Sunday, May 29, 2011

War, Remembrance and Service

The weekend edition of the Northfield News has a great story, “Trumpeting Our Fallen Heroes,” about the two Northfield High School trumpet players who will be featured at Monday’s Memorial Day program, “Tribute to All Veterans,” at the Northfield Area Veterans Memorial Park.

The trumpeters who auditioned for the honor of playing “Taps” are Helene Anglin and Erik Berthelsen, the son of a dear friend of mine.  Both young people said in the article that they understood the importance of the day because their grandfathers fought in World War II.

I plan to attend Monday’s 9 a.m. ceremony, and I look forward to hearing the band play (Louisa will be among the French horns).  Band Director Mary Williams noted in the news article that band members are encouraged but aren’t required to attend, and she’s proud that so many make it a priority.

She told Northfield News Managing Editor Jerry Smith, “While the high school bands wear many hats throughout the school year, playing for the Memorial Day service is one of the most important events we perform.  Music is especially important in this patriotic setting.”

I know my great-grandfather, G. Oliver Riggs, would heartily agree.  He played in or directed a band every year on Memorial Day (formerly Decoration Day) beginning in 1886, when he directed his first band in Esbon, Kansas at age 15.  In 1941, in the midst of World War II, he performed in and directed his 57th Decoration Day program as leader of the St. Cloud Municipal Band.

(I wrote about this, and my dad’s own tradition of playing “Taps” on Memorial Day, in last year’s blog post, “War, Peace and a Tradition of 'Taps.”)

I also am looking forward to attending Monday’s event because the featured speaker is Retired Army Major John Fleming.  John is the former Cubmaster for Pack 344 (his son and Elias are good buddies).   He served in Iraq from November 2005 to June 2007 as a military intelligence officer and retired from the Minnesota National Guard in January.  He now works at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri for the Office of Intelligence and Security.

I got to know John a few summers ago when he and I attended Cub Scout camp with our sons.  He reminds me a little of my friend Randy Brown, who retired from the Iowa National Guard in December.  Both men have the ability to command attention when projecting their voices – which is useful whether you’re speaking to a group of soldiers or a group of squirrelly Cub Scouts.

Randy writes the blog Red Bull Rising under the nom de plume Charlie Sherpa.
Randy with his reporter’s notebook.
He expected to deploy to Afghanistan last summer with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division.  For military paperwork reasons too complicated to explain here, he was removed from the list, and he retired from uniformed service in December.

Because he’s working on a book about the Red Bull deployment, Randy decided to travel to Afghanistan as a journalist.  As I write this, he is embedded with his former unit, using his skills and knowledge to “explain the experiences of citizen-soldiers and their families, and how they relate to a larger picture.”

He explained his decision in the last couple paragraphs of his May 17 post, Going to Afghanistan:


So, at an age most men live lives of quiet desperation, I have chosen to be a man of my words. I still have some Red Bull stories to tell. I need to illuminate why we did what we did--soldiers, families, the U.S. National Guard. I owe it to my buddies. I owe it to our wives and husbands. Most of all, I owe it our kids--and the world we intend to leave behind.

Randy will return to Iowa in June.  On this Memorial Day weekend, I am thinking of him and his family, and of all those who have served their country.  Let’s hope we leave behind a better, more peaceful world for future generations.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Rousing Finale to the 2011 Spring Concert Season

Thursday night’s concert at Greenvale Park Elementary School concluded the flurry of end-of-the-school year musical activities.  According to my unofficial tally (it’s possible I’m forgetting something), my three children performed in seven concerts in three weeks.  No wonder I haven’t had much time for blogging lately!  Here are the highlights, working backward:

Thursday, May 19: Elias performed with the fourth grade choir at the GVP choir and band concert.  Favorite moments: the reprise of “Fifty Nifty United States” (the fourth graders learned that song this year for their Circus of the States show) and the band’s performance of the “Minnesota Rouser,” while marching around the gym, directed by the ever-enthusiastic Roger Jenni.
Elias performs with the fourth grade choir.
Tuesday, May 17: Sebastian performed at a concert given by the middle school and elementary school orchestras.  Due to a scheduling error on my part, Steve and I didn’t attend because we had tickets to Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings at the State Theatre in Minneapolis.  I was sorry to miss Seb’s concert, but I was blown away by the energy of Jones and the talent of the band members.  We sat a few rows back from Seb’s jazz band director at the concert.  Maybe the middle school band will do a Dap Kings number next year?  That would be amazing.

