-possessed and always effective. The band plays in perfect unison and the concert was a treat for all.”

Dr. Christiansen directed the concerts on this first western tour as well as on most of the trips until 1920 when Professor J. Arndt Bergh was engaged as director. From that time on Mr. Bergh directed the concerts on tours, one of which, the one in 1923, again took the band to the west coast.

Many interesting incidents occurred on these band trips, some of which I would like to relate. One of the soloists who appeared with the band on a number of tours was a Mr. O. A. Gronseth, teacher of voice at St. Olaf from 1907 to 1914. He was a fine baritone singer and delighted his audiences with some well-known Norwegian folk songs. He was a very large man, weighing more than three hundred pounds, and it was this poundage that frequently was the occasion for comical situations and incidents. The band once gave a concert in Sioux Falls on New Year’s Day. Dr. Christiansen, Mr. Gronseth, and I were housed in the Cataract Hotel and at dinner time went to the hotel dining room. It was filled with an elite group. As we entered the room, the headwaitress, a rather small elderly lady escorted us to a table. She drew out the chair for Mr. Gronseth who by that time had attracted a great deal of attention because of his huge size. He very carefully began to sit down but did not stop until the chair had been broken into bits and he had reached the floor, with the arms of the little headwaitress around his shoulders. She had tried to hold him up. That brought the diners to their feet. But when they saw how heartily both Mr. Gronseth and Dr. Christiansen laughed they joined in the merriment. Yes, Mr. Gronseth was indeed a furniture buster. Whenever we stayed in hotels and in the morning heard what sounded like something cracking to pieces upstairs, we knew that Mr. Gronseth was getting up.

On another trip the band played in a town out in South Dakota. After the concert the instruments were brought to the depot to be packed in cases. It was a very stormy night and as our drummer picked up the bass drum a strong gust of wind blew it out of his hands and it started to roll out into the country with the drummer in pursuit. It rolled out over the fields at least a quarter of a mile and smashed up against the side of a farmhouse whose occupants had all retired for the night. The impact of the drum woke them all up and they wondered what had happened. Only broken pieces of the drum were left which the drummer brought back to the depot.

Another comical situation occurred in a town in Iowa in the days before the automobile. Arrangements had been made to transport the band and instruments from one town to another by wagon, a distance of about twenty-five miles. The bass instruments had all been put into one wagon in charge of one of the bass players, Mr. Henry Opseth. Unfortunately, that team of horses ran away and Mr. Christiansen was obliged to direct the concert that night without any bass instruments.

My Years at St. Olaf

Chapters:

Foreword
Early Family History
My Years at St. Olaf’s School
Interim Days at the University of Minnesota
Teaching and Administrative Assignments at St. Olaf College
New Interest in Music at St. Olaf
The 1906 Band Tour to Norway
Band Trips — 1907 on…
The Founding of the St. Olaf Lutheran Choir Tours of 1912 and 1913
The First Choir Tour to Metropolitan Centers in America
The 1930 European Tour
Some Interesting Experiences
Other College Interests
The Choir Workshop
Dr. F. Melius Christiansen, A Brief Biography
A Notable Achievement