Interview with Homer Rudolf (HR)

Conducted by Bob Dambach (BD)
18 September 2004, Strasburg, North Dakota

Transcribed by Amanda Swenson
Editing by Linda Haag

Prairie Public Collection

BD:  Okay, why don’t you tell me your name and your ethnic background?

HR:  My name is Homer Rudolf and I grew up around Wishek, North Dakota, on the farm.  All my ancestors came from what is known as the Glueckstal Colonies in South Russia.  They came to the United States between 1884 and 1889. 

BD:  So Homer, what’s your first musical memory?

HR:  I don’t have a real distinct one, but it probably would be from being in church, the church services, and sitting with my family.  In this case my father had lost the farm when I was two weeks old.  We then moved to town.  I grew up with the English for the stand point of church experiences and our family sat together as a group.

BD:  Now, do you remember your mom singing any lullabies to you?

HR:  Actually I do not.  I don’t remember a lot of the singing at home.  Our family was so musical and everyone sang that I’m quite convinced there must have been singing as I grew up.  I remember when I was older we had our chores.  We’d wash dishes.  Those of us who were washing dishes would be singing, and so it was a part of our family life.  We didn’t have a piano until I was probably in the 8th grade.  Some of us took piano lessons after that.  But that expanded the possibilities for music.  I clearly remember my mother who played by ear, sitting at the piano and playing German hymns and singing.

BD:  You mentioned your family.  How large was your family?

HR:  I was one of 8 children.

BD:  And where were you in the picking?

HR:  Well the fourth.  The perfect child.

BD:  In the middle.  You said your family is musical, where do you think that musical tradition came from?

HR:  Well the whole issue of families being musical is a very complex one because in some families there’ll only be one individual who really is musical.  There is a fairly strong tradition in my family.  My, I know my mother’s father, for example, was the church organist out at St. Andrew’s congregation.  He played by ear.  He played from about the time they purchased the organ until he died.  He also sang in the choir.  Actually he did not accompany the choir because he couldn’t read music, so he sang whatever part was needed.

 My father’s oldest brother was a choir director at one of the other churches, St. John.  This is part of that same parish.  He had received some formal training when he went to Eureka Lutheran College.  My father said that he took lessons from a teacher that boarded at their home on pump organ.  When I asked him what they used for music, and as much as he’d remember, they used hymns.  That was quite common in those homes at that point.  And then of course my mother played by ear.  My parents I know had a pump organ in their home, before they sold it at the auction when they wanted to go to California.  So there’s all that tradition in my own family. 

All of us sang in the high school choir, all of us played in the high school band.  So our entire family was musical.  My mother, as I said, played the reed organ, piano or keyboard by ear.  I had a brother who played by ear also.  He played guitar and harmonica.  None of the rest of us really played instruments by ear.  Thinking about it, we all really sang by ear.  We learned lots of music, but we also harmonized and improvised harmony.  So in a sense, that’s really performing by ear also.

BD:  Do you know if there are any musical traditions that they brought over from South Russia?

HR:  Well I was actually very fortunate a number of years ago, in ’94, visiting one of my aunts.  My paternal grandfather lived with them probably for the last 10 years of his life.  She still had his collection of books, and happened to ask me if I wanted them; of course I did.  I’m going through those, and actually there were a significant number of hymnals that he had in his collection.  So I have those, and when I went to visit my parents, I really spend a lot of time talking to them about how they grew up and their background.  In ’91 I think it was when I was talking to them, I discovered that they still had hymnals and choir books from when they were growing up. 

So it wasn’t until a couple years later when we moved them into another facility, that we pulled them out of storage and I had a chance to look at them.  Then interviewed my mother about all those hymnals and she was able to sit down and talk about them.  What you used for congregation, which you used for Sunday school, which you used for the choir.  So it was just a wonderful experience to be able to look at those with her and talk about them.  My father was there also.  And his tradition was very much the same. 

BD:  Well you’ve made music your whole life and academic career.  What prompted you to do that?

