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
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
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.