Saturday, May 15, 2004
Our church, Elim Lutheran, in Scandia, Minnesota, is celebrating its 150th anniversary the same week your show is observing its 30th, and I just thought you ought to know. Since 1854, Elim Lutheran has been serving the people of Scandia and carrying out its commitment to sacred music of the highest quality. This commitment has almost killed us.
It began when a young German musician names Richard Wagner arrived in Scandia as Elim Lutheran's first music director. A great composer but he lasted only four months. He played the organ so loud you wouldn't hear yourself sing --- and the key changes. He's start "Onward Christian Soldiers" in Ab and suddenly you were in F and C sharp ------- and bossy? You ever listen to the Ring of the Nibelungen? He thought he was God.
He was replaced by Miss Evelyn Palmquist. She was very nice.
A young French musician names Claude Debussy came in 1896. He was sure talented but he'd play a prelude to a hymn and it went on and on and on: the guy couldn't find the melody in a paper sack --- he didn't know how to resolve something or when to quit trying. He played the processional and it wandered in and out and all around and the choir wound up out in the woods. We had no idea what he was doing half the time.
Miss Palmquist came back then. It was very nice of her.
So we got a Russian guy named Stravinsky --- he came highly recommended by the bishop, but gosh. The tempo problems; the guy couldn't keep a beat --- you'd be singing and he'd speed up and slow down --- weird chords: people looked at each other and shook their heads. He thought he was more important than anybody else. And he refused to play for junior choir. That was the clincher. Out he went.
Miss Palmquist returned soon after. It was nice to see her.
In 1921 the Rev. John Phillip Sousa became minister of music at Elim Lutheran. Put piccolos and trombones in the choir loft, played everything in 4/4 time and had the ushers carry white rifles --- we lost a lot of folks to the Unitarian church that year.
Then we kind of swung the other way and got a fellow named Gershwin. Nice, polite, hair combed, on his way from NY to Los Angeles --- somehow he didn't seem totally committed to Lutheranism and when he played the offertory and the ushers came by with the collection plate, people sometimes forgot and looked up and said, "I'd like a Manhattan, on the rocks, not too sweet, and a Gibson for my wife, sir."
Miss Palmquist replaced him. She is a very nice person.
The young John Cage came in 1946. Very quiet man. Then you'd hear him rap on the pipes with a fork or rub the keyboard with cellophane Talked about indeterminacy and chance elements in music. But we'd already had that for years with the older sopranos.
Aaron Copland came for a few months. It was spring. He wanted people to dance during the processional and wear calico hoop skirts and we don't do that sort of thing.
John Williams came and we experimented with laser beams and strobe lights and then we got over that.
So we got back Miss Palmquist. A hundred and sixty-two years old but still a trouper. She died a few years ago. We think she did. Her expression changed at the keyboard, she seemed to sag. So we buried her.
We replaced her with this Brunelle. A nice person in his own way, a good musician, but he does get carried away sometimes like all of them and you just have to tell him. Shape up. Play the notes. You don't have to make a big impact. Just be there on time.