HR:  Um, it was from a stand point of my making a decision to become music major in college.  It was not something I made before I went to college.  I was always very active in music in high school.  But of course there were the older ladies who wanted, and expected me to be a minister.  That didn’t work out.  So I went to Jamestown College and decided to major in music when I became a sophomore.  At that point in North Dakota, music education really was the most logical road to take.  So I received a degree in Music Education.  Taught in public school for a few years, taught in Menowauken, near Devils Lake, and decided to go on to graduate school.  I received my masters at the University of Southern California, and then eventually a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois, in music history and musicology.  This is really music history also, so I really made it my life’s work.

BD:  Why don’t you tell us where you taught for a while too?

HR:  Pardon?

BD:  Why don’t you tell us where you taught?

HR:  Well um, actually as I started talking about Menowauken, North Dakota, I taught high school for a number of years.  After I left the University of Southern California, I went to Dartmouth College and was the musical librarian there for two years.  Then I went back to graduate school in Illinois and taught at the University of Texas in Austin for two years.  And after that I went to the University of Richmond, in Richmond, Virginia.  This is a small private college, and spent 24 years there before I retired.  So it was something I really enjoyed.  I always loved teaching and working with young people.  It keeps you young in many ways, I think.  So for me it was a very rewarding career.

BD:  When did you get interested in the music of the Germans from Russia?

HR:  It really was as I was talking with my parents, and um, realized that they had those hymnals.  So I interviewed my parents, and I then began to interview all of my 10 surviving uncles and aunts.  Nine of who had grown up in that same area.  One who was from Northern Minnesota, but he was not from German-Russian tradition.  But all the rest of them were from the Wishek, New Zealand area, and growing in the much of the same traditions. 

I actually read today a paper on the music of McIntosh County, which is where I grew up.  And that sort of wet my whistle in a sense.  I went on from there and became more interested in that as a topic.  It happens that I took a trip to the Ukraine, in 1998, to my ancestral villages.  Other people, who were involved with research in German-Russians, had an interest in those traditions also.  At that point I really began to expand the topic.  I was reading papers in a Wishek newspaper, and a National newspaper, looking through those for information on music.  So the project just kept growing, meeting more people.  It just expanded and there’s actually an amazing amount of information available.  It’s just a matter of being fortunate enough to talk to the right people.  There are many, many different traditions that are still alive in various ways.

BD:  When you look at the music from Germans from Russia, how far do you go back?  Geographically and year wise, how far do you go back to begin the roots of the music. 

HR:  To begin my research?

BD:  Well, overall in your research.  What you’ve found out about your research.

HR:  If we take a look at the movement from Germany to Russia and the traditions they took along with them, obviously they took musical traditions with them.  Now we have basically the Roman-Catholic people and the Protestants groups who’ve moved.  You have the different groups, who came to the Volga, traveled earlier in the late 1760’s, and the Black Sea Russians, who started out in 1803, 1804.  So you have these people taking musical traditions with them. 

Now from the stand point of the church that would include hymnals.  Now and then in the Roman-Catholic church hymnals would not be as important because they were basically dealing with Latin.  But there is evidence of German hymns used during communion or special prayer services.   But we don’t have a lot of evidence about that.  But with the Protestants, those who brought hymnals were coming from different areas, so they brought different hymnals.  In the Volga area, that was not so complicated because people came from the same village and settled in the same village. So we have people from a unified tradition, but when you get to the Black Sea area that was not the same.  People simply joined wagon trains and they came from all sorts of small villages.  Once they arrived in the Black Sea area and settled, they were living with people from distinctly different traditions in some cases, and other cases not so significant.  But there were differences and certainly different hymns that were favored and so that sort of thing, but there was a lot of compromise in the adjustment that had to take place in the South Russia, during that period of time.

One of the things that prompted the issue of a new hymnal in 1791 was the movement of a religion of people to South Russia.  Many of us have gone through our experience of church denominations issuing new hymnals.  It’s never a simple process, because there are changes, things that are taken out, new things that are added, and it creates dissention.  And it took sometime for these new hymnals to be establish.  One of the reasons people were dissatisfied was that people were creating new hymnals.  So they brought their old hymnals with them, and that’s what they used in South Russia.  Beyond that of course you had well in [?115] you had what you can [?115] and as a sub-group of the Lutherans.  They were more, lets see what the word I want to use, the concept of the [?118] was much more of a emotional approach and a personal approach to religion, whereas the Orthodox-Lutheran tradition was more highly structured and you might say more intellectual from that stand point.

