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
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
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
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.