Interview with Dr. Dona Reeves-Marquardt
Conducted by Dr. Homer Rudolf
10 September 2004
Transcribed by Amanda Swenson
Prairie Public Collection
DM: My name is Dona Reeves-Marquardt. I was born in Kansas City, Missouri, as a decent of Volga Germans. My mother was a Volga German. Her parents were born in the Volga villages of Grim, and Krauska, and Miracle on the Vercksaider of the Volga, that’s the hilly side. And in the vicinity of Seradtaul.
HR: Stop, stop. Sounds like steel thunder already.
Just talking about nothing to do with the meeting.
DM: My name is Dona Reeves-Marquardt. I am half German. My mothers parents came from the Volga Village of Krauska, Miracle, and Grim on the Vercksaider of the Volga, that’s the hilly side of the Volga. In the vicinity of Seradtaul. My grandparents immigrated to the steps of western Kansas in 1876. Now that’s relatively early, and they homesteaded and stayed there for a number of years. But actually my family urbanized very early. In 1912 they moved to Kansas City. And the first thing that they did there was to establish a movie house. Now movie houses in those days were silent. So having come from a long tradition of a musical family, what did they do? They employed their children. As most Volga Germans do, but this time my aunt Florence played piano at this silent movie house, and my uncle Oscar played the violin. While my grandfather used the projection. So, it was a musical family. I started taking piano lessons when I was three years old. My older sister had established a, all girls orchestra. Which was a great fad back in the 1930’s. So we were, always had music in our house. We always had music as an important part of our life, and it continues to be a first love.
HR: You mentioned the Volga, can you explain what, why that’s important information being from the Volga rather than from like...
DM: The Volga immigrants from Germany to Russia went about the years 1766 as my ancestors did.
DM: What was the question?
HR: The Volga, explain the importance of the Volga.
DM: The Volga immigrants to, from Germany to Russia, started about 1766, when my ancestors went. And they had set up a lot of traditions there, before the Black Sea Germans went. They took along with them sort of a narrow focus that the folks in Germany had at that time. They were of course very dominated by the ruling authorities. They didn’t have the chance to have any of the freedoms that the later immigrants had. The United States had not yet developed, there had not yet been a Constitution. The French Revolution had not taken place yet, and so they were I believe much more prone to be subject to the authorities from above. The Black Sea Germans on the other hand had all of these new liberties. They knew something about the mechanization of life. And it made a very definite difference I believe, in the event on Shalom, the world view of these two great groups.
HR: What do you know about the music in Russia of the Germans?
DM: We know of course that it is disappearing. But to me, you have to track it, and you have to be able to sort out what is the music of Continental Europe. The central part of Continental Europe, from the steps of Russia. And that’s a very difficult thing to do. The Germans from Russia are a very musical people, and they adapt music very very easily. They took with them this great corpus of religious music. And that had the under pinning and support not only of the language, the high German language but also of the church. So it remained, it lasted, it endured. And that they were able to not only use it in the Russia steps, but also to bring it with them in their baggage when they came to the United States. Folk music on the other hand is where I believe the great creative force of the Germans from Russia establishes itself. And there you find all sorts of interesting things. You find not only high German, but you also find the much more comfortable language that you used in the home. The local dialect. When you listen to these folk songs, then you find wonderous things about their life in Russia. I’m thinking for instance of the song [?55]. A Georges Katie sold some fat. Now this is a story of a woman who stole [?57] obviously. But she was accused of that, and she was called before the village tripunal. That consisted of the four [?58] the village majestrated and his two visitiors. So its a good picture of that, she was called before this tripunal accused. And of course she was asked if she ever did this. Then they say we saw you with this fat. Well she says if I did I’d offer you three rubels of silver, would you look the other way? And of course they said no, you have to be whipped. But I didn’t cheat she said. Well that doesn’t mean anything, you have to be whipped soundly. Now this shows us so much about the life there. It tells us something about women for instance. [?65] that is Katie, didn’t have her own voice, but she was used by the attribute of her husband George’s Katie. We learned something about the foods, fat is an important item. Its good for the nutrition. The German Russian diet was very convent on it. She had to steal some perhaps in order to feed her family. We also learn that stealing is not a forgivable transgretion, because stealing is bad even if your hungry. We learn something about the justice system. And finally we also learn something about the punishment for her crime. It was always corporal punishment, and you had to be beaten. It was generally always a public beating. So these folk songs are really the richness of these folks songs give us so much knowledge that we need to investigate. However the folk songs are a very delicate thing and they don’t migrate very well. I knew this song that was sung up until the 1960-1970’s up in Kansas, but I don’t believe that you hear it anymore. So its fragile, and it disappears very quickly. So does the language, and even though the Germans, the Germans Russia have borrowed so much of the Continental German language and Continental German songs, whenever they get together and sing folk songs, its not their own. They’ll be singing something like, [?83] or [?84] which are very fine songs. But their not indigenous German Russia songs, those are the things that interest me. Those are the things that we must research and hold onto as long as they exsist.
HR: What about instrumental music?