What happened of course in 1791, when they revised the hymnals, they took out a lot of the older more emotional hymns.  They replaced them because they were in the period of enlightenment.  They replaced those hymns with more rational text and things that were not so emotional.  That was a major problem from that stand point.  But the [?124] in [?124] worked with the Lutheran Church and attended the same services.  The churches managed to accommodate both groups.  You also had a group called the [?126]  in that area and they withdrew from the Lutheran church.  They held their own services, so you had in a sense, these three groups, that basically initially was the [?127].  The Orthodox-Lutherans came to the Black Sea area.  The [?128] came later on in 1817, and that’s another story, we may get it yet in this discussion.  But beyond that not everyone came from [?130].  We talked about [?130] so often and the fact that everyone in that area was a [?131], but lots of the people who came were not.  You have people who came from the [?132] reform and people from [?132] and places like that.  So they too had different types of tradition. 

The Russians of course had a concept that there were just Protestants and Catholics so they sort of had the concept of universal Protestantism.  So when people were assigned to villages, you were either Protestant or Catholic.  In some villages there was much more of a problem, than it was in others.  [?136] for example in the Glueckstal Villages, they actually established a separate reformed parish.  And which is located in [?137] and included where people often say [?138] in the German-Russian tradition.  They had built their own church, had their own schools.  [?139]
was another city, a village in that complex, had a separate congregation.  They had the same minister, but they used the church, the Lutherans did, and the part of the school the Lutherans did.  So they had a compromise they were able to work out.  Those sorts of things became a more of an issue. 

Particularly in 1832 when the Russian government and the Czar approved a new version of ordinances of the Lutheran Church, they went back to the more Orthodox traditions.  Some of those traditions were, the minister was chanting parts of the service, the minister turning his back to the congregation, facing the, and facing God literally.  That was considered disrespectful to the congregation in the (?148) tradition.  Other areas of conflict in the Orthodox traditions also included were using of candles at daytime and the use of the crucifix.  There were some divisions in the ranks this time and using of some distinct religious traditions.  Later on the Baptists became established in South Russia and were recognized by the Russian government, and the 7th Day Adventists also became established.  There was some development of [?153] in Russia, during these periods of time. 

You also have the Mennonites and the Hutterites, and we can’t ignore them as groups that were in Russia and the Volga area and the Black Sea.  There was quite a bit of diversity, new hymnals were published in South Russia.  The ones I’m familiar with in the 19th century were in Odessa.  There was a Reformed hymnal and a Lutheran hymnal.  The [?158] Lutheran hymnal that was published in 1762, said specifically that it was modeled after the, I’m sorry 1862, the hymnal that was published in 1862, the [?161] hymnal said on the title page, very explicitly that it was modeled and based upon the 1779 [?162] which was before the 1791 division was a problem.  They were reverting back to the older tradition.  We do have those examples.  

Now the turn of the century, things became more complicated, because there are lots of hymnals that were published in the United States in German.  Because we had a large German population that came to the United States after the peasant’s war and the second half of the 19th century.  There was a real need for German hymnals.  Those were published here and um, I found that there was a farmer’s almanac published in Odessa.  And [?172] extends from 1881 on, well starting in 1891, I found reference of hymnals that were being published in the United States, that were being sold in Odessa.  And that becomes a fairly complex issue.  But that shows that the transmission of traditions went both directions and apparently what happened was that these hymnals were republished in Germany and were imported to the Odessa area and sold there.  But they appear year after year as being advertised.  Then you get into very interesting issues of transmission, because I made reference to these hymnals that were published in the 19th century.  Well if you look at [?180] which is probably the best known of the protestant hymn, among the protestant German-Russians, well known through all sorts of groups.  It was not included in any of the hymnals published in South Russia.  It was included in some of the hymnals that were American and republished in Germany and were imported to Odessa.  And so there’s very clear evidence that the [?190] came to the United States.  I then made its way back to the Black Sea area as far as I can tell, and probably to the Volga area also.  “Silent Night”, does not appear in those hymnals that were published in Russia.  And it is so easy for us to assume well this is a hymn that we always sang.  So it must have been something our ancestors new in South Russia.  The evidence just does not bare it out.  And so that [?196] of transmission is very, very complex. 

