Interview with Dr. Lewis Marquardt
Conducted by Dr. Homer Rudolf
10 September 2004
Transcribed by Amanda Swenson
Editing and Proofreading by Marvin L. Hartmann
Prairie Public Collection
HR: Let’s start by having you give us your
name and where you were born.
LM: All right, my name is Lew Marquardt. I was born
in Jamestown, North Dakota.
HR: And where did your family come from in Russia?
LM: My father’s family came from the Black
Sea area of Russia. Primarily the village of Kandel, for grandfather
and Selz for grandmother, that’s on the Kurschurgan.
HR: And when did they come to the United States?
LM: They came to the U.S. in 1888.
HR: And settled where?
LM: Of course, like all the settlers, they came
to Eureka first and they made their way up to the Hague, North
Dakota area in Emmons County.
HR: What do we know about music that was being performed
LM: Music being performed in Russia is a large large
story, and it is difficult to condense it, and it’s difficult
to make generalities as you know. But generally we can say there
were at least two major traditions. One being primarily the Catholic,
the other being primarily the Protestant tradition. The Catholic
tradition is unique because being a German from Russia, most of
the Catholic services were sung in Latin, not in German. There
were special occasions where they would sing the old German hymns
and the German songs, but the masses or the services were almost
always in Latin. And very frequently the choir was in the choir
loft, singing away from the congregation. On the Protestant side,
the Lutherans, the Congregationalists, the other religionists,
would sort of sing more communally. They would answer their prayers
in a communal setting and very frequently they would get involved
with four part harmony. Something the Catholics did not spend
a lot of time on. Though, could sing when they needed to.
HR: What about instrumental music?
LM: Instrumental music is a very interesting tradition
to follow, because we’re not certain we know a lot about
them. Pictures tell us there were lots of bands. Lots of brass
bands, lots of wind bands, there were clarinets, there were even
some violins, or fiddles perhaps, we could say, in some of the
early bands. But when we come to the United States, the tradition
that we have left that we found today, generally one needs to
take a look at some of the dance bands that are over here. The
instruments that came over in the dance band tradition of course,
the clarinets were very popular from early on. The Volga German
people generally preferred to bring along the violin. The violin
or two violins would often play the lead part. Later the clarinets
would sort of take over that position. They also had an accordion,
everybody had an accordion, in the olden days. At first mostly
a button accordion, which was limited to a few major keys on the
very earliest ones. Uh, later on of course they expanded, and
very later on they turned into the piano accordions. The those
first button accordions, generally were accompanied by an instrument
called the Hack Brett, or we know it perhaps in English as the
dulcimer. A very unique instrument, but an instrument that is
not very common to the Black Sea Germans. Which is a curiosity.
(talking about nothing, laughter, making fun of
HR: What evidence do we have the traditions came
to the United States and Canada.
LM: Um, it is difficult for me to talk about the
Canadian tradition, I have not studied it that much. But we have
a good tradition of the instrumentalists in what I called the
Volga German community. Primarily, the present day states of Colorado,
Nebraska, Kansas, part of Wyoming. And the old Volga Germans who
came over here liked to play in a quartet fashion. That’s
a generality. But usually they would have their accordion, their
guitar. Sometimes they would have a pump organ, the old harmonium
that would be with them. And almost always they would have this
dulcimer, this Hack Brett. Later they would use the trombone.
But the traditions we have are primarily based upon a oral tradition.
The old timers have told those of us who are a little younger,
who have told even the younger ones, and we believe that is the
instrumentation that came over. On the Black Sea side, we have
not found, in my research, or our research, a lot of the oral
tradition from the earliest times. On the other hand the accordion
has always been popular in the Black Sea tradition. We are told
of a very very few of the old timers who did play the violin,
but we don’t hear too many stories of the violin being played
with the accordion at the dances. Surely they must have been played
there. Lots of clarinets, usually two, often in the duet style.
And usually some sort of accompaniment. Nowadays, piano, early
days, probably the pump organ, and even before then probably the
HR: What about vocal music?
LM: Vocal music is a little easier to trace because
I think that it is carried more by a greater majority of people.