DM: Instrumental music among the Volga Germans was primarily the fiddle. It was a easily portable. Everybody could learn to use it. And it was of course again, learn from father to son. And these were mostly men musicians, of course. Men were the singers and men were the instrumentalists. Um, up until rather recently I have to add. The instrument that is most interesting of course is the [?90]. Because you don’t find it in the Black Sea Germans, you find it only in the [?91] music of the Volga Germans. And so it is rather unique, it has a unique sound. It is Volga German, and it is something that which really does distinguish German Russia Volga music.
HR: And what were they, what type of music did they play?
DM: They played the generally well known dances. The [?95] the polkas, the [?95] the [?95] probably and the waltzes. Always the waltzes.
HR: Any of those used for vocal music at all?
DM: The vocal music was used throughout the day. My grandmother sung day in and day out. Um, they used I don’t know whether you know the Volga [?99] but this is a collection of songs or hymns about [?100] and it was published in many editions, up until the 1950’s probably. This was a collection of the texts of the hymns, with the suggestion of the melody, the notes never existed there. But all of the Volga Germans knew the melody so all they needed was the text to get them over the rough spots. My grandmother’s edition of this book was printed in [?105]. So it was something that she put into her suitcase when she came along.
HR: Were the instruments ever combined with the voices for folk music?
DM: I believe that the instruments were used, particularly the accordion as the men were getting together at night. And as they were strolling through the streets, they would sing in the evenings as a sort of entertainment. Because it was poor television naturally, and they didn’t know anything about American football. So they used music as a source of their entertainment. And they strolled through the streets singing beneath the windows of their sweethearts. And I believe the men and the women together would sing during these episodes. And it was very widespread. Day and night both the entertainment was probably not so much the religious ones but the folk music. Lots of folk songs, most of them have disappeared, but there are some very good collections of the folk songs that we can study. The instruments, the women generally learned the piano. And the men used the other instruments for some reason. But it’s a gender thing.
HR: What else do we have that, traditions actually came to the United States.
DM: That what actually came to the United States?
HR: The musical traditions that actually came to the United States from Russia.
DM: The traditions came to the United States from Russia. Again you have to look at the traditions coming from Russia to the United States, through the filter of time. And we have of course, many small groups enclaves that still use the German language and still use the old German tunes. But as I think they are disappearing. You have to look for them, you have to seek them. There’s much more evidence in the earlier years. Because the sermons were given in German. The churches were heavily using German, in the hymns and in the sermons, and in Sunday school. Not to be forgotten. Everyone had to go to Sunday school, or to Catechism school to learn the German Catechism. The hymns were learned from childhood on, and there are still a lot of people who can sing these songs. And if you give them the proper motivation, and if your lucky enough you can still hear them.
HR: What about instrumental music that came from Russia?
DM: The, the um..
HR: The examples of instrumental music that came from Russia to the United States. Like the chopper and things like that.
DM: If you look in the areas of Colorado, and Kansas, and Wyoming and Nebraska, you will certainly, Saturday night find a Dutch hop somewhere. And people love the music, it is a lively bouncy music. The polka is a bit more rapid, faster tempo than what you find in North Dakota, or in South Dakota. There is a bit good of overlap, and I look for more overlap in the years to come. But there, the songs are somewhat similar, although there are many a polkas that we find in Colorado that we won’t find in North Dakota. You, for instance the [?160] people just look at you if you ask for that in Bismarck or in Linton, but they certainly know it in Fort Collins in Greely. It’s asked for every dance, and people are very very familiar with it.
HR: Then the organ?
DM: I wouldn’t know anything about the organ.
HR: No, no. Okay. Let’s see. What are characteristics of Germans from Russia music that you can identify?
DM: If there’s a Dolsimer it’s German Russia. If it’s in German it’s not necessarily German Russian. You have to make the distinction there. And you have to look for individual titles. Individual titles we can trace back, such as [?169]. Uh, something’s morphed over time, and we have to look for a great deal of change in the continuum of time. But there is a distinctive flavor I believe in German music, that you find in the, in the groups that get together. There is um, a vibrancy when it is particularly German Russia, that you don’t find I think when you go to just a ordinary German song. [?178] German Band Fest, polka fest.
HR: They were in Russia for over a hundred years in the [?179] area, almost a hundred years for the [?180]. Do we know any music that was a written there?
DM: Folk music particularly by all means. Folk music was written there and did transplant to the central part of the United States. As I say the religious music did transplant. The instrumentation came along in respect to the [?184]. The folk tradition is however the most creative part, and I don’t know that there were folk songs that were composed in Kansas. There was certainly folk songs composed anonymously in Russia that came to Kansas and were sung there. As I say up until 1960 at least.
HR: How do we identify folk songs that were written in Russia?