BD:  Even with this diverse Protestant group of collection of different sex, there are some songs, you mentioned [?197].  Are there some other songs that you went to a person who was German-Russian heritage, and raised in the Protestant church they would say yes, this is a German-Russian hymn?

HR:  [?200] which is a German translation of the [?201] “We praise thee oh God”.  That is well known throughout all both Protestant and Catholic denominations as a matter of fact.  The only place that I have found that it is not known is among the Hutterites.  Where I’ve really had any contact.  That is a hymn that is well known, but again that was not included in the hymnals published in South Russia, but was written in the 19th century.  You have these things that were very well known, well established, that people say yes, this is definitely, German Russian and they are a part of our tradition.  From my attitude we have to look at the simulation of these materials that commented the addition, not [?203] only to what we can validate as being absolutely used in Russia. 

BD:  Are there any things, you mentioned the simulation, are there any songs, that are maybe it’s folk music as well as just music, that are distinctly German-Russian.

HR:  Well yes, there are some that we can verify that were written in Russia, because of references that they make to events that took place in Russia.  So those can be authenticated.  Of course you run into the problem then of saying, knowing whether the entire thing was from South Russia.  Maybe that the stanzas have simply been changed from another pre-existing version and the transmission of folk songs is another very complicated thing.  But one of them is that is well known is the [?219] “We’re sitting here so happily” and it really sounds like a drinking song, when you look at it initially from the first stanza.  When you go on the later stanzas refer to Napoleon and the French Army and the problems that that created.  They end up with saying if Napoleon would have stayed in France he would still be on the throne.  Well that poem was originally written by a German poet with the last name of [?225] and had no references to Napoleon at all.  So these stanzas were added later on, and where they were added is hard to say.  But it very clearly is that it is German Russian, in South Russia. 

One very interesting that I have just become aware of very recently is [?229] “We really can’t live here anymore”.  We had arranged for a choir to sing that this past spring.  I looked at it, and it made reference to the last line of the stanza says that “Since we can’t live here any more we should really think about going to America”.  That’s in the last line of every stanza.  Well just recently I was reading that the original poem was written and published in 1845 in Germany.  Well 1845 was early migration from Germany to America.  That’s a period of real major arm rest in Germany.  We have the peasants and the revolution in 1848, and I read of the source, that it became one of the most important and well known migration songs of the 19th century.  The same author says that there was a Mennonite who added a couple of stanzas in South Russia in 1874.  So here we have several stanzas, you could look at that superficially and say, well it had to be written in South Russia because of the references of going to America, but a lot of people were thinking about going to America in the 19th century.

BD:  Is the importance of German-Russian music, not so much who originated something, but how it affected the people and how people sort of co-op it and made it part of their own and part of their life?

HR:  Oh yeah, and that really the idea of assimilation of material and how you use material is crucial for any culture.  When you deal with oral tradition, things will be adopted by a group.  We think of music today in a very different way as cultures before, our own Western-European culture.  Music could be a very important part of their daily life, and an important function daily.  Today we use it as background music as we study, as we go out shopping and so on.  It doesn’t have the same sort of basic role in what we’re doing, and so what people do with their music regardless of their natural origin, becomes very important.  The music is changed a great deal, and certainly texts are changed a great deal.  If you deal with folk songs you can hear a folk song that had one person sing it and another person sing it.  The melody would be completely different because the meter or [?258] for the text is compatible with all sorts of melodies.  So there is no one melody that is absolutely the only one associated.  Just recently we were talking with a family in Germany who has maintained their tradition.  They sent me some text that they had written out by hand.  And we had the person who we were talking to sing some of the standard hymns, and the melodies were completely different from the ones that we knew.  This is very, very common. The important issue is what it’s own meaning to the people who are using it and how does it function in their daily lives.