Look at the number of people who sing. You have of course congregations
full of people who know the old hymns. Again that difference between
the Catholic and Protestant tradition is very unique. But, one
of the... a colleague of ours, has a huge collection of hymnals,
which we are getting familiar with. And it is very fascinating
to trace the old hymns. To follow which ones were actually taken
possibly from Germany into Russia and over to America, which ones
possibly were written in Russia that is a very tenuous situation,
because we do not know of many if of any. And then of course those
that were originally written in America, and went to Russia, and
then came back to America. But that vocal tradition is still a
very strong tradition among our German people, we can hear that
quite often at any of the various conventions, be they the American
Historical Society of Germans from Russia, or the Germans from
Russia Heritage Society in Bismarck, North Dakota. Both groups
love to sing, and love to sing well.
HR: How about secular music?
LM: Secular music is also in that tradition. And
when we get into secular music we have to talk about a few different
conventions here primarily for the Catholics. The Catholics like
to sing on what they call their Names Day Celebration. The Catholics
would and there, of course, is a little of a mixture. There would
be popular secular songs, there would be some sacred songs, because
the Catholics seem to feel that it was more important to honor
the saint after whom they were named, than to celebrating their
actual birthday. My name for example Lewis, I think is August
25th, and if I were an old timer, I would have a pretty big party
on the 25th of August. We would perhaps imbibe in a little bit
of schnapps, maybe some beer. We would sing some of the old songs,
and of course today we would bring in some of the new songs. But
as far back as we can go with our oral tradition, the old timers
would sing many of the old German songs, and we have been told
that sometimes the evening would entirely be sung in German, the
songs were sung in German. Ah, the men folk would sit in the back,
play some cards. Usually it was not a woman’s tradition.
Women were sometimes there, but more frequently it was a gentlemen
HR: Do we know of any folk songs that were written
LM: That again, is difficult for me to answer without
my notes here. I suspect we know of some. But when my wife and
I were doing some research, the few songs we found generally had
an American connection. I can’t answer it better than that
without my notes.
HR: Well, you know there was the um, like you know
the Sisters of Freulich...Nach Tiberien...Ich Kann Nicht Lange
LM: Right, right. Yes and the Kandelers, I should
say the Kutschurganers had a huge tradition of folk songs that
they would talk. There was one about the colony of Seltz, another
about the colony of Kandel. So yes, there are many of those. My
memory is a little short at the moment. But I should like to mention
the uh, Wir Sitzen so Froelich Beisammen. (We're sitting so happily
together.) And this is an interesting song, because it is believed
that that song was written after the Napoleonic invasion of Russia,
and of course when Napoleon's troops were in Russia, and lost
that part of the war, many of them went home, and many more of
them went south to at that time were the Volga colonies, much
closer. We have instances and records of some of the Napoleonic
soldiers marrying into the Volga German tradition. But if we go
to the song then, Wir Sitzen so Froehlich Beisammen (We are sitting
here so merrily together). Is a little bit misleading, because
if you go to the second or the third or the fourth verse, we also
hear that, “Well we are sitting here so happily but, if
Napoleon only would have stayed at home and left his troops at
home, he too could have been sitting at home so merrily with his
HR: Why would Napoleons troops wanted to stay in
LM: I think they wanted to stay in Russia, for various
HR: Let me take a step back, were they French?
LM: Yes, I need some assistance here, I believe
that Napoleon had a mixed army, and while some of them were French,
obviously so many more of them he picked up on the way, before
Germany was, of course,0 a state or a nation in 1871. Many of
these little colonies, these little uh, federations, these little
kingdoms. He would pick up people from these various places. So
perhaps, many of the soldiers that did come with him were actually
of a similar speaking language than the Germans that were in the
Volga at that time. If that’s where you were going.
HR: Yes. What are some characteristics of German
Russian music that you have been able to identify?
LM: The characteristics of our music are again unique.
The first thing that comes to mind is the uniqueness of the Hack
Brett of the dulcimer. It is a very unusual instrument, in the
fact that almost all of them were hand created in the olden days.
I think even today if we go to the Appalachians to find the modern
dulcimer it’s still created by hand. Ah, there is an old
story about some of the first Volga dulcimers. The fellas would
say, "Well, we had to kill one good piano in order to make
one good dulcimer." But the dulcimer tradition has come over
and it is very strong and very unique. When the Dolsimer plays
in the what is called Dutch Hop Music. It is a very unique, sort
of clangy sound that is a almost over pervasive, both in that
particular song. But it fits in very well with the sound of the
accordion, the trombone, and some of the other instruments. On
the other hand, one must also say something about the accordion.
