Sunday, July 6, 2014

Echoes of the Fort Snelling Military Band

We don’t attend the Northfield Public Library’s summer Books & Stars events regularly now like we did when the kids were younger. But I couldn’t pass up the chance last Wednesday to take my great-grandfather – the small cardboard version – to hear the Fort Snelling History Players Band perform at Bridge Square. Steve and Elias also came along for the fun.

G. Oliver Riggs meets the members of the Fort Snelling History Players Band.
I had never heard of the band until I saw an advertisement for the event. I was expecting a larger group; turns out, it was a talented duo. The two musicians kept the crowd entertained by demonstrating official calls on a fife and drum and by performing some marches and popular tunes of the past. They also explained the role of musicians at Fort Snelling, from the time before Minnesota became a state through World War II.

It was a beautiful evening for an outdoor concert! The event was sponsored by the library, the Northfield Historical Society and the Northfield Public School’s Community Services Division, and was also supported by a grant from the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council.

G. Oliver never played in the Fort Snelling Military Band, but he was well acquainted back in the day with the ensemble and its longtime director, Carl Dillon. I’m not sure when the two men met, but I know their friendship went back at least as far as May of 1924. That’s when Dillon brought his Third U.S. Infantry Band of Fort Snelling to St. Cloud to perform in a public concert with the St. Cloud Municipal Boys’ Band during a Minnesota Bandmasters Association convention.

At the time, G. Oliver described the Fort Snelling band as “easily the classiest band in Minnesota today.”

Dillon and G. Oliver worked together for several years as members of the Minnesota Bandmasters Association, and both men served as president of the organization – G. Oliver in 1929, and Dillon in 1928. I don’t know what happened to Dillon in the 1930s, or how long he stayed with the band. I am sure there’s a way to find out, but I will leave that to other researchers for now. The life and career of one overachieving bandmaster is more than enough to keep me busy.

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