BD:  So why don’t we talk about that?  Why don’t we talk, what the importance was of the music to people in South Russia, and then people who left South Russia when they came to America?

HR:  Well, what we think about the role of music in people’s lives.  Certainly the church becomes a very important component in that.  Even if you were Roman-Catholic or whether you were Protestant, music was an important component of the services.  You had that association with being in the church services.  Quite often of course that sacred music then is transferred into the homes.  Some families and denominations had strong traditions of having devotions in the home, and so obviously would use the hymns, getting together socially.  So it was a unifying factor, because it was something that was common and there’s no doubt that there is an esthetic experience that people have when they sing.  It is something that they enjoy.  We don’t have enough of that in many ways in our lives today.  But to have something you enjoy doing as a group, and have something to share in common becomes very, very important.  Now with folk songs that’s also the case now, they we have evidence that they sang songs when they worked.  The villages were centralized and the fields were surrounding the village, and people could ride out to work in common wagons, and go to their separate fields.  There was that opportunity.  Or when they were harvesting grapes, or husking corn, there were plenty of opportunities where they were working together and sing songs in common.  The research that has been done about folk music in Russia, talks a lot about the young men in the evening, got together when they had some free time, getting together on the streets, and singing some folk songs.  That was for them, an illegitimate activity that their parents approved of obviously.

But they sang for their own enjoyment, serenade a girlfriend, or whatever.  It was an important way of keeping the folk songs going.  Certainly in the homes I’m sure that the families when they, because well they do say, when men married they no longer participated in the folk song singing on the streets.  That was a young single man’s occupation, or pastime.  There is no doubt that families continued to sing folk songs in the home when they were getting together for what they call [?298] or just having an informal evening of conversation, getting together.  So those were all ways in which music could be an important function.

Now you have instrumental music too, and photographs that can help a lot.  We do have photos of bands, particularly with the wedding bands.  You’ll find those most often when the whole wedding party was shown.  It should include a small wedding band.  We think of the accordion as being a basic instrument of the German-Russians.  The accordion was invented in the 19th century, which was known as the button accordion.  Quite different from the piano keyboard, piano accordion as it was called.  That was still not something they brought from Germany, it was something that was met when they were already in Russia.  A fiddle would be common and you could hear and see clarinet, and usually quite small.  There are lots of pictures of what we call generally brass bands.  They aren’t really brass bands only because they certainly include clarinets and drums. 

Tape Stops.

BD:  When we’re doing research economically iconographic evidence can be really helpful, so there’s lots of photographs that show music in one way or another, and certainly the small wedding bands appear in the photos.  Often with an accordion, clarinet, violin, the accordion was said to be invented in the 19th century.  So it was not something that they brought from Germany.  But they were generally small bands.  But you also had lots of pictures of community bands, which were common in South Russia, or in the Volga area.  We also had pictures of communities, and I think I heard the phone ringing.  So you also have lots of pictures of community bands from the Volga area and the Black Sea area.  And so-called brass bands, actually they often called them trombone bands.  And those were terms that goes back, the idea of a trombone band goes back to the 17th century, when villages actually had a trombone choir that played from the city tower.  Because they didn’t have a clock, so they played at several times of the day to indicate that it was noon or the end of the work day.  And they were hired by the city. 

And then in the 19th century when the band as we know it to today was established shortly before the Civil War.  They were mostly brass instruments, and that whole type of ensemble became established, so those names sort of hang on.  So the pictures we see that include clarinets, include drums, and various other instruments.  Not very large, there were probably 15-20 performers, but they all are posing with instruments, seem very proud of what they are doing.  So the question is well what did these bands play?  Because we have brass band music, but it’s mostly marches.  The late 18th century, the late 19th, and the early 20th century, bands played a lot of arrangements of the opera areas, and a whole variety of types of popular music.  But we can’t imagine that being done with the German-Russians particularly.  Certainly they could have played marches. 

