Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Proud Parents, Cookies and the Benefits of a Recital

My piano teacher, Mrs. Rolfsrud, believed in the importance of recitals.  I never thought to ask her why she went through the trouble of scheduling the occasional performance events in her studio in Alexandria, Minn.  She must have felt that her students benefited from the experience of diligently preparing a piece and then playing it for others.  It always felt like a big deal to me, in a good way.

I don't recall the titles of the songs I performed in recitals during my nine years of lessons (thanks to my dad and his tendency to save everything, I still have programs that could tell me, if I could locate them in the Joy Archives).  What I do remember, though, is the feeling of being at a recital: the nervous stomach while you waited for your turn; the wave of empathy upon hearing someone else make a mistake; the out-of-body experience of sitting at the piano and having your fingers take over from your brain; the relief in playing a piece nearly mistake-free, or at least well enough that you didn't embarrass yourself.  And when it was over, the sweet taste of a treat and the warm embrace of your parents making it all seem worthwhile.

Sebastian performing in St. Olaf's Christiansen Hall, accompanied by Olivia Krueger on piano.

I've been thinking about recitals since Saturday, when Steve and I attended a "Students of Students Recital" at St. Olaf College.  Sebastian's viola teacher, St. Olaf student Kara Erstad, organized the spring recital, which has been a tradition for at least the last couple of years.  Northfield youth who take lessons from St. Olaf music students were invited to participate.  This year, five students performed: two on violin, one on viola, one on snare drum and one on cello.

Sebastian played the Chorus from "Judas Maccabaeus" by Handel.  I could tell when he missed two notes by the expression on his face, but other than that I think he was pleased.  His favorite part was at the end, when he sampled a few types of cookies and chatted with his teacher.

Sebastian with his viola teacher, Kara Erstad.

The recital was held in a choir room in the Christiansen Hall of Music, named for F. Melius Christiansen, founder of the St. Olaf Choir.  F. Melius is best known for his work with the choir, but when he came to St. Olaf in 1903, he was in charge of the band and the music department.  What hardly anyone knows, besides my dad and me, is that F. Melius and my great-grandfather, G. Oliver Riggs, were friends and contemporaries.

I became aware of this connection when I found a December 21, 1936, St. Cloud Daily Times article about rehearsals G. Oliver was conducting for an annual state band contest.  One of the contest pieces, "First Norwegian Rhapsody," was written by Christiansen.

"Dr. Christiansen and Director Riggs of St. Cloud have enjoyed a 25 year friendship," the article states.

I think F. Melius (born 1871) and G. Oliver (born 1870) likely met in the early 1900s when Christiansen began taking the St. Olaf Band on tours to west-central Minnesota towns including Crookston, where G. Oliver directed bands before ending up in St. Cloud.  F. Melius went on most of these band tours until 1920; his choir tours began in 1912.  The last time I know F. Melius was in Crookston during G. Oliver's tenure there as band director was in February 1915.

I imagine G. Oliver would get a kick out of hearing that his great-great grandson performed in a recital in a hall named after his friend F. Melius.  G. Oliver also might be pleased to know that his descendants are continuing the family tradition of recitals, which goes back to G. Oliver and his wife, Islea, who began teaching piano when she was a high school student in Aledo, Ill. 

Islea continued to give lessons wherever they lived, and she often hosted recitals for her students in her home.  I don't know what kind of refreshments my great-grandmother liked to serve to her students and their parents, but I'm guessing the treats were homemade. 

A program from a 1911 recital in Aledo, Ill., at the home of Islea's mother, Flora Bassett Graham. My grandfather, Ronald Riggs, played a duet with his mom, and G. Oliver also performed.

It gives me a warm feeling to think that recitals really haven't changed that much in a century.  Students still have to persevere, summon their courage, and trust that they will gain internal benefits by participating.  The tangible benefits of parental hugs and cookies are a great incentive, too.

1 comment:

  1. This is great! Kali will be taking piano lessons starting in the fall with my former piano teacher. My dad and I, too, are pack rats and save every program, ticket stub, etc. I have huge Rubbermaid bins for each of my girls with all of their archives. Thanks for sharing! :)