Interview with Maude Meidinger
Conducted by Dr. Homer Rudolf (HR)
Strasburg, North Dakota
10 September 2004
Transcribed by Shelly Rolandson
Edited German expressions and proofread by Marvin L. Hartmann
Prairie Public Collection
HR: Why don’t you start out by telling us
your name and where you were born.
MF: My name is Maude Meidinger Fiechtner. My maiden
name was Meidinger. I was born about14 miles from Zeeland and
20 miles from Wishek on a farm. The farm was located about a mile
from St. Andrews church where my grandfather was a charter member.
HR: Was there a name for that settlement?
MF: For that settlement, no not really. Well, Beaver
Creek was all around there, but I don’t think that we ever
called it a settlement.
HR: Do you know which town they came from in Russia?
MF: I think Becknang and Odessa, but I’m not
HR: When did they come to the United States?
MF: The late 1800’s. Eighteen-oh something.
HR: You’ve been a musician for a long period
of time so what are your earliest memories about music when you
were growing up?
MF: Well actually there was very...
MF: There was very little music in our home. We
did have an old organ in the living room, but nobody played. My
dad was a very good singer, but we hardly did any music in our
home. But as far as, then we went to St. Andrews, and we had this
really strict pastor, Pastor Freimann, He really didn’t
do much with music either. He just did ya know...the only thing
that I can really remember is the hymns and then in summer school
we uhhh, we sang some of the favorites.
HR: How long did you live out on the farm?
MF: I moved to Wishek when I was 14, and that’s
when I really got interested in music.
HR: [You went to ] what church?
MF: We were at St. Andrew's and then we joined St.
Luke, which was still a little old small church. And in about
'50 the built a nice big new church. But anyway in high school,
my freshmen year I had a teacher, Harriet Halverson was her name,
and she was a fantastic music teacher. And we had so many good
voices and so many good soloists and we did so many things and
I really, really liked music.
HR: So you were in the St. Andrews Centennial Choir...so
tell us about that.
MF: Ok well actually in about 1983, there was a
family reunion and they were going to do a pageant. So they ummm...well
I think that it was maybe '85 we were doing a pageant and Carol
just Halverson wrote the pageant. She kind of picked all the songs
and we were always together, Laverna Kaseman and I. She kind of
needed a leader, an organizer actually. I was never a music director.
“So well maybe we can do it. We’ll can get together
and sing some of the songs you like.” She kind of chose
songs for every occasion. We had weddings, and we had funerals.
We had baptisms. We had confirmation. We had good-byes and hello’s,
and uhhh. So I said, "Sure I’ll help you with this."
And we kind of had a different group at that time than we have
now. A lot of the relatives showed up and we would meet and we
sang and we had fun and we did the pageant. And then a few years
later, uhh, the Thurns which were kind of relatives too, were
having another big family reunion. And there Sherri Thurn wrote
a pageant and again said lets have a choir and sing all the good
songs and they asked me to help and I did. And at that time there
was a music director in Zeeland who played the trumpet, Leon Updahl.
Oh, and I think we had, well we always had an accordion, Allen
Meidinger. So we had a fantastic choir that year because we had
the trumpet for a lot of things. So we did that pageant. And then
we kind-of fell asleep and we did very little. And then we did
in '93, it was the St. Andrew's Centennial. And then they said
lets do a lot for that, which we did. We did a great job out there
I think. And then we also sang at Sour Kraut Day. We sang we sang
out at the tri-county fair. And the Wolf family had a family reunion
and they asked us to sing out there. Uhh, several times we did
Advent services out at St. Andrews. So its always fun to go out
HR: You’ve been doing a lot of singing in
MF: And of course this summer, you were so instrumental
in getting us to help out at the Germans From Russian Convention.
That was really great. When we got that call from Francis Feist
and uhh, your committee and I called the group together and, “Oh
yes we’ll go.” And we then decided to sew new uniforms.
And, we wore black with white long sleeve blouses and shirts.
Then Betty Frei sewed red vests for us. We all had reversible
red vests, and we always said that what we lack in singing we
will make up in our appearance. We’ll really look good.
And, I think we did.
HR: But you did other singing, too, this summer?
MF: Well let’s see what else did we do this
summer…we did the Germans from Russia, we sang in church.