But what is clear now is that we’re finding what were called, “trombone books” that were published in Germany.  But we’re finding copies here in the United States.  So they were obviously brought here also.  And they their contents are basically hymns, and folk songs.  And we do find pictures, there’s a picture of a mission fest in Barrow, South Dakota, in 1935 I think it is.  Includes a band stand, sitting among with the rest of the group.  Well they probably played some hymns as part of the church service.  (interruption).  Would what was happening in small communities like Babble that you mentioned.  Would this be mirrored similarly in farming communities in Indiana, Ohio, or Pennsylvania? 

HR:  Well the community band was a very common phenomenon throughout the United States, from after the end of the Civil War as a matter of fact.  Soldiers that returned from the Civil War from the North, often organized their “Fireman’s Band” or “Policeman’s Band”, so that was very, very common, organization in communities.  And so you had that as an activity.  One thing that did start in the 19th century, and lots of areas, not so much rural, but the larger cities, where men singing societies, but German men singing societies.  And they were very popular in the 19th century and were quite large, as a matter of fact.  Churches of course would have had their musical traditions, and so the [?39] position would very from one denomination to another.  But there certainly were plenty, given the number of German hymnals that were published in the United States, there were obviously lots of German congregations in Pennsylvania, and Ohio, Wisconsin, places like that.  Because that’s where these hymnals were published.

BD:  Did they last as long as they did here?  I think one of the things from the Germans from Russia, is the length of time that they actually held onto the German language.

HR:  Well an interesting phenomenon about the German-Russians, is how long the language has remained alive, and the important component of their culture.  Much of that can be related to the fact that of course they lived in homesteads, and were isolated in many ways, and were able to keep their culture going, because it was possible, because they wanted to.  Certainly life was very difficult for them when they first came.  And just surviving was a challenge.  So maintaining things that you knew and were comfortable with were very, very important for these people.  And some areas were so isolated that, I have my grandfather who was born in 1865, died in 1964, he never learned English, because he didn’t have to.  He lived on the farm for many, many years.  Retired to the town of Wishek, North Dakota, that had a very, very strong German tradition, and he was able to survive with his German. 

My grandmother on my mother’s side, died in 1980, at the age of 90.  She also did not learn English.  Because it was possible to maintain that.  They kept their German language church services, until the late ‘40s into the ‘50s probably.  So these were things that were possible in the rural areas of the Dakotas, particularly.  Not only there, because you go to [?59] California, which was a place that many, many people moved to.  And that older generation of people who are still living there today, use German much like the people in Wishek, North Dakota still do.  It’s something, a language, that’s alive for the older generation.  And my parents, they spoke, switched back and forth between English and German, a lot, in their conversations.  So it was something that was just apart of their whole being, and their cultural existence.  And they just kept it going. 


BD:  You know when you talk to German-Russians, and you they talk about music that they sort of consider their own.  One of the things that you often hear on the instrumental side is polka.  Polka music’s um, bands they used to have for the wedding ceremonies, that type of thing, can you talk about that a little bit, and the Dutch Hop as well as being a variation of that. 

HR:  The dance music of the German-Russians, is often characterized as being primarily polkas, and of course the polka was a very important dance among the German-Russians.  It was a dance established in the 19th century.  And one they brought with them.  So there was a lot of music that they played for dances.  And particularly what they considered old-time music, that includes polkas, but also waltzes which were very important.  And the waltz was a dance that established from the late 18th century.  And so, when they moved to South Russia, it was very much a new dance also.  The idea of social dancing as we know it, is where a couple embraces on the floor, was something that was new with the waltz, as a matter of fact, and so dance changed a lot in the 19th century, in that way.  So you had polkas, waltzes, the [?79] was important dance.  The Fox-Trot and Two-Step were new dances, that were developed in the beginning of the 20th century.  And they became very popular, and so you do have a variety of music, and of course, things can be.  Well if you take a song, polka that exists, and have two groups play the same polka, it’s not necessarily going to sound the same.  Because there are all sort of ways that you can vary a song a little bit. 

