A story of collaboration well before Broadening the Bridge, courtesy of St. Olaf archivist Jeff Sauve:
October 5, 2016, marks the 125th anniversary of the founding of the St. Olaf Band. And if that is not enough to celebrate, our long-time neighbor across the river, Carleton College, is celebrating its sesquicentennial. Both colleges have played interesting roles in each other’s storied history over the years, including the Band and its humble beginnings…
In its October 1891 monthly publication, the Manitou Messenger noted, “The students here have organized a brass band, styled the St. Olaf College Cornet Band. The band has fourteen members, who practice four times a week. This band should have been started long ago; and now that it is started, all should give it their hearty support.” With this short remark, the editor provided a rudimentary opening into better understanding how the Band became the first ever musical organization at the College.
Historical documents show that Monday, October 5, 1891, marks the day “when the idea first entered the heads of a few energetic young men to start a band.” Years later, in 1934, St. Olaf Prof. Henry “Hank” Thompson, a member of the Band in its inaugural year, recalled for the Manitou Messenger that the men gathered in the southwest tower room of the Old Main and organized the first band. According to Thompson, 21-year-old Grand Meadow, Minnesota, native Engebret A. Lee was the only member who could “read notes” and instructed “the entire band on the vagaries and idiosyncrasies of the ‘gob-stick’ and ‘slush pump.’ ”
Prof. Thompson said when an inventory of available instruments was made, the total properties of the band comprised two drums and a baritone owned by member John E. Haugen. He added, “Fortunately for the Ole musicians, the ‘town band’ had failed the year before and sold its instruments to Carleton College. When the latter organization abandoned its musical project, the Viking band purchased Carleton’s set of instruments.”
Indeed Carleton College attempted to organize a brass band in October 1890 after acquiring instruments from several Northfield citizens who were part of the town’s former band. Ten students at Carleton engaged 24-year-old Charles R. Vanderbelt to provide instruction twice a week.
Vanderbelt, a Geneseo, New York, native, had been a resident of Northfield for the past year where his sister, Mrs. Delia Scriver, resided. Her husband, Hiram Scriver, was a prominent merchant and the city’s first mayor. Vanderbelt was noted in the Northfield News in May 1891 as a “very successful instructor, possessing an enthusiastic love for music and with it the ability to interest others in its study.” Not only did he assist the Carleton Brass Band, but also led the local Acme Band in several concerts during the spring and summer of 1891. By September 1891, Vanderbelt had departed Northfield to attend the University of Michigan School of Dentistry. In his absence the Acme Band dissolved and apparently the Carleton Brass Band floundered, hence their well-worn instruments were made available to St. Olaf. The band continues to make history as well as a little smoke with all those birthday candles…
To learn more about the Band and its history, consider visiting the Heritage Room in the Buntrock Commons at St. Olaf College to view a large scale exhibit that will remain through December.