HR: You did some parades…
MF: Oh yes, then all of a sudden at practice someone
had a brainstorm. “Let’s get a… some kind of
a trailer or a flatbed and we’ll pile on there and we’ll
sing.” Then one of the guys said “I’ve got to
shuttle. I built a shuttle last year. And I’ve got an antique
tractor and I could pull us.” So everybody got excited and
Allen Deile brought his big white shuttle and his old antique
tractor. And we put on our red vest and our black hats, and we
went to Long Lake. We sang all the old fun songs. We had the accordion.
And, then a few weeks later we went to Fredonia again on that
shuttle. We just had a great time. I glad that you remember that,
this summer had been so wild. We did so much, I can’t even
remember all that.
HR: The special songs for different occasions, where
those song that you knew before you got involved in the choir?
MF: Yes, the songs that we used are the ones
that I can remember from way back. At confirmation, we sang So
Nimm Den Meine Haende (O take my hand, dear Father). That
was a must. It was sung either with an organ or a cappella but
that was always done. At the cemetery, we always did Wo Findet
Die Seele, Die Heimat, Die Ruhe? (Where does the soul find
home and rest?). Again, a cappella, but it was beautiful out there.
At Christmas time, we did the standard songs. We did Stille
Nacht,(Silent Night) and we did O Du Froehliche
(O thou joyful day), Welchen Jubel, Welchen Freude,(What
a celebration, what a joy?) Still, Still, Still, Ihr Kinderlein
Kommet (O come, little children), just the same...we didn’t
branch out into any fancy songs...just the same songs. And, I
think that being there were five churches in our colony group,
I think that they all did the same, the same type of singing,
the same songs.
HR: What about weddings?
MF: Weddings, uhh, I really can’t remember
that there was a lot of sinning at weddings. Uhh, a lot of the
weddings were at the homes and they were crowded and there was
very little space. Then at the dance they probably sang those
things like uh…Gell Schaetzlein, Dir Duts Waeh
(It makes you sad, my precious, doesn't it?), Du, Du [Liegst
Mir Im Herzen], (You, you, lie in my heart) Drei Rote Rosen,
(Three red roses) and a lot of those songs that we’ve been
HR: When they had weddings in the homes, did they
have dances in the homes too?
MF: They did, they tried, or they’d clean out the barn or
the shed, depending on the weather. Yes, I remember a few like
at the Rudolf...uh, the Maria Rudolf house, very small house.
And I think Erna and Esther got married in the home. Very difficult
but somehow you were there branched out to a building and usually
there was a dance.
HR: Did you go to barn dances?
MF: Yes, we did. I was you know young, younger and
my sister was six years older. And she would be invited to these
barn dances all around the area but I wasn’t supposed to
go. I was too young. So I had to really beg and plead for her
to take me along. And I would, you know get to go along and we’d
go to different places. But I had to kind of hang in the background,
you know. So uh, I don’t have too much recollection about
HR: How did they get in the barn?
MF: How did they get in the barn? Well you went
up that little thing in the hay mow and you pushed each other
up, cleaned up all the hay. Usually had a fiddle but I...like
I say I was too young. Young before all this barn dance was over...I
just didn’t get in on that stuff.
HR: You’ve been doing some folk songs that
you do…how did you pick out the folk songs that you do?
MF: Well different people uh, you know, would
suggest some. Now we're going to Mary College in October for the
Louis and Clark Days. Were going to sing for a solid
hour, so I’ve chosen a few different new songs. We going
to do Edelweiss uh, we’re going to do the Happy
Wanderer in German, Ich Bin Ein Farmer Boob, (I'm
a farmer lad)… we’re just going to branch out and
do a little bit and do a little more music because an hour is
a lot of singing. We’re going to need a lot of music so...
[Laughter]. And uh, I kind of didn’t want a lot of hymns
HR: Did you ever hear people singing folk song when
you were growing up?
MF: Not really. Not really you talk about
like Old Black Joe and Folks at Home. We did have that
Golden Book were they’re all in. And like I said my dad
loved to sing and he knew all those songs. He’d go to Farmer’s
Union Conventions and things like that and they sang all those
songs. So we kind of learned Red River Valley and uh,
what are some of those...let me think...You are my Sunshine
and that’s kind of what we sang when we were at parties
HR: Do you remember town bands when you were growing
MF: Oh, yes! Um, in Wishek, J.C. Rutt, the policeman.