There’s a book put out and published now, on Dutch Hop music, and if I look at the score that’s in the book, and listen to the performance, they just, they’re not the same thing at all.  Because it’s the creative thing of performing and making it your own when you perform.  That’s very important for these people.  People developed their own style, and that’s what makes it interesting and challenging for them.  So there isn’t a lot of variety, but you had, if I go back to the newspapers, and read those.  Dances were very common in the early part of the 20th century, in the small communities, they were primarily on weekends.  But barn dances were extremely common, and when I interviewed all of my uncles and parents.  Barn dances in the 20’s and 30’s were just a basic part of that whole environment in that area around Wishek and New Zealand and so on, and talking to people in the Roman-Catholic areas, they were very common there also. 

When I talked to my relatives about that, they said well, you know, just sort of found out about the fact that there was a barn dance, it wasn’t anything formal.  And people got together, and some people did barn dances on a regular basis, and were well known for doing a really good job.  They used grainery’s sometimes too, but most the time, they were in a hay loft that had to be cleaned out.  At least leave enough space for people to dance.  And I asked my parents and uncles and aunts, well how much did it cost to go to a barn dance?  They said well, it cost men about $.50 but women got in free.  I asked them whether they served booze or certain food?  They said no, people brought their own booze and so on, and so.  It was very informal.

My uncle’s, I had three uncles that actually started a dance band for a while, and kept it going.  It was accordion, trumpet and drums.  I had a couple of cousins that would play trombone, and one would play clarinet, until they moved away.  So they had the small dance band that played around in barn dances.  And they kept it going until my uncle who owned the accordion had to sell it, in order to buy a horse, in the early 30’s so they didn’t make it a life’s work, but they did it for a period of time.  And actually looking back at how they got into the whole business of playing instruments is an interesting one also.  Because one of the teacher’s at the country school started a boy’s band.  Not surprising, there were no girls in the band.  But there was a band about 30 boys and was active for several years.  And they played for church services and things of that sort.  And the, she left and so the band dissolved.  But the town of Wishek where I grew up in which was about 17 miles away at that point and I went back to the Wishek news, the newspaper and found this information, after I talked to my uncle.

They started a new band, hired a band director and three of my uncles went again to Wishek on a regular basis and played in that band.  And um, then I had found a picture of my uncle’s with their instruments and the bass drum, low and behold, says Wishek Community Band.  As was written on the drum head, and I interviewed the one uncle that was still alive at that point, and he said well, we played in the Wishek band, but when that band dissolved we bought that drum, and uncle, I forgot which of my uncles played it.  But the uncle who played it was using that drum from the Wishek Band, and they had that for several years.  Someone from Wishek sent me another photo recently.  She was very puzzled about it because it showed some young kids, obviously just sort of playing around and pretending they were playing instruments.  Trombone, and various other things, and here was that same bass drum.  And um, she had no idea what the date was, my best guess was that, it went on from my uncle’s to some place else.  And these kids got a hold of it at a farm at some point and were just sort of playing around.  And so, there were these band’s that were active and lots of small dance bands. 

We’ve talked to people, and they talk about barn dances often having just one accordion.  I mean that’s all you needed was basically something else, and paying was, they were not paid a lot anyway.  They might be paid from the admission that people paid when they went in, and the fellows who was running the barn dance would get some of the money and the performers get the rest, so.

BD:  Why should someone who’s not German-Russian, or not very interested in German-Russian history.  What would they get out of, what’s important about the music of the German-Russian’s to them? 

HR:  If we look at the music of the German-Russians, and try to place it, in it’s perspective and also understand why we should be interested in it at all.  It’s a picture into our own history that can be duplicated in all sorts of cultures as you look at it.  They used music much more in their daily lives, and they reflect the background of the people.  The religious background, the social background, the folk background were dealing with people who had a limited education in certain cases.  So we were not dealing with the top level of society in these small communities.  Or out in the country.  And so it’s every day in America that it’s reflecting, in that way.  And it’s apart of our heritage, like looking at a Italian-Americans, or Polish-Americans and certainly there’s a lot of Polish-American music that’s important so you know, if we’re going to understand ourselves, our country as a melting pot, and um, put it in perspective.  Having an idea of the music that different cultures brought with them and the different cultures that they used, and in some cases it’s still surviving in limited ways can be very, very important. 