The accordion is of course throughout the world. There are accordionists
in Texas, also influenced by German people. There are accordionists,
there are the Bohemian accordionists, the Slovenian accordionists,
hundreds of them. But the accordion is unique also to our German
Russian people and it always plays a lead role. The interesting
thing is that, as the accordion has evolved in time, it is moved
from this early small little keyed instrument that could only
play a few of these limited keys into that now piano accordion
range that really one good accordion is all you need today because
it can be made to sound like many of the other instruments, and
with amplification, what more do you need than perhaps a drum
HR: Do we have evidence that some of the music in
Russia came from Germany?
LM: Yes. (laughter) But I’m blank on it.
HR: Folk songs and church music and that sort of
LM: Yes, yes. Many of the songs that we know from
the old country whether it be Volga or the Black Sea, did come
from Germany. The hymns primarily, we know that because we can
trace them, they were generally written down. This is one of the
interesting things about instrumental music. Instrumental music
is almost entirely done in the oral tradition. One learns from
their father, one learns from their uncle, one passes it on to
their sons and sometimes daughters. The instrumental tradition
is almost never written down. It is very very difficult to trace
these without being a ethno-musicologist, or some specialist.
On the other hands, the hymns are quite easy to trace, if we can
judge the reliability of the hymnals, if we can go back and back
in time. And interestingly many of the hymns are still being collected
in Germany today and many of the folk songs are being collected.
I understand there is an institute in Frieburg, that collects
the folk songs and has been studying them for many many years.
And if we wanted to look into that, one could study a lot of these,
as they may have begun in old Germany, what we might call old
Germany today. Traversed over to Russia, and then of course become
familiar again back to us here in America.
HR: Well you’ve talked about the Black Sea
and Volga and pointed out differences, why are there differences
between those traditions?
LM: This again is another interesting question.
I don’t want to say everything is interesting but it is
to me. The Black Sea area was a more, the Black Sea are was, I
wanted to say a homogenous group, they all are. Um, the Volga
German area is an older tradition. The Volga Germans came over
lets say probably 50 to 60 years before the Black Sea came over.
When the Volga Germans came to Russia from Germany they were prior
to a certain period of things such as freedom, after the American
Revolution took place in 1776. Then they started to move into
the South of Russia. The Black Sea Germans knew a little bit of
what freedom was, this concept of personal property, personal
privileges. The Black Sea was different in that sense from the
Volga area. The Volga’s went over and perhaps remained a
little more provincial. A little more isolated. At the same time,
when the Black Sea colonists were in the south of Russia, they
had a huge trade going back and forth with Germany. Many of their
instruments, and by that I mean their harvesting, their machinery
instruments, were going back and forth. They were obviously a
little bit closer to Germany than the Volga people were. I think
that’s close enough to the question.
HR: Are German Russian traditions alive in a strong
way in the United States now?
LM: Yes, I would say that. German Russian traditions
are very strong here in America. They are very strong in Canada,
and they are very strong of course even in South America. But
if we speak of the tradition in America, we perhaps many of us
know of the phenomenon called the Polka Fest. Now when one goes
to a modern day Polka Fest, one really hears many kinds of polkas
all put together. One will hear the Bohemian Polkas such as Whoobie
John would play. Six Fat Dutchmen one would hear the Slovenian
such as Frankie Yankovitz would play and so on and so on. The
particularity of the Dutch Hop polka which is played in Colorado
or Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, that is a very unique and different
sound, it is a sound that we really don’t hear even here
in the Dakotas. The Dakota tradition is very different from the
other. On the other hand when I say polkas, I do not mean to exclude
the two step which is very common or the waltz which has been
going on for years and years. The business about the polka is
that actually it was found, or invented or defined after the Volga
Germans got to Germany. So they didn’t take it with them
to Russia. The Black Sea people sort of picked it up at that time,
and then when it came to America, it was developed and changed
or transmogrified into something new and something unique. But
yes the Russian music is quite distinctive. One needs to listen,
of course, and one needs to pay attention to these things but
you can tell the differences yes.
HR: Do you think that people other than German Russians,
are familiar with German Russian music?
LM: No, I think that is a good question. I think
for the most part, we here in America sort of become a united
nation. We sort of put ourselves together. It is often been said
that we are a melting pot, rightly or wrongly. But at the same
time, unless one spends a lot of time, or at least a certain amount
of thinking time, one sort of puts all the music together. When
one sits back and does a little study, certainly a lot of study,
when one sits back and listens one can begin to define these traditions.
