I’m sure not every parent in attendance appreciated the coolness of the event, either. Some might have preferred to stay home – it was a Friday evening after a long, busy week, the school was crowded, and – gasp – they had to pay to attend (note: the cost was the same as any high school sporting event – I’m just sayin’).
|Music students from eight schools, including Northfield, assemble for the concert.|
|Where’s Louisa? She’s in the center of the massed band, warming up on her French horn.|
Sure, the trumpets in the massed band weren’t spot-on (there were 14 students on the trumpet 1 part and 44 trumpets in all), the clapping by the massed choir in the gospel song wasn’t uniform, and a couple of the select choir’s songs sounded similar to my untrained ears, but hey – there were 800 student musicians from eight schools gathered in the gymnasium! That’s 800 students who share a passion for music – what’s not to love about that? What about that doesn’t deserve accolades and inspire optimism for our future?
|Participating schools were Academy of Holy Angels, Chanhassen, Chaska, Farmington, New Prague, Northfield, Red Wing and Shakopee|
I know this because I know my history – my personal history as a former high school and college band member, but also my family’s music history. I have met elderly men who once played for my great-grandfather, G. Oliver Riggs, in the St. Cloud Municipal Boys’ Band, and they’ve told me with emotion in their voices how much that experience they had as young boys influenced their character and their approach to life.
So when I saw those student musicians in the gym, I also saw all those students who came before them, and when I saw those guest directors step up on the podium – including Timothy Diem, director of the University of Minnesota marching band and assistant director of the U of M bands; and Timothy Mahr, director of the St. Olaf College Band – I saw my great-grandfather, and I saw my grandfather Ronald, and I saw my great-uncle, Percy.
It was easy to make the connection to my grandfather, Ronald, because some of the students who participated last night were from Farmington High School. Ronald was the band director in Farmington from 1933-36, and 76 years ago, on April 17, 1936, Farmington High School hosted a similar festival.
Five hundred band and choral students from six schools participated in the Mississippi Valley League Music Festival that day: Cannon Falls, Farmington, Hastings, Lake City, Wabasha and Zumbrota. Ronald directed the Farmington band in its afternoon performance, and G. Oliver directed one of the massed band pieces in the evening finale concert. Another guest conductor was James Robert Gillette, director of the Carleton College Symphony Band.
|A St. Paul Dispatch photo and article previewing the festival.|
|One of the massed band pieces was directed by my great-grandfather, G. Oliver Riggs.|
“Performing before a jammed auditorium, the massed glee clubs and massed band, made up of six schools, sang and played with rare skill and splendor ... there was no competition between schools, no prizes; hence all the schools went home feeling they had gained – and not lost – something. We who attended the grand festival caught the spirit of cooperation from the young artists, and we came away with a feeling that it was fine and good to have been there.”
I would conclude there, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that one of the Farmington students in that 250-member massed band at the 1936 festival was a flute player named Eleanor Johnson. I’m grateful that she had a positive experience in the band. You see, Eleanor was my paternal grandmother; she married Ronald 1 1/2 years later, after he had moved to Thief River Falls to direct the high school band in that northern Minnesota town.
|Eleanor Johnson Riggs, 1919-1980|