Saturday, July 31, 2010

Singing the Dog Gone Blues

We had our 16-year-old dog, Sparky, put to sleep this week.  Steve and I adopted him from a shelter 15 years ago, on July 1, 1995, and he's helped us raise all three of our kids.  He loved to lick their toes when they were babies; he was protective of them when they were toddlers; he never missed a chance to clean up any macaroni and cheese they spilled on the floor, or sniff out goodies left unattended on the coffee table. 

He wasn't the kind of dog to play ball, or do tricks, and he couldn't get around very well during the last few years, as his arthritis hobbled him, but he was happy just to be around us.  Although he was mostly deaf and blind at the end of his life, he still seemed to be able to hear Sebastian practicing his trumpet.

Sparky napping on the dining room floor earlier this year.

I don't know if dogs have much of an appreciation for music, but I know plenty of musicians who appreciate dogs.  My great-grandparents, G. Oliver and Islea Riggs, appeared to be dog people.  I know this because there are several photos of their dogs in the family scrapbook and photo books, with notations like, "My pal."

There's even a dog license pasted into the scrapbook for a dog named Dick that the family must have had when they lived in Crookston.  I can't find a photo of Dick, but I enjoyed reading the personal note on the 1904 license, which cost $1.00: "One of the best dogs that ever pointed a chicken." 

I'm sure there's a good story behind that, but G. Oliver wrote no further explanation.

1904 Crookston dog license for "Dick."

It appears that the family had several different dogs in the early to mid-1900s.  One of my favorite photos is of my grandfather Ronald, his brother Percy and sister Rosalie with their collie, Prince.  Prince reminds my of the wonderful collie my brother and I had growing up on Lake Brophy, named Duffy.

Percy, Ron and Rosalie with their dog Prince in Crookston, Minn.

Other dogs that appear in photos are Laddie, Fritz and Toby:

Laddie, "new member of the family," March 25, 1918



People who knew Islea as a piano teacher in St. Cloud recalled her having a small dog with her during lessons.  I'm not sure if it was Toby, or another small dog. 

Toby, G. Oliver and Islea

I hope my great-grandparents had many happy memories and funny stories about their dogs, just like we have from our years with Sparky.  

Although it broke our hearts to say goodbye, we are better people for having received the unconditional love of such a faithful companion.

Peace, Sparky.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Answer is Blowin' in the Wind Band

As the Vintage Band Festival 2010 approaches, it occurs to me that the Aug. 5-8 event is in some ways like a mash-up of Woodstock and "The Music Man."  Thousands of concertgoers are expected to flock to the historic river town of Northfield to peacefully celebrate a love of music in an outdoor setting.  Instead of rocking to Creedence Clearwater Revival, though, they will be enjoying a revival of band music from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Some bands will play music from the late 1800s and early 1900s, when my great-grandfather, G. Oliver Riggs was a soloist and bandleader.

The festivals aren’t so different, when you think about it.  Consider these comparisons between the 1969 Woodstock Music and Art Festival and the 2010 Vintage Band Festival:

                        Woodstock                       Vintage Band Festival
Date:             Aug. 15-18, 1969                Aug. 5-8, 2010
Attendees:     400,000                              12,000+ expected
Performers:   32 acts                                25 bands playing 100 concerts
Venue:           dairy farm                           city of Cows, Colleges, Contentment
Theme:          social harmony                   musical harmonies and melodies
U.S. troops:  in Vietnam                          in Iraq and Afghanistan
Bohemian:     clothing                               wind band
Extras:           drugs, nudity, dancing      vintage baseball game, dancing
Free:               love                                       admission
Bob Dylan:    didn’t perform                   not expected to perform
More info:      1970 documentary            festival website.

Anyone else want to take a stab at coining a phrase for this music festival comparison, besides The Answer is Blowin' in the Wind Band?  I'll give you another one to get you started: The Tunes, They Are a Changin.' 

Bonus points for incorporating more lyrics by Minnesota native and vintage rocker Bob Dylan.

Friday, July 23, 2010

A Perfect Evening in "Riggs" Park

Every so often in our lives, we experience a moment that we know will stay with us forever.  Last night I had one of those moments.

It was after I'd given my presentation on my great-grandfather, G. Oliver Riggs (insert huge sigh of relief here), and had handed the microphone to my dad, William.