Seb went to the Dairy Queen after his concert with his aunt, uncle and cousins, including Hannah, a fifth grader who won a savings bond in the Singing Tree Cello competition.  Congratulations, Hannah!

Thursday, May 12: Sebastian performed at the middle school bands’ spring concert.  He made us proud with his solo in the “Black Forest Overture.”  All the bands played well, but I thought the seventh grand band was particularly on that night.

Friday, May 6: As members of the Northfield Youth Choirs groups Anima and Troubadours, Louisa and Sebastian performed in an evening concert with the Platteville Children’s Choir at the Cathedral of Our Merciful Savior in Faribault.  My contribution:  I made two pans of lasagna for the pre-concert potluck dinner the Northfield choir members shared with the Wisconsin singers.

Monday, May 2: Louisa performed with the symphonic band at the high school band concert.  Her band’s rendition of Fireflies, a song by Owatonna native Adam Young of Owl City, was my favorite.  I also was impressed with the concert band’s performance of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.”

Sunday, May 1: It wouldn’t seem like spring without attending the Northfield Youth Choirs’ spring concert at St. Olaf College’s Boe Chapel.  Louisa had a solo in the welcome song, and Steve is still talking about her choir’s performance of “Bring Me Little Water, Silvy” by Huddie Ledbetter (aka Lead Belly).  Seb’s choir, the Troubadours, did a nice job, too, and I loved the younger choir’s song “Trolls” by Clifford Crawley.

Thursday, April 28: Louisa got to spend her birthday evening at the high school and middle school jazz bands concert.  Seb’s band performed three numbers, including one written by his director, Ethan Freier.  Watching the talented high school drummer Jon Fried perform was a concert bonus.
Sebastian is one of eight trumpets in the middle school jazz band.
Although the My Musical Family spring concert series has concluded, that doesn’t mean we’ll take a break from music this summer.  Louisa will perform at the Pacific International Children’s Chorus Festival (PICCFEST) in Eugene, Ore. June 21-27 with the Northfield Youth Choirs.  Sebastian is in rehearsals for the musical 13, a Northfield Arts Guild production that runs for two weekends in July.  And, Louisa, Seb and Elias all will continue with music lessons this summer.

That should provide me with plenty of blogging material until school starts again next fall.  Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Picturing the Gopher Prairie Boys’ Band

My dad and I don’t have the greatest success rate with historical museums.  Occasionally we find what we’re seeking.  Usually, though, we leave empty handed, which is disappointing, or we come away with something we hadn’t expected to find, which can be fun, but can lead to more searching.

Last week, we had a rare success story – and an unexpected find.

I was in Sauk Centre, the hometown of author Sinclair Lewis (best known for his novel Main Street), working on a travel story for the Star Tribune.  I had lunch with my parents, and then my mom and I explored the downtown while my dad met with a friend.  I decided to stop in at the Sauk Centre Area Historical Society to see if they had a photo of a boys’ band from 1927.

The society is located in the lower level of the Bryant Library, which Lewis frequented as a boy.
“To the Bryant Library ... with lively memory of the days when its books were my greatest achievement.”
I figured it was a long-shot, but it seemed silly not to at least inquire.  My great-grandfather, G. Oliver Riggs, organized a 40-piece boys’ band in Sauk Centre in March 1927 when he was working for C.G. Conn as a real-life music man.  I had a couple of newspaper clippings from the Sauk Centre Herald about the organization of the band, and I knew G. Oliver hadn’t stayed to direct it  – the city’s band committee hired a man from Alexandria named P.W. Hanson to lead the band.  I hoped the museum had more information and, just possibly, a photo.

