My friend Randy is a freelance editor who writes about residential and commercial architectural design, among other topics. He's also the person who convinced me to start the My Musical Family blog. It's been interesting to see how often our two fields of interest – music and architecture – intersect, in the present day as well as in my great grandfather's time. Our visit yesterday reminded me of a topic I've wanted to write about since I made a fun discovery two weeks ago.
No, I have not yet come across a connection between G. Oliver Riggs and Frank Lloyd Wright – the subject of Randy's master's thesis – but it's only a matter of time. G. Oliver Riggs, I've decided, is the Kevin Bacon of the late 19th/early 20th century; somehow, in some way, important people of that time can be connected to G. Oliver (perhaps that's a topic for a future blog post).
I was excited, however, to tie together some loose ends regarding G. Oliver and another architect, his friend Bert D. Keck.
G. Oliver and me in front of the Keck-designed Crookston Carnegie Library.
When I went to Crookston in June, I discovered that Keck designed several important buildings in that northern Minnesota town, including some that are listed on the National Historic Register of Places: the 1907 Crookston Carnegie Library (one of few Carnegie libraries designed by local architects); the Morris building, a former jewelry store; and the former Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, a 1912 Gothic Revival style church designed with exceptional musical acoustics.
This photo of the Cathedral is from the website of the Prairie Skyline Foundation, which is working to preserve the historic, vacant building.
I knew that Keck was a friend of G. Oliver's. I even have a copy of a social notice from an old Crookston paper that mentions Keck and his wife having dinner at the home of G. Oliver and his wife, Islea. Although I figured they'd met in Crookston, I also had a nagging feeling that I'd seen Keck's name turn up somewhere else in my research.
I tucked away the feeling until two weeks ago, when I read a story about Keck online in the December 2009 newsletter of the Prairie Skyline Foundation, a Crookston organization that works to redevelop and revitalize the town's historic buildings. The article, reprinted from a "Compendium of History and Biography of Polk County," explained that Keck was born in Louisa County, Iowa, in 1876, and grew up in Mercer County, Ill.
When I read this, I was so surprised I had to reread the sentence. Why? Because G. Oliver also was born in Louisa County, Iowa, six years before Keck. G. Oliver's parents grew up in Mercer County, Ill., and returned there in 1890, and G. Oliver lived in the Joy/Aledo area in the early 1890s, during his summer breaks from teaching at the Iowa Wesleyan Conservatory of Music. Clearly, the two men knew each other before Crookston.
Then, while looking in my files for information about the Aledo Cornet Band in preparation for writing my July 2 post, I found a newspaper clipping in the May 5, 1896 Aledo Democrat that listed all the Aledo band members. They were: W. H. Graham, William Keck, Director G. O. Riggs, E.M. Bigelow, James Middaugh, Claude Abercrombie, Carl Roberts, W. J. Graham, Bert Keck, John P. Graham, Louie Elhart, Roy Kirkpatrick, I. Robins and Tom Abercrombie.
Mystery solved. Not only did Keck and G. Oliver know each other before G. Oliver moved to Crookston in October 1898, Keck had played in G. Oliver's Aledo band!
Keck was the same age as G. Oliver's younger sister, Daisy. After he graduated from Aledo High School, he pursued further studies in architecture. Did G. Oliver's early success as a band director in Crookston inspire Keck to move there in 1902? Maybe.
G. Oliver directed bands in Crookston from 1898 until 1909, moved away for several years, then returned and directed adult and juvenile bands from 1914-1918. Keck designed numerous buildings in Crookston during the same time period. Besides the ones I mentioned earlier, he designed the (old) Crookston high school building, the (former) armory, and the Elks lodge, at 109 and 113 N. Main. Keck also designed buildings in North Dakota and in Florida, where he moved in 1925.
I don't know if the men kept in touch after they moved away from Crookston, or whether they remained friends. I'm not sure what instrument Keck played in Aledo, and I don't know if he ever played in any of G. Oliver's Crookston bands. That's how this research seems to work. I answer one question and create many more. Now I am intrigued to know more about Keck, who, like G. Oliver, played an influential role in Crookston's cultural development.
I can't end this blog post about music and architecture without at least referencing the quote "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture," which according to this piece may have originated with comedian Martin Mull. It does raise the question: What is writing about music and architecture like?
If you can connect G. Oliver and Kevin Bacon in your suggestion, you get extra credit points.