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 really sure.
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 there.
HR: You’ve been doing a lot of singing in the summer?
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 doing.
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 barn dances.
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 and stuff...so.
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 and stuff.
HR: Do you remember town bands when you were growing up?
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 musicians?
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 are there.
MF: I would doubt that very much...there’s um…
HR: Like uh, St. Andrews, when they have services would they ever be German?
MF: Oh, they have an occasional service, but it’s in English.
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 year?
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 or…?
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 town.
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 growing up?
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 over. So...
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 very difficult.
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.