The society’s director, Marilyn Uhlenkamp, was out for the day, so I filled out a form explaining what I was seeking.  She called me the next day.  Yes, she had a photo of the band, from May 1927.
A photo of the 1927 Sauk Centre Boys’ Band, with names of all the members.
She also had interesting news: a man in his 90s who had played in the band had stopped in at the museum last summer.  She thought he was still alive and living in St. Cloud.

She mailed me a copy of the band photo, and the Sauk Centre Herald article from July 27, 2010, about the man, Wayne Luedtke, who played the clarinet and is pictured in the photo.  He joined the band in 1927 and stayed in it through 1930.

I hope to contact him to find out more about his experience, and to see if he remembers G. Oliver’s early involvement with the band.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Reminiscing about the Boys in the Band

One reason my dad and I are still plugging away at our G. Oliver Riggs research is that it’s about more than just G. Oliver – it’s also about telling the stories of the boys in the band, particularly those from St. Cloud.

Most were about 10 or 11 when they joined the band, under G. Oliver’s direction, and they progressed as musicians as they grew into men.  Many who graduated from high school during World War II went straight into the service.  Some never came home.  The anguish of losing so many men, so young, permeated the community and is still keenly felt among those who remember their names and faces.

I was reminded of this last week, when my parents and I had the great pleasure to meet a delightful woman named Laverne Jung.
Dad with Laverne Jung at the golf club in Melrose, Minn.
Laverne is the sister-in-law of Leonard Jung, a student of G. Oliver’s who went on to a distinguished career in the U.S. Navy Band.  Dad and I visited Leonard in D.C. three years ago.  Leonard’s older brother Herb also served in the Navy band, and died at a young age due to asthma complications.  Laverne married another Jung brother, Richard, who died five years ago.

Richard played cornet in the St. Cloud Municipal Boys’ Band.  According to Laverne, Richard thought of himself as the black sheep of the family because he didn’t go into a music-related career.  He became a photographer and had a studio in Melrose for 20 years.

Laverne grew up in St. Cloud and knew of the Jung family (her sister had a crush on Leonard and would bike by his house).  Richard was 11 years older than Laverne; she didn’t date him until after the war.  In high school, she went with a classmate named Bill Sherin, who also played cornet in the St. Cloud Municipal Boys’ Band.

Laverne graduated from St. Cloud Cathedral High School in 1943.  Sherin, the young man she thought she'd marry, joined the 217th Coast Artillery Band, and then got into the Air Corps.  He crashed his plane and died while training in California.

“He was one of the first Cathedral students to die in the war,” she recalled.

As she told us this story, I could tell it had been heartbreaking for her, at only 18 years old, to suffer that kind of loss.  She and others in her generation had to grow up quickly.

I remembered hearing Sherin’s name mentioned before, possibly by Leonard.  My dad pulled out a concert program from February 1940, and to Laverne’s surprise, we showed her that Sherin was listed as one of the soloists that day (his last name was misspelled on the program).
Laverne and my dad spent some time reminiscing about people and places from St. Cloud’s earlier days.  Laverne’s grandmother had been a midwife and had delivered about 3,000 babies in the St. Cloud area – including Laverne’s husband and all his siblings except Leonard, the youngest, who was born in the hospital.

Laverne grew up near Lake George, where she loved to ice skate.  She remembers seeing the St. Cloud Boys’ Band march in parades.  She didn’t really know G. Oliver, but she sat next to him once at an event at the Paramount Theater.

“Everyone in St. Cloud knew who he was.  The boys really respected him,” she said. 

Some were also scared of him.  But Laverne’s husband Richard must have been willing to risk G. Oliver’s wrath.  Once, Richard had told her, he and a friend skipped band practice and hid their instruments in a culvert.

Richard died in 2006 at age 92.  I’m sorry I never got to meet him.  But I am grateful for the chance to talk with Laverne and gain another perspective on the boys in the band.