Here I am explaining G. Oliver's history with Barden Park (originally called Central Park) and the St. Cloud Municipal Band.
Dad talked about what it had meant to him to play in the St. Cloud Municipal Band for four years, after only intending to play one concert in Barden Park.  He talked about how he, his brother Bob and sister Dana had lived within a block of the park, next door to Dr. Lewis (brother of author Sinclair Lewis), whose house is now the Alumni House.  The park wasn't Barden to them, he explained, it was their park, where they played as kids and attended band concerts.  It's the park he cut across on his way to classes at St. Cloud State University, where my grandfather Ronald directed the college band and was a political science professor for many years.

My dad, William, with his sister Dana and brother Bob.
Then came the moment: Dad took out G. Oliver's cornet and played "Danny Boy," also known as "Air from County Derry."  As the sweet, clear notes hung in the air, all I could think was how fortunate I felt to be there, hearing my dad pay tribute to his grandfather in the park that holds so many Riggs family memories.

I was so caught up in the moment, in fact, that it didn't occur to me until later that I should have taken a picture of him, playing the same Conn horn that G. Oliver gave to him when he was a kid, and that my dad played for many years before switching to trumpet.  Thankfully, my cousin Kristina videotaped the entire presentation, so our great-granddaughters and other descendants can one day can enjoy it, too.

Dad said afterward, self-deprecatingly, that G. Oliver would have advised him to "woodshed" the piece, meaning, to practice it more, but I think he nailed it with sincerity and grace.

After the presentation, the 20 Riggs family members in attendance enjoyed the band music, each other's company and the refreshing root beer and orange floats served at the concert.  And in a nod to the tradition (no longer observed) of honking car horns after each song, my aunt Dana and uncle Bob set off the panic buttons on their car alarms, letting the horns honk for a minute, before we departed the park with fond new memories.

The city may call it Barden Park, but I don't believe it.  It will always be Riggs Park to me.

We had a great showing of 20 family members – spanning three generations – at the concert Thursday evening.
G. Oliver with four great-great granddaughters.
Seb samples the orange float.
G. Oliver with four great-great grandsons.
A crowd of about 200 people showed up for the band concert.
The Barden Park Committee has restored the grounds and the granite bandstand.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Marching Band Memories

I've been busy preparing for the presentation I'm giving tomorrow evening on my great-grandfather, G. Oliver Riggs – 6:45 p.m. at Barden Park in St. Cloud – so I've had to neglect the blog for a few days.  But I felt compelled to write an entry today to call attention to a recent Star Tribune article about a reunion of Litchfield High School marching band alumni.  Marching band memories have been in my head ever since I read it.

I posted a link to the story on Facebook and got comments from a few of my Jefferson High School (Alexandria) marching band buddies, one of whom recalled how Litchfield was well-regarded during our time in band, and how elated we were the first time we beat them in a competition.

Here's a photo of the band from the 1985 Alexian yearbook, the year I was a junior.

I never got the chance to play for G. Oliver (he died 21 years before I was born), but I think my high school marching band experience is the closest I'll ever come to knowing what it was like to be in one of his bands.  Although I'm not one for boasting, I think it's fair to say that during my time in high school, under the direction of John Anderson, our marching band was stellar.  We worked hard, and the results showed – like in July 1985 when we won the coveted Grand Champion award at the Minneapolis Aquatennial Parade, despite the heat that was so intense, our black shoes almost stuck to the melted tar on the street, and despite losing a few members (temporarily) to heat exhaustion.

It was our strong performance that summer, in all our competitions, that led to an invitation for the band to play in the 1987 Cotton Bowl.  Unfortunately for those of us in the band who graduated in June 1986, the timing of the invite left us out of the fun – and gives us something to grouse about at class reunions.

We practiced our music and our formations on the lawn outside the high school and in the streets of Alexandria on summer evenings until our arms and embouchures were tired and our director was satisfied, the direction "Guide right!" drilled into our heads.  We learned discipline and focus; we learned teamwork and sacrifice.  We learned that every person makes a difference, and that differences are forgotten in the cause of something greater than you.  And we learned how to change our clothes quickly and covertly on a schoolbus after a parade.

When I'm at a parade now and I hear a drum cadence, it all comes flooding back, and I am tempted to fall into step and grab someone's marching horn.

Alexandria hosts the Vikingland Band Festival every June; the festival started that summer of 1985, between my junior and senior years.  Every few years, former band members are invited to return and play in the parade in an alumni band.  I wasn't able to attend in 2009 or 2004, but I did participate in 2001.  Marching down Broadway while playing the school song made me realize how much I miss playing my horn and being part of a musical group.

Here I am in the 2001 Alumni Band, marching above the date.  I would not have smiled and waved back in the high school band days; we never smiled or acknowledged the crowd during a parade.

Here's my dad giving 8-month-old Elias a great view of his first band parade.

Here's what Elias thought of his first band parade.

Maybe one of these summers the Jefferson High School Marching Band alumni can challenge the Litchfield Marching Band alumni and our other formal rivals to a contest.  It would be fun to get those competitive juices flowing again, and see how much we've retained from those glory days.

We could skip the quick-changing act on the buses, though.  Some experiences are better left to high school students.

Friday, July 16, 2010

A Vintage Ad for a Modern Blog

The Vintage Band Festival is approaching quickly, and the printed program for the four-day festival will be available early next week.  I got a chance today to peek at the pdf version and see how my ad turned out.

Yes, I have ventured into the world of advertising my blog.  It seemed like a smart move, given the audience that will be coming for the festival, set for Aug. 5-8 here in Northfield.

 Here's what the cover of the VBF 2010 program looks like, designed and printed by the talented folks at By All Means Graphics.

I told my multi-talented husband, Steve, what I envisioned for my ad, and he cleverly designed it for me.  It's good to know he has career options if this doctor thing doesn't work out.

My ad is on page 25, amid the program schedule.  Seems like great placement.  It will be interesting to see if I get any more readers!

I do plan to blog every day of the festival, and our family is hosting two boys from the Helsinki Wind Band the evenings of Aug. 3 and 4.  The band plays a 1 p.m. concert at Bridge Square on the 5th and then leaves for the airport.

The festival is the same weekend as the opening of the Northfield Arts Guild's production of Romeo and Juliet in Central Park.  Steve and Louisa are both in the cast.  And Louisa, Seb and Elias will all perform shows that week as they wrap up their three-week Young People's Theater Workshop camp, run by the Northfield Arts Guild.

I'm tired already, thinking about how crazy that week will be.  But it will be a good crazy.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Entwining of Architecture and Music

I haven't had much time to blog lately, or at least haven't made it a priority.  It's easy to get distracted by all the non-musical summer activity at our house – like yesterday's nearby tornado – and it's fun to spend time with family and friends – like yesterday's visitors from Iowa, Randy and Anne.

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?

Any suggestions?

If you can connect G. Oliver and Kevin Bacon in your suggestion, you get extra credit points.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Lessons of Summer

All three of my kids have been taking weekly music lessons this summer.  They've been practicing regularly, if not always daily, and they seem to be enjoying practicing more than they do during the school year.  I suppose it's because our summer schedule is more relaxed and open.  During the school year, it's often a challenge to find an extra 20 or 30 minutes in the day that's not devoted to homework or after-school activities and events.

Sebastian plays trumpet and viola, Louisa plays French horn, and Elias plays piano. 

Louisa's taking French horn lessons from Mary Williams, who will be her band director at the high school this fall.  Ms. Williams is enthusiastic and encouraging, which makes it easier to convince Louisa to get out of bed for an 8:40 a.m. lesson – a cruel time for a teenager on summer vacation. 

(The promise of a post-lesson smoothie from Goodbye Blue Monday also seemed to provide some motivation this morning.)

Sebastian is taking trumpet lessons from Paul Beck, his sixth grade band teacher (who also directs the Northfield Community Band; the band's last concert is tonight at 7:30 p.m. on Bridge Square).  Seb's also taking viola lessons from Kara Erstad, the St. Olaf College student who gave him lessons during the school year.

Elias was hoping for a summer break from piano, but I convinced him it was a good idea to keep up his lessons with Dewayne Wee, an incredibly patient man who conveniently lives within biking distance of our house.

I know the amount of time my kids practice would not meet the standard of my great-grandfather, G. Oliver Riggs, who believed that beginning band students should practice a minimum of 30 minutes a day, and older students a minimum of 60 minutes a day.  I was reminded of his guidelines yesterday, when I read his June 1925 report to the St. Cloud band committee while researching at the Minnesota History Center library.

At the time of the report, G. Oliver had been director of the St. Cloud Municipal Band for two years and had formed a 164-member boys' band.  According to an article about the report, published in the St. Cloud Daily Times on June 3, 1925, G. Oliver had this to say about practicing:

"The boys in the Boys' band have been faithful about attending rehearsals but have not kept at their home practice as they should.  The parents of the boys, at times, have done fine in keeping their boys at their regular daily practice, but most of the time too many parents have neglected this and have fallen down on their part of the job.  It appears that too many parents have never understood and do not at present understand the great importance of daily practice at home for their boy, and that it is the parents' job to keep him at it."

It's reassuring to know that parents back in 1925 also had trouble getting their kids to put in the amount of practice time required to really progress as a musician.  It's also humbling to read G. Oliver's words and know he would not accept excuses – then or now – that families are too busy for something so important.

How do you keep your children motivated to practice?  Sometimes, it helps to have a goal, like a performance or recital.  Another article I found on microfilm yesterday, from the June 4 St. Cloud Daily Times, describes a recital that G. Oliver's wife, my great-grandmother Islea, organized for her 18 piano students.  It sounds like quite a recital – it included not just piano students, but also some saxophone players from G. Oliver's boys' band and a toe dancer (is that the same as a ballerina?).

Perhaps we should organize our own My Musical Family summer recital.  I think it sounds like fun. 

I am now accepting applications for any musicians or toe dancers out there who'd like to participate.  I'd also accept belly dancers.  I won't ask you how often you practice.

Friday, July 2, 2010

A Joyful Celebration

I found this 1894 Fourth of July celebration advertisement a few years ago in the Aledo (Ill.) Democrat and had to copy it because it amused me – partly because of the headline, and partly because of the description of the event's "amusements."

The ad is for a celebration in Joy, Ill., a small town where my great-grandfather, G. Oliver Riggs, lived during the summers in the early to mid-1890s (during the school year, he taught at the Iowa Wesleyan University's Conservatory of Music in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa).  G. Oliver's parents, Jasper and Rebecca McManus Riggs, had grown up in the Joy/New Boston area and returned to Joy in 1890, where Jasper ran a hardware store for many years.

Some words under "Amusements" are difficult to read, so I'll repeat the description here:

Sack Race, Wheelbarrow Race, Egg Race, Greased Pole, Women's Race, Young Ladies' Race, Fat Men's Race, Three Legged Race, Calathumpian Parade.  Liberal prizes to winners of races, and liberal prize for the best and second-best make-up in Calathumpians.

Buses to and from the grounds all day.  Plenty of good seats and water.  Three good eating stands that will serve lunch and dinners at reasonable prices.

Come to Joy and pass a really enjoyable day the 4th, and stay and see "Tony the Convict," at night at Crane's Hall.  Admission 25 cents.

I don't have much information about the Joy Cornet Band that performed on the 4th; who was in it, or what it played.  I don't think it's unreasonable to assume that G. Oliver was in it, but I'll need to do more research to confirm that.  I do know a bit more about "Tony the Convict," though.  It was a five-act drama performed that summer by young people in the community.  G. Oliver directed the music, and his future wife, Islea Graham, played the piano.  Money raised from admission went to the town's sidewalk fund.

I had to look up the term "Calthumpian," and according to the explanation on the Oxford University Press website, a Calthumpian Band was "made up of discordant instruments ‘such as tin horns, bells, rattles and similar instruments’" that performed on occasions like New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July.  

The summer of 1895, G. Oliver directed a cornet band in Aledo, a bigger town 7 miles east of Joy where my great-grandmother, Islea, grew up.  The Aledo Cornet Band performed several times during the city's day-long Fourth of July celebration, which took place at the courthouse.

The Aledo Democrat's July 9, 1895, description of the celebration is worth reading.  Here's a excerpt:

The people were allowed perfect freedom of the courthouse and they fully appreciated it.  The large building was thronged with visitors all day.  During the bicycle races the belfry tower, the roof and windows were filled with people.  In the evening they swarmed over the lawn and occupied the rooms on the north side.

The reading of the Declaration of Independence by Miss Lutie Chamberlain was closely listened to.  This feature of a program for Independence Day should never be omitted.  It is one of the grandest documents ever penned and all should be familiar with it. ...

The Aledo Band boys, in their spotlessly white uniforms, looked just too sweet – so the girls said.

It is a good thing to celebrate.  It attracts people to our city.  It promotes a better feeling among our own citizens.  It is a splendid lesson in patriotism to the young.  Let's do it again.

Hear, hear, Aledo Democrat!

Joy will celebrate the 4th.  I look forward to it.  Hope yours is wonderful, too.