He had a city band that was excellent. You know that lots and
lots of the old timers were in it plus the high school kids. We
had a grandstand downtown...it was right were the Beck building
was now...but now it’s gone. But, I think every Saturday
afternoon or Saturday night there would be a concert. And, they
had a lot of good people in it...it was a good band. I played
a baritone in high school and Mertz played drums, and he played
trumpet, so we would be in the band.
HR: In the church in St. Andrews, what type of organ
did they have when you were growing up...do you remember?
MF: It was a really...pedal...old, old, old pedal
organ it wasn’t too fancy to or too…ya know, cheaper
organ. And the organists were all, yah know, just probably trained
themselves how to play. It was kind of difficult to say. Now we
had an organist at St. Luke’s in Wishek who always hit the
keys first and than sang...or else he’d sing first then
play what he was going to play...it was so funny. [laughs]
HR: Were there other holidays when music was important
to the church holidays or other holidays like Fourth of July or
something like that.
MF: Actually not in our church in St. Andrew's,
the big thing was Christmas. You know we never did a big Easter
special, or anything like that. It was just very low key. And
the Christmas was big, you know you did all the good old songs
and had a great Christmas Eve, but you know once I got into St.
Luke, we had really good choir people like Reverend Doyan. I’ve
been in the church choir for about sixty years. I’ve been
singing in a choir and he was there like in the forties, Reverend
Doyan. He had a great choir. We did really great songs at Easter
time. Like we’ve done the Halleluiah Chorus and
things like that.
HR: Did they have German services when at St. Luke’s,
when you were young?
MF: Yeah, oh, yeah um...let’s see...I was
fourteen when we moved to town. I would say we had another ten
years of a German service. Every Sunday we had nine at...English
at nine o’clock and German service at eleven. And it probably
was equally attended at that time.
HR: Was there anything special about the way people
sat at the German services?
MF: I’m thinking that they did sit women on
one side and men on one side...I think they did. I really can’t
say when that ended. But uh...
HR: Are there things that you can think of back
then that...were there other people that you remember as important
MF: Yes really...there was Avanell Hoff who was
an excellent organists that helped us out a lot in the choir.
There was Elaine Weist who was a fantastic pianist. She past away
very young. Bill Huber, Ritz’s cousin was just a fantastic
soloist. Fact in high school there was Patty Haar, Arne Miller,
they were just all great.
HR: Now was Wishek mostly German-Russia or were
there a lot of other people there?
MF: I think mostly German-Russian. Patty is now
um, she’s probably doing what you’re doing out in
California. She’s a college music person and she gives lessons
in her home.
HR: Is German a language that is alive in Wishek?
MF: Very much alive. Yes, um well, I worked at a
nursing home for thirty-five years and I tried to keep it alive
there. I always used my German with them...the residents 'cause
they loved it and we could really communicate. And uh, I think
that we talk it a lot just for fun you know with our friends.
We always slip into the German, and when my children come home
we also try to do German so that they don’t know what we
are talking about, to kind of get them to want to learn some German.
Yes, I learned to read and write German in summer school. We had
like four weeks of summer school out at St. Andrew's, with a qualified
teacher, like always a pastor or an intern. We had to learn to
read German and write German and to this day I still can do it.
It’s uh, ya know, it never leaves you...its just there.
HR: So there are no German services in Wishek anymore
MF: I would doubt that very much...there’s
HR: Like uh, St. Andrews, when they have services
would they ever be German?
MF: Oh, they have an occasional service, but it’s
HR: Is St. Andrews still an active congregation?
MF: Uh, well they’re part of the Historical
Society, they’re on the register. So they have to do something
once or twice a year to keep alive. They have to have a fundraiser
or something. So almost every year they have a few services. Last
year they had an Advent service. And that went pretty well and
then they had an old fashioned Christmas Eve service. And I guess
uh, we were gone, but I understand that it was just wonderful.
Just a packed house, they had an old-fashioned Christmas tree
with real candles, totally against all the fire rules and laws.
