Showing posts with label Francis Gonnella. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Francis Gonnella. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

My Latest eBay Finds

I’ve been having too much fun lately buying items on eBay that relate to my book project. Within the past week, I’ve become the owner of two photos and one concert program. G. Oliver Riggs and his bands aren’t featured in any of the items, but all three items are from the time period in which the St. Cloud Municipal Boys’ band was well-known.

It’s easier to show and tell, instead of just tell, so here goes:

Item No. 1: a 1928 photo of the Lincoln Junior High School girls’ band of Minneapolis

Lincoln Junior High School Girls’ Band; credit Norton & Peel Commercial Photography, Minneapolis
The back of the photo says: This band was a prize winner in the Minnesota school band contest of 1927, taking first place among competing bands from junior high schools, grammar schools and other public and private schools below senior high age. The girl musicians will again compete at the Minnesota School Band Contest to be held in Minneapolis May 12-18 under the auspices of the University of Minnesota, and if they repeat their success of last year they will take part in the National School Band Contest to be held at Joliet, Illinois, May 24-26.

This raises some questions for me, including: When did Minnesota start holding school band contests? School band programs were still pretty new in 1927 – that’s one of the years that G. Oliver worked for C. G. Conn, helping organize school bands in Minnesota and other states. Other questions: Did the school also have a boys’ band? How many bands competed? How did the Lincoln girls do? Did they go to nationals? If not, which band or bands did?

Also, I can’t help but wonder – did the French horn player in the center of the front row feel bad that she wore the wrong color of pantyhose? It makes me think of Louisa’s first band concert in middle school, when she showed up wearing the wrong color of shirt. As I recall, she decided it was my fault for not knowing the appropriate dress code. It did make it easier to spot her among the other French horn players, though!

Item No. 2: a 1938 photo of an unnamed, non-Native American band marching in a parade wearing headdresses and fringed costumes

Costumed band performing in St. Paul, September 1938; credit Acme News Pictures, New York City
I am curious about this band, and this parade. Where were the members from, and why were they wearing these costumes? I will have to see if I can find mention of this event in one of the St. Paul newspapers.

The parade took place seven years before G. Oliver organized the first band at Red Lake High School, on the Red Lake reservation, made up of both Ojibwe and white boys and girls. So far, I’ve not been able to locate any photos of that band. I’m not sure one was ever taken. But who knows – maybe eBay will come through for me.

Item No. 3: a 1924 program from the State Association of County Attorneys luncheon at the State Reformatory in St. Cloud
Page 3 of the program, which lists the songs played by the prison band and orchestra
This four-page program is from a Jan. 18, 1924 event at the prison, and it cracks me up because it is sprinkled with quotes from Shakespeare, Tennyson and names I don’t even recognize. The items on the menu are apparently named after attorneys and include fried fillet of pike, stuffed roast young duck, spiny lobster salad and pineapple pie with whipped cream. Was prison food way better then, or was the event catered?

Music was provided by the reformatory band and orchestra, directed by Francis Gonnella. I had read somewhere that Gonnella formed the prison band in 1924, but he must have formed it earlier than that, going by the date of this ambitious concert program.

Like most of the band-related things I find online, these items will inspire me to do further research. And that’s a mostly good thing — although there are days when I wish I could buy all the answers on eBay.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Pinch-Hitting for G. Oliver

I’ve been on a blogging sabbatical for the past week and a half while recovering from outpatient surgery.  I suppose I should have arranged for some guest bloggers to fill in for me, following the example of my great-grandfather, G. Oliver Riggs, when he became ill in late 1936.  Of course, G. Oliver did not enlist guest bloggers to substitute for him – veteran band members and prominent band directors took up the baton and directed the St. Cloud Municipal Boys’ Band in his absence.

G. Oliver was hospitalized after Christmas 1936 with heart problems.  Instead of canceling the first week of post-holiday rehearsals, my grandfather, Ronald Riggs, and assistant band director Earl Bohm stepped in to coordinate practices for the three band groups: the beginners, the junior band, and the concert band.  My grandfather was directing the high school band in Thief River Falls, Minn., at the time, and Bohm was a boys’ band alumnus and a student at St. Cloud State University.