DM: We identify the folk songs that were written in Russia through their theme. A folk song is a four line stanza, and its easy to identify as a folk song. The German Russian folk song has to have some sort of a German Russian theme in it in order for it to strictly identify it, I believe as a German Russian folk song. Through the subject matter, you find the identification. Now there were others that came up such as visits in [?197]. That translated very well from Germany to Russia to the United States. But it morphed of course, and where it was originally thought of as a protest song, an anti-war song it became sort of a nice communal drinking song. The folk song is a simple song so it, it lends itself well to a simple setting. And this is the creativity of our people who were able to put words and first develop the melody and put the words there. And then pass it down with a very developed oral tradition. We find songs that were used before the wedding, the people would come along and invite all of the village to a wedding that was coming up. It would have a long long verse inviting the people to the wedding. And of course there would be places along the way, they would get a little ribbon upon their cane and a glass of schnapps so they would make the rounds of the whole village. Now this is a very long song or poem, to keep in your mind. But these are the things that are now disappearing. There were also the toasts that were used on many occasions. They would spontaneously come up with a four line stanza, let us say. They would use it on the spot and perhaps pass it on. But from person to person it would be six or eight or ten people that would be offering this four line stanza. Sometimes humorous sometimes very sober, but always good advice.
HR: How are, do we have examples of music. Uh, the German Russian traditions how are they surviving today in the United States?
DM: The German Russian tradition are barely surviving. You have to look very hard for them, you have to look under the surface. What has become German-October Fest. But it is there and it is very vibrant tradition. But I look for it to die within the next few decades. Primarily because the young people are not learning the German language. And you have to know the German language in order to support the traditions, both in religion and both in the folk tradition. As the German language disappears, so will these traditions. Not even to speak of these dialects, these wonderful dialects that are disappearing. If you spoke German at home, you spoke the very comfortable German dialect. But if you got in before the judicial system before the other German speaking people, you would have to use high German. Not all of our people knew high German. Everyone knew their own dialect. I don’t remember that at all my short term memory is shot. (laughter). We were talking about the language.
HR: Right, yah. Would you want to continue with that’s your, fashion?
DM: We’ll see if ah, he probably got most of that. Are we ready? Yep, I’m ready when you get there. If we could get the audience to be quiet.
DM: The dialect that you speak at home and feel comfortable with is the dialect that is disappearing. That’s the part of the language that is disappearing. Now German itself is in a very precarious position in the United States because, who is studying it? Very very few in these days. However, this dialect is a very important part of the culture. And as it disappears, then the culture will disappear. I have no doubt of that. However, there is another influx, influence which is coming in. And it gives me hope that some of these German Russian folk songs will survive. And that is mainly that many of the re-settlers from Cazakstan and Siberia are coming back to Germany and bringing these songs back. And this is a tremendous boost to the culture, because the songs are the same songs that we know are immigrant ancestors sung in Kansas.
HR: When did they end up in Cazakstan?
DM: They went there as a result of the invasion of Russia when all of the Volga people were resettled. They were all taken on the box cars. (interruption). They were taken on box cars into the parts of central Russia, Siberia, and Cazakstan. And put to work there in a slave labor army. Now those people are now coming back to Germany, to their old homeland which has become very, very strange to them. And in which they do bring this influx of folk songs which has survived from the beginning. From the, some of them even from the immigration in the 18th century. So it is a wonderful thing for us, because we get a new insight into our songs. Now these people are coming in robustly singing these folk songs, and they are immediately taking on some of the central German kind of flavor. The ones that we have heard have been very often colored with a strong pavarion, cover ring. And that is also an interesting thing about folk music, because it does change and it does morph.
HR: Did the Black Sea Germans end up in Cazakstan too?
DM: Not so much, most of those had the good fortune of being invited back into the third [?276] before the [?277] as the Germany army of occupation came in uh, to the Black Sea area, and many of them were invited back into the German homeland, and resettled in Poland in other ways. However, some of them did get deported I understand and those are the ones of course who are coming back, trying to come back to their own home villages. And its not as easy is it, as once as it might have been.
HR: Um, what other topics would you like to talk about. Leu, can you think of anything else? Music dialects. Do you want to mention any other folk songs, for example the other one that we had mentioned up there? The [?288].
DM: And there is the [?289]. Uh, very beloved folk song which is still sung today and which is probably already still sung in continental Germany as they went to Russia. This Madam Madam. It is a humorous folk. Again four line stanza, dialogue form. But it is a woman who is having a good time, a drinking song. And she is being asked to come home because her husband is sick. Well she doesn’t want to come home, she’s having such a good time. She says, “He’ll be sick when I get home”. Well then they say, “Well, he’s dying”. “Oh yes, he can die”. “Well the grave diggers are already coming and they’re carrying him off”. “Well, I’ll wish him eternal peace”. This is a funny song, it is a very funny song, but it is also one of the songs transported from Russia to the United States and probably had been sung in Germany before. Most interesting.
HR: A good example, of transport over here?
DM: It was transported very easily, from Russia to the United States. Probably started in Germany to Russia and then came to the United States, so it’s a very interesting example of the very long life of the folk songs.
HR: Any thing else? Well what we all need to do, when we look at all the footage that we get is to try to identify topics that have not been addressed in the interviews and that is apart of my challenge to identify the stuff, so I can give Bob questions that need to be dealt with. But if you find other things that you think that.
DM: Can you think of anything? Do you have any other questions?
HR: No, I Don’t think I have. Thankyou