For example in Texas, we really don’t hear much about the
German Russian tradition, though it is known down there, but on
a very limited basis. But we surely know polka fests, and we certainly
know our confunto Mexican music. Which is now becoming very popular,
almost more popular certainly in Texas than the polka or polka
fests might be. But the more one listens and the more one gets
out and starts to pay attention, yes, there is a uniqueness and
we can find it in both the instrumental and vocal tradition. The
vocal traditions however are usually found in the churches, just
as the instrumental traditions are frequently found in celebratory
events, if we go to weddings, if we go to certainly an old time
wedding. Then that’s when the old timers will come out and
they’ll get started perhaps, a little bit of Red Eye, or
Schnapps will loosen them up, and then the old songs will come
out and they’re just a delight to hear.
HR: What are other things that you can think of
that you would like to.
LM: That I would like to speak of?
LM: Non political?
LM: Okay, well, what can I talk about. Give me a
HR: Let’s see.
LM: Any body Homer? I really don’t have anything
else to add Homer. I do want to make the distinction though between
the various religions. The Catholic tradition was different in
the olden days. Nowadays, let me go back even before that, when
the Black Sea Catholics came to America, of course the whole Latin
mass, the ritual of the mass, the liturgy, was almost entirely
in Latin. The choir would sing in Latin, the organist would play,
the congregation would sing in Latin. At certain feast days in
Christmas time or Easter, yes they would sing the old German songs.
On the other hand, the Protestants, when they came over the old
Lutheran hymns were really a mainstay for them, and they continued
them. Nowadays, when one goes, or certainly after 1960 about the
time of the second Vatican Council when the Catholic churched
switched from the old tradition into the modern or local narrative,
then the songs began to change. But again the German songs sort
of died out even further, and what we might call more the popular
songs of the day, the popular religious songs of the day, came
to the foreground. At that same time, I think the German songs
took another hit backwards, they were even pushed further into
the background for this what I might call modernity. This modern
sound. Though the Catholics do know some of the good old Lutheran
hymns, the hymnody tradition of the ages, they will be able to
sing them on special occasions. But in general at an average,
Catholic mass or ritual today, it will be a song that will be
perhaps what I might call popular, common. The Protestant churches,
I cannot speak too closely about as what they are singing at the
moment, but I do believe they will be a little bit closer to the
older traditions in that regard, the older vocal traditions.
HR: Are there, other than music, are there other
parts of German Russian culture that are surviving well or are
they all disappearing?
LM: Oh, yes, no. Both. Um, I think foods will survive
for a long time. When we talk about German Russian foods, many
of us not even we old timers, such as I put myself in, I could
just spend all day talking about German Russian foods. I think
the foods will last a lot longer than some of the other traditions.
Things such as card playing for example, that is changing. Now
we have our modern computers, you can play cards on computers
any more. But you really can’t play (unclear) on computer,
an old German Russian game that they would play. The men or the
ladies if they were invited, they would sit in the corner and
play these games, for hours and hours and hours on end. That tradition
has perhaps, gone down the tubes. But there’s some more.
LM: Languages, languages, my stars yes, languages
are changing. Now languages of course are something that are’s
alive. The language that my father spoke, I don’t speak,
because times are different. My father is now deceased, and now
his language has sort of left with him. So, languages have changed,
and if we speak about the German languages, one even has to begin
by asking, well what exactly is the German language, because there
are many dialects that our people spoke, and many variants of
those dialects. But as those people went through the years, lets
say from 1808 when they first in general began in the Black Sea
Colonies, up until today 2008 if we want to go that far, or surely
2004. Language changes, it’s an alive thing, people will
change or shift words from day to day. We see that today even
in just the American language. So yes, languages are changing.
Languages are not really staying the same. But at the same time,
there still are pockets of German that are being spoken, and its
delightful to listen and hear them again.
HR: And how much longer do you think those pockets
are going to be around?
LM: That is a very difficult question, because I
do not know, I hope they remain. I also want to mention, onething
that almost entirely lost, and that is our literary traditions.
Poetry for example of our German Russians which you see is almost
a musical tradition, surely a literature tradition, rarely does
one hear the old poems recited. It has been said that our people
even enjoyed the dramatic, the drama over in the old country.
I have yet to find a single copy of a play, of any sort, that
was even performed by our people. So the literature, some of those
arts are fading away. But music is holding longer, foods are holding
longer, languages are holding how long, its difficult to say.
HR: Any other ideas?
Just talking about how well Lew Marquardt has done
with the interview.