(A side note: Bohm later became a music teacher in the St. Louis Park school district, and both he and my grandfather were inducted into the Minnesota Music Educators Hall of Fame.) 

It was a busy schedule to juggle, and it’s not hard to see why the 66-year-old bandmaster might have worn himself out.  The band rehearsed on Tuesday evenings, the concert band rehearsed on Wednesday evenings, the beginners on cup mouth piece instruments and drums rehearsed on Saturday mornings, and the beginners on reed instruments rehearsed on Saturday afternoons.

When it became clear that G. Oliver would remain in the hospital for several weeks, a plan was devised to bring in weekly guest conductors to direct the concert band.  Bohm continued to rehearse the younger groups, with help from boys’ band veterans Bill Goblish, Tommy Pederson and Leonard Jung.
Gerald Prescott, director of University of Minnesota Bands, in about 1938.
The first guest conductor was Phil Thielman, one of the first boys to play with G. Oliver when he organized the St. Cloud Boys’ Band in 1923.  Thielman played piccolo, flute and clarinet, he had studied with symphony artists in Minneapolis, and he had several years of experience directing school bands, according to a Jan. 4, 1937 article in the St. Cloud Daily Times.

Thielman was followed by Francis Gonnella, director of the well-regarded band at the St. Cloud reformatory (a topic which deserves a blog entry of its own sometime).  I couldn’t find a photo of Gonnella online, but the Minnesota Historical Society has three photos of the band in its collection, including this one from about 1920.

A longtime acquaintance of G. Oliver’s, Minnesota Bandmasters Association President William Allen Abbott, made a trip from Minneapolis to direct the band in mid-January.  Abbott, a St. Cloud Daily Times article noted, “is the conductor of three outstanding bands in the Twin Cities: the Minneapolis Working Boys Band, organized 33 years ago under Professor Heinzman; the Minneapolis South high school band, which twice has won the national school band contest; and the Gopher American Legion band.”  Abbott also directed the University of Minnesota band from 1931-32.

The final guest conductor was Gerald R. Prescott, who was director of bands at the University of Minnesota from 1932-1943, 1946-1950, and 1951-1960, and who was the first full-time director of the university’s marching band.

A St. Cloud Daily Times article about Prescott from Jan. 25, 1937.
Before taking the university job, Prescott was director of the high school band in Mason City, Iowa, which advanced to the national high school band contest in 1931.  G. Oliver knew of Prescott and admired his work, which is why he and his St. Cloud boys’ band stopped in Mason City on the way back from a convention in Des Moines that same year to serenade Prescott and his band (I mentioned this in an April 2010 blog post, Save the Northfield Depot!).

A few fun facts about Prescott: he became a good friend of my grandfather’s; he was elected as a member of the prestigious American Bandmasters Association in 1936, the year before he filled in for G. Oliver; and he was a friend of Iowa composer and band director (and ABA member) Karl King, who wrote the college march “Mighty Minnesota” in 1939 and dedicated it to Prescott.

As a way of thanking his substitutes, G. Oliver organized a St. Cloud Municipal Band concert in April 1937 spring at the Paramount Theatre and dedicated the first song, Henry Fillmore’s “Gifted Leadership,” to Abbott, Gonnella, Prescott, Riggs (Ronald) and Thielman.

The concert also featured a trio for cornets, Walter M. Smith's “Bolero,” played by Howard Pramann, William Goblish and Robert Kollman; the overture “Mignon” from the Opera Comique Mignon by Charles Louis Ambroise Thomas; and it concluded with John Philip Sousa’s march, “Semper Fidelis,” featuring the St. Cloud Cathedral Girls Drum Corps.
A program from the April 11, 1937 concert at the Paramount Theatre.
The band played two concerts that day, at 3 p.m. and 9 p.m.  G. Oliver was back!

And so am I.