St. Olaf CollegeShaw-Olson Center for College HistorySt. Olaf College

CENTER FOR COLLEGE HISTORY

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About the Archives

Shaw-Olson Center for College History
Rolvaag Library 211
1510 St. Olaf Avenue
St. Olaf College Northfield, MN
55057-1097
507-786-3229
507-786-3734 FAX

Gary DeKrey, Director
dekrey@stolaf.edu

Jeff Sauve, Associate
College Archivist
sauve@stolaf.edu

 

Some Interesting Experiences

People sometimes ask if the choir has been troubled much by sickness while on tours. Considering the amount of traveling that has been done down through the years, and the fact that most of the tours have taken place in January and February, it is surprising that there has been so little serious illness. There have been colds and raw throats due mainly to sudden changes in weather from day to day and to temperature changes every day from heated concert halls to the cold out-of-doors. Nothing of a really serious nature has occurred.


I can, however, mention a few experiences I have had with illness. On one of our trips to the West Coast seven or eight members became ill with mumps. I was obliged to leave the first victims in a hospital in Montana and one or two more in Seattle. As we were on our way to California, I thought those left behind would probably be well enough to catch up with the choir and enjoy the stay in that wonderful southern coast state. I therefore gave each one a railroad ticket and a supply of cash to pay for Pullman accommodations, meals, and so forth, and asked them to give me an account of the expenses they had had. One of the girls had this item on her expense account: "Birth No. 2 in sleeping car -- $3.50."


On another tour a concert was given in Detroit, Michigan. The choir was housed in the Statler Hotel and some time after I had retired there was a knock on my door. One of the boys came to tell me that his roommate was sick, that he appeared to have a contagious disease as there were reddish skin blotches on his face and other parts of his body. I told him to pick up his own belongings and get another room for himself. I then dressed, called the house doctor, and went to the sick boy's room. The doctor pronounced it a case of scarlet fever and said an ambulance would have to be called next morning to take the boy to the pest house. Michigan state law for scarlet fever was five weeks in the pest house. I did not sleep very well the rest of that night. Early next morning I called another doctor in the city. He made the same diagnosis and gave the same information. There was nothing else to do than to get an ambulance. The pest house was about seven miles from the hotel. I got a taxi and followed the ambulance. In the pest house a good room was assigned to the boy for which I was obliged to make an initial payment of $70.00. I left my card and an itinerary and asked to be notified at once if the boy needed special care. Then I went back to town and had my noonday lunch on the way. When I came to the hotel, there stood our sick boy in the lobby surrounded by choir folks. For a moment I was amazed. Had the boy escaped? Was he now spreading the contagion to others in the choir? When the boy saw me he came over and said the doctors in the pest house had looked him over carefully and had then told him there was nothing the matter with him and that he would not be permitted to stay there. He therefore went back to the hotel. Sure enough! The redness had almost disappeared. He probably had eaten something that did not agree with him. I tried to recover the $70.00 I had paid for his room but had to wait about six months before the balance was returned.


One wintry January evening in the late twenties a concert was given in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, and that night the choir was to go in Pullman sleepers to Wausau for two concerts the next day. Out in the state, some distance from New Lisbon, huge snowdrifts were encountered and the train was snowbound. A snow plow was sent to clear the track but it too was temporarily stalled. After some time, however, the snow was sufficiently removed to allow the train to get through and arrive in Wausau a little late but nevertheless in time to give both concerts. News of this incident reached the Chicago papers and the following item appeared in the Tribune,

"The world famous St. Olaf Lutheran Choir, enroute to Wausau, Wisconsin, became snow-bound. The train was unable to proceed and the snow plow that was sent to the rescue also was stalled. Finally the choir began to sing and sang so beautifully, the train was "moved'!"


There have been other experiences of a somewhat different nature that are of interest and I believe worth recording.