They were hoping that nobody would find out so that they didn’t
burn that little church down. And they did everything in candle
light; you had to come in, in the dark. And they had a packed
house and all the choirs from our church came out. Our centennial
choir went out, Edger Thern directed for me. And I guess it was
really great so they probably will be doing that again.
HR: So there’s a centennial celebration next
MF: Yes, we’ve already been asked...our choir’s
already been asked to sing on Christmas Eve. That’ll be
the kick off. So we are going to be putting on our red vests for
Christmas Eve and we will be doing all of these little old German
songs for Christmas eve.
HR: This is the centennial for what?
MF: This is the St. Luke’s Centennial uh,
2004 they’ll be reaching there 100 years or…2005 actually.
So were going to be doing a lot of stuff for that.
HR: Is there only going to be honoring St. Lukes
MF: No, there’s about six churches
being honored. Because St. Andrew's, the mother church had like
four or five other churches that all eventually came into St.
Luke's. But they are all being recognized. We are already putting
up oodles of posters and things. Uhh we’re digging way back
into things the other churches did and it’s all being displayed.
So I’m on this committee called Decades of Time
and we’ve got beautiful pictures of the 1800’s, 1900’s.
uhh 1910, 19... each ten years we are having a huge poster and
they are all around the church basements so you must come down
and see that.
HR: Are you putting on a book also?
MF: Umm there’s a great book coming out. Yes,
it’s $35 and its going to have everybody in there who was
baptized, confirmed, or passed away in any of these churches,
and St. Luke’s...It’s a wonderful book.
HR: Can you think of something that I haven’t
asked you about that’s about music? In the Wishek area...
MF: There’s a lot of polka bands around. Ummm
I think the good two-step bands...Wishek was never of a dancing
HR: Why not?
MF: I don’t know well get like the Chimaleskies
or we get like umm uhhh the Pecka Band , we had them. Ohh there
was some more good bands and on Sour Kraut Day, ya know, and nobody
stays for the dance...it was just Deadsville.
HR: So where did you go to for dances when you were
MF: Ohh Burnstad and Zeeland, and it’s never
Wishek. Wishek was not a dancing town. Burnstad had a lot of dances.
Lehr never did.
HR: Did they have a big hall there, Burnstad?
MF: No, it was mediocre. It’s gone, but that’s
where the dances were. In a horrible road to get there, a little
country cow path, but that’s were the excitement was.
HR: What nights were the dances?
MF: Oh, probably Friday, Saturday...now all the
neighboring towns are having polka fests and they are all on Sunday
afternoon. One to five or something like that. I mean Long Lake,
Lehr, Napoleon, I don’t know about Strasburg, but they all
have a polka fest. They start with dances from one to five [o’clock]
and then they have a lunch. So we do have a lot of couples that
follow that around. Mertz and I used to love to polka, but that’s
HR: Anything else you can think of?
MF: Well I could go on and on and on...but I don’t
think that I want to waste your time. A lot of that, I think that
what the Prairie Public is doing is just great. Everybody is asking
you know to start buying the videos and to see the videos. I understand
one is out, the one with part of the interviews.
HR: The Glueckstal...
MF: Yeah, so I think that there are quite a few
people that would like to buy that, so we can maybe get me hooked
up with all of that maybe we can take care of that. But I think
that’s its good for Wishek and Strasburg to do this...where
all the action was years ago.
HR: Maude, what goes through your selection process
as you select the German songs to sing? What is your thinking
behind making these selections?
MF: Two things...are they familiar? Have they sung
them before? Will they know the right beat or right...you know
they got a certain jerkyness in there. That’s number one.
And number two, will they be too difficult or are they very high
for the sopranos? We don’t want to screech. I try to stay
with something that they all know and that will not be too difficult
to sing. Like now too we got to pick some new stuff for this hour
long concert we’re going to do. We’re going to try
to keep it really simple and never try to branch out into anything
HR: How many trained musicians do you have?
MF: None. We have Laverna Kasemann who is a good
pianist and I think she is pretty much self-taught. And we have
Carol Gerber who I don’t know what her background is and
we have Chris Allen Meidinger on the accordion. He completely
self taught and I had very little music training. We just wing
it. We always say...what we lack in quality we were just going
to smile and look good and have fun. So that’s what were
kind of doing.
HR: All done?...Thank you Maude.
MF: Thank you.