Interim Days at the University of Minnesota

In 1891, the theological department was moved from Northfield to Minneapolis — at first to Augsburg Seminary and a few years later to a three-story building on the corner of Twenty-sixth Avenue South and Franklin. The school which I at first attended was located on what is now a part of the university campus. As our home was in south Minneapolis near the place where the seminary was located, it was necessary for me to walk to school every day a distance of about two miles each way, because streetcar service between these two localities was very unsatisfactory. This arrangement continued during the years I studied at the university and for several years more while I taught at the Minneapolis academy near the university campus. I have always felt that these daily walks were of great benefit to me physically, though sometimes rather tough, especially while crossing the Washington Avenue bridge on a bitterly cold and stormy winter’s day.

In the liberal arts department at the university, three courses of study were offered at that time — the classical, the scientific, and the literary. I chose the classical and added as many scientific electives as I could. Of these electives higher mathematics, physics, and astronomy interested me very much and I was fortunate in being able to enroll in some very fine courses in these subjects. I graduated from the university in June 1897 and one of the most gratifying events of my college days was election to Phi Beta Kappa on December 5, 1896.

Of the extra-curricular interests at the university, I believe I should mention especially the choral union and two male quartets of which I was at various times a member. Fraülein Schoen-Rene, director of the choral union, yearly brought some very high-class artists to appear in concert with the student chorus. Emma Calve, Lillian Nordica, and Lillian Blauveldt are the artists I remember best; Rossini’s Stabat Mater and parts of Gounod’s Faust were some of the numbers sung with these artists as soloists. The concerts were given in the old Exposition building, and as a rule I not only had the privilege of singing in the choruses but I also had a small part in making arrangements for the concerts and ticket sales. All of these experiences and activities were of help to me in my subsequent work at St. Olaf College.

My church connection in Minneapolis was with St. John’s English Lutheran, a member congregation of the Synod of the Northwest, U.L.C. It was in this church that my marriage to Sophie Marie Jorgensen took place on June 22, 1899. It seems a little odd that I was baptized in German, confirmed in Norwegian, and married in English to a Danish girl.

In my student days at the university, I was very fond of singing and I made use of every opportunity to get the experience I felt I needed and the pleasure I desired. Besides singing in the Choral Union, I was asked sometimes to substitute for the basso in the Ski U Mah male quartet and had the privilege of appearing with this group at a number of very fine functions in St. Paul and Minneapolis. Our class also had a quartet of which I was a member, and of course I joined the choir of St. John’s English Lutheran Church. Then one day I was asked to join a male chorus in downtown Minneapolis, the director of which was a certain F. Melius Christiansen, whom I had met on several occasions and about whose musical ability I had heard some very good reports. I had also heard him play the violin a number of times and one of my students at the academy where I taught had arranged and managed a short concert tour for him. Before making up my mind about joining this chorus I decided to attend one of the rehearsals. This I did one evening and had quite a talk with Mr. Christiansen — my first but by no means the last talk with him. He said he was in need of a low bass and urged me to join. Of course, I did so, although it was something of a hardship to get away from my home and work one evening a week and then pay weekly dues besides. I am very glad I did, however.

My first meeting at rehearsal as a member of the chorus proved to be something of a surprise. As a member of the quartets at the university, I used to consider it quite the thing to sing the kind of music the leaders selected and to sing it according to their direction. The words of one of the numbers quite frequently sung were (and the music was in harmony with the words):

Oh darling one, whose radiant smile
Is all the world to me!
In weal or woe, where’er I go,
Dear Love, I’ll think of thee!
Bright star of hope to me!

At the rehearsal of the Kjerulf Male Chorus, which was the group Mr. Christiansen directed, I could not help being greatly impressed with both the manner of his directing and the kind of pieces he selected for rehearsal. I noted in particular how he strove to secure certain desired effects. He was not at all satisfied with mediocre results and many phrases were repeated over and over again until the desired fine shade of expression was attained. I was not used to that kind of conducting at rehearsal. The selection which the male chorus was trying to learn to sing correctly was also quite in contrast to what I had been used to at quartet rehearsals. It was Reisiger’s Tonen’s Magt:

O Tonevaeld, hvor er ej lagt
Paa dine Bolger Undermagt!
Du baer en Verden i dit Skjod
Af Liv, Begeistring, Elskovsglod!

A free translation of which are the following words:

O power of song!
What wonderful strength
is borne in thy sound waves! Thou dost
carry forth a world of life, of inspiration
and of passionate love.

From the first rehearsal I attended, I came to have great respect and admiration for Mr. Christiansen. His passionate striving for perfection in his interpretations and presentations gave me a new insight in the power of song. Needless to say, I never missed a rehearsal. Mr. Christiansen and I became warm and intimate friends and that friendship became more and more intense with the passing of the years. Of course, neither of us could foresee at that time that the future work of each would be so closely bound up with that of the other. In the following chapters, I shall try to tell more about this remarkable man and of my life-long association and work with him.

In July, 1902, I received the following letter from the President of St. Olaf College:

Dear Friend:

Would you be willing to accept a position at St. Olaf for next year as assistant teacher of Mathematics at a salary of $800.00? I have authority to get a man for next year and can make any promise for the future. I am quite sure that if you could come this fall on the conditions named, it will be all right for the future.
Will you kindly answer as soon as possible!

Yours very truly,
J. N. Kildahl

It was not because the salary was so attractive that I decided to accept this call. From my boyhood days in St. Olaf’s School I had a warm spot in my heart for this institution and I had sufficient confidence in the future to believe that “everything would be all right.” So with my wife and two small girls, I moved to Northfield and began anew an association with St. Olaf which was to continue uninterruptedly for more than a half a century.

My Years at St. Olaf


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