At one of our concerts in Symphony Hall, Boston, a gentleman introduced himself to us saying he was president of Fiske Institute. He was very favorably impressed by the choir's singing and urged me to bring the choir sometime to Nashville. This I did two years later and not only was a very successful concert given in the city but a visit to Fiske Institute proved to be a memorable experience. At the school's convocation the choir was seated on the stage of the auditorium and the Fiske Jubilee Singers occupied places up in front on the main floor. The choir first sang a short program, then the jubilee Singers gave a number of selections and the entire audience sang some of the best known spirituals. The meeting was conducted in a quiet and contemplative manner. Dr. Christiansen and I were invited to lunch that day by some of the teachers of the school. Many questions were asked by us, especially about spirituals, their origin and history, and we both felt that our estimate and understanding of spirituals had undergone a profound change for the better.


On one of our trips to the South and East a concert had been scheduled in Winston Salem, North Carolina, under the auspices of a Women's Club of the city. The concert was to be given in the Reynold's Auditorium where segregation regulations were strictly enforced. During the day the president of the Women's Club came to our hotel to ask if we had any objection to allowing a few Negroes to stand in the wings on the stage behind the choir. We were told that they were very anxious to hear the singing but that they were not permitted in the main auditorium. I told the lady we had no objection whatsoever. Later in the afternoon she returned saying that as soon as this was announced there were so many requests from Negroes that there would not be room enough on the stage. Something else had to be arranged. The local judge was consulted and permission was given the choir to go over to the Negro section of the city the next forenoon to give a concert for the Negroes in their own school building. No white people were allowed there except the members of the choir. Negroes took charge of the arrangements and sold so many tickets overnight that our share of the income was more than $400. One incident we especially enjoyed there was the singing of the National Anthem by the entire audience at the conclusion of the concert. At this concert I met and conversed for some time with a Negro Lutheran pastor, a member of the Missouri Synod.


At various times the choir has been invited to some of the imposing homes in Eastern cities where they have met many notable people. One of these was the 5th Avenue, New York, home of Mr. J. Louis Schaefer, Vice-president of the Chase National Bank. Mr. Schaefer was a Lutheran and was one of the men I met in the summer of 1919 when I made arrangements for the first Eastern choir tour. He became one of the original guarantors and served on the executive committee.


The first concert in Akron, Ohio, was sponsored by the First Lutheran Church of which Mrs. Frank Seiberling was a member. She and Mr. Seiberling invited the entire choir to dinner in their palatial home and estate on the outskirts of the city, probably one of the most magnificent homes in the entire country. Mr. Seiberling conducted us all on a tour through the building, with brief stops in the gymnasium and bowling alley where the boys could not resist taking a little exercise. After a sumptuous dinner all were invited to the large music hall where our hosts had arranged entertainment by well-known artists. A very pleasant evening indeed!


Mr. James Stewart Cushman wrote me on February 3, 1927, as follows: "Mrs. Cushman and I would be delighted to have the members of the choir with us on Tuesday evening after your concert for supper and a social gathering." This invitation was accepted and a very pleasant evening was had at the Cushman home on Madison Avenue. A number of prominent New Yorkers were present for the occasion, among them Mrs. Andrew Carnegie and Mrs. O. P. Belmont. Mr. Cushman had heard the choir in several cities and was very much impressed by the singing and also by the conduct of the choir personnel.


The first recordings by the choir were made by the Victor Recording Company in Camden, New Jersey, in 1921 and 1922. A vacant church building had been rented by the company for recording purposes and the equipment set up in the nave. It was a rather primitive method of recording, for as I remember it, no microphones were used. Instead, a number of large megaphones had been securely set up around a central pier on which the wax matrix was placed. While recording, a group of five or six choir members stood close together and sang into one of the megaphones and these then all converged and brought the voices into the revolving matrix.


Of course these first choir records are not to be compared in quality and beauty with those made by the choir in later years in Hollywood, California; they were nevertheless considered a wonderful accomplishment at the time and a very large number were sold throughout the country. As the recording process changed and new and improved methods came into use, the choir continued to record year after year so that now a good-sized library of records and a large number of record albums are available.

My Years at St. Olaf
by Paul G. Schmidt

Foreword

Early Family History

My Years at St. Olaf's School

Interim Days at the University

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