History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The grand New York World's Fair, UMM's presence

(Image of the fair's "Unisphere" from Wikipedia)
One of the better-known photos of Mitt Romney as a young man was taken at the New York World's Fair. He's with his father George. George is gesturing toward something outside the photo that was probably magnificent. Mitt looks in a rapt way.
All kinds of magnificent things were on the grounds of the New York World's Fair. The years were 1964 and 1965. It has been called a "touchstone" for the boomers in the New York City area. World's fairs by definition look to the future. We see marvels that might be just getting off the drawing board. Because the fairs are future-oriented, they are optimistic. Too bad those wonderful visions at the New York World's Fair ended up not prescient, at least for the years immediately ahead.
The boomers see it as a touchstone because it preceded the uncomfortable years marked by the Viet Nam War, protests against it, and other issues sometimes rising to incendiary levels.
George Romney was a presidential hopeful at one time. Don't most of us view him now, in retrospect, as a more mature and wise person than his son? Yes, George famously claimed he had been "brainwashed" about the war. But did anyone really come out a winner in regard to that war?
We probably had advisers in Viet Nam at the time my family visited the New York World's Fair. I'm not sure to what extent troops had dug in there yet. I know the peak for U.S. casualties was in 1967.
In 1964 people flowed into the New York World's Fair in a quite contented way. The University of Minnesota-Morris was represented there. The men's chorus wearing those maroon jackets carried the UMM banner. The institution seemed still in its infancy then.
We traveled out east by train. I remember enjoying the "vista dome car." I remember the African-American "porters" who gave me my first meaningful interaction with non-white people. Morris was a white bread town in those days.
The UMM men's chorus made this trip in June of 1964. This was the same year UMM ushered its first graduating class into the world. The institution was getting its feet planted firmly on the ground. Music was the first order of business for the party I was in. But there was plenty of extracurricular fun to be had at an event like the fair. I wonder if we brushed shoulders with the Romneys and didn't know it.
I would like to see the New York World's Fair represented in a new motion picture. It deserves to be remembered better than it is. What made it different or special? A lot of the futuristic stuff was certainly special. Computers! Just think of the fledgling state of development computers were in. They bedazzled us but seemed distant and exotic - contraptions to be managed by others. Many fairgoers got their first interaction with computer equipment. Such stuff was generally kept in back offices away from the public then. We can assume it was incredibly primitive and bulky. It would have been hard imagining how ubiquitous they are today.
"Futurism" is surely a shot in the dark. When the "Back to the Future" movie series tried portraying a future time, what we saw was really just a jazzed-up version of what existed when the movie was made. These realities hardly prevent us from trying