BD:  When you were doing your research, and as you’ve done your research over the years.  What is the most surprising thing that you’ve discovered?

HR:  Well actually in doing my research the most interesting thing that I have concluded happened just about a week ago.  Certainly we have a lot of evidence of folk music in South Russia and in the Volga area.  And records of people collecting folk music in those areas, so we know that it existed.  So the interesting thing is that the situation is not the same here in the United States.  Now there’s some complications, once these people come to the United States they’re no longer living in a central village where they can get together easily in the evening.  Or the young men don’t, can’t get together in the street at night and sing.  And they’re not going to work in groups, so work songs are not the same.  So the isolation of living on the homesteads in a sense, a barrier, against keeping those types of traditions going. 

And when I talked to my relatives, my older relatives, my parents, uncles and aunts, they talk about hymns being the most important type of music that they used in their homes.  And when I’ve done presentations, I’ve purposely asked the audience, “Which of you grew up hearing folk songs being sung?”  And almost no one remembers that at all, among the people that I’ve been working with.  But in the process of working on this project, I’ve been talking with Roman-Catholics more, and I’ve also known that there’s been research on folk music in the United States on the German-Russian’s.  But almost all of it centers around Roman-Catholics.  I’ve always been puzzled by that, I’ve never been able to come up with a rational for why that was the fact.  In doing research recently, we’ve been talking to a lot of Roman-Catholics, who talked about Names Days. 

And Names Days are very important part of tradition going back say 30 years among the Roman-Catholics, the Names Day was more important than a birthday.  And the Names Day celebrations apparently were for adults, married adults.  But that was a time when they would get together socially and it was an important occasion.  And people would be invited, all their friends.  And there would be a meal, and there would be singing they would pass the red eye, or [?178] schnapps, [?178] whiskey.  And it was for them an important social event, and of course everyone celebrated their Names Day, and so that could be a common event.  And folk songs were what was performed at those events.  And it really seems to me at this point that, that one factor made it possible for the Roman-Catholics to keep the folk songs alive.  Because they have a venue in which they used them in a regular basis, and the Protestants didn’t have that venue.

I talked to my parents, the only time that they got together with other people was basically Sunday at church.  They worked literally six days a week, and Sunday was their one free day.  Sunday was a day they went to church.  Sunday was a day the boys played baseball, because baseball was a huge pastime for the young men.  And the barn dances we talk about, they were on Sunday nights, and that’s the only night they weren’t working.  So you have some distinct differences.

Now the Roman-Catholics, of course worked six days a week also, but if you had a Names Day and of course it wasn’t during the heaving work season.  Then there was no problem having a party, but if you had an important [?192-193], then that probably would be a holiday in the Roman-Catholic community, anyway, and so you were still able to get together.  And it really seems that, that now makes sense as to why the folk songs stayed alive.  And it really amazed in a couple instances where I have been able to observe people performing folk songs, in a Roman-Catholic group.  And the number of people who sit there and sing along, they might not sing very loudly, but they know the words.  And you can watch their mouths and all those words are right there, and both men and women.  And so it is a tradition that really did stay alive there, and so it’s, I’m just so happy to have found that as a rational for why that happened. 

BD:  Okay, anything that you want to fill in with you on camera?   Um, not at this point.   You know when I look at things, I may come up with other stuff, come up with other things.  Okay, thank you.

(Playing accordion) [?205-211]

BD:  Turn yourself a little bit more to the light, there you go.

HR:  It is a little [?215]

BD:  Now turn it around the other way.  Can you pull your hand out of there?

HR:  Oh, I certainly can. 

BD:  There we go.  Okay.  [?217-218] push 6-10 or 6-11, and then uh, 5-9-5. 

(words I can’t understand [?221-223].

BD:  [?227] Italian, isn’t it?  Yeah, Italian. 

(words not having to do with the conversation [230-231])

(words that are too low of a voice I can’t hear an understand [?232-256]

BD:  What else is on here now? That’s about it. 

Tape finished. 


Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller