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