Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Doc Putnam’s Gold Star Band

When I wrote last month about how my great-grandfather’s Grand Forks band played at the 1909 North Dakota State Fair (see the blog post No Fair!), I knew I was missing something.  I knew that G. Oliver had at least one other connection to the North Dakota State Fair, but I couldn’t recall what it was.

The answer came to me last week, when I was researching my post about Fairmont, and ran across the name of C.S. Putnam.

Clarence Simeon Putnam was a Fargo doctor who gave up his practice in 1903 when his downtown office burned, five days after his insurance had lapsed.  It was a fortuitous fire for fans of band music.  According to the North Dakota State University’s Gold Star Marching Band website, Putnam got a job teaching arithmetic at what was then the North Dakota Agricultural College.  A longtime cornet player, he also took over direction of the college’s 14-member ROTC cadet band in the spring of 1903.

Putnam was born in Vermont in 1859.  His dad had led a Union regimental band during the Civil War and had died during Sherman’s March to the Sea (as explained on this NDSU history department page).  Putnam had pursued an interest in music for years, in addition to his medical practice, so the career change wasn’t quite as extreme as it seems.  You can see a photo of Doc Putnam, circa 1915, by clicking this NDSU Archives link.

During the time Putnam began directing the cadet band, G. Oliver was directing bands 70 miles north of Fargo, in the town of Crookston, and he was doing a lot of solo work, on both the cornet and the violin.  I don’t know how or when he met Putnam, but they clearly had met by the summer of 1908, because that’s when G. Oliver played in Putnam’s band.

G. Oliver Riggs played a cornet solo at this 1908 concert.
G. Oliver was invited to play cornet solos with Putnam’s band during its engagement at the 1908 North Dakota State Fair in Fargo (for a time, the fair was held in Fargo in even-numbered years and in Grand Forks in odd-numbered years).  He also served as the band’s assistant director.

According to a preview article that ran in the Fargo Morning Call/Fargo Daily Argus, the Putnam Band was to give a free, pre-fair concert on July 19, 1908, at the Grand Theatre in Fargo.  The band members would appear in their new uniforms for the first time, and with several new instruments.  Numbers on the program included the Zampa Overture by Ferdinand Herold; the sextet from the opera Lucia di Lammermoor by Gaetano Donizetti; and a cornet solo by G. Oliver, Facilita by John Hartmann.  The other featured soloist was J.W. Jeffers, a euphonium player from St. Paul. 


A concert preview with a photo of G. Oliver Riggs, on left.
I found a few other newspaper clippings in the family scrapbook about Putnam’s band.  One was an article that ran during the fair.  It previewed the day’s events (that particular day was Old Settler’s Day at the fairgrounds – not a theme you see anymore), which included a band concert at the Old Settler’s headquarters tent.  It explained that the band had given an excellent concert the previous evening, before and after the auto races.

“Overtures, marches, and popular airs were played and the crowds gave evidence of their appreciation by spontaneous and generous applause ... (G. Oliver) pleased thousands of visitors at the fair grounds by playing a beautiful cornet solo, the Air “Facilita” by Hartmann during the band concert.”

Another article from the Fargo Call described a gathering of the band after the state fair had ended.  G. Oliver “took the floor and in a characteristic speech, presented the genial doctor with an order for an elegant gold medal, the design to be selected by the recipient.  On account of the lack of time the members of the band were unable to get just what they wanted and an order was placed with a local jeweler.”

Reading this left me with two questions: what did the writer mean by a characteristic speech; and, did Putnam ever order his medal?

The final clipping I found had a goofy headline and subhead: Will Help Some; Dr. C.S. Putnam Says G. O. Riggs Ought to be Able to Do Things.  The headline contained almost as many words as the entire news item, which appears to have been published in the Grand Forks newspaper after G. Oliver had taken a job directing the band in that city.

“In a letter to Fred Redick of this city, Dr. C.S. Putnam, at the head of Putnam’s band of Fargo, says in part: ‘Am glad you have G. O. Riggs with you as director.  You ought to have a cracker-jack band soon and the more the merrier.  He ought to be able to do good work with you and I heartily wish you success.’”

G. Oliver wasn’t the only one who could do good work with a cracker-jack band; Putnam could have been talking about himself.  Except for a few years’ absence from the band, from 1914-17,  Putnam directed the NDSU band until he died in 1944.  The band website doesn’t say what Putnam did during his break, but it does describe him as a dynamic leader.  It also mentions that Putnam incorporated “Gold Star” into the band’s name in 1923-24, when it received a presidential citation and a Gold Star for earning its third consecutive 100 percent inspection rating as an ROTC unit.

Other interesting things I learned about Putnam are that he arranged the music for the official North Dakota State Song, the North Dakota Hymn, and he wrote the music for the NDAC alma mater, the Yellow and the Green.  The university’s Carnegie Library was renamed Putnam Hall in 1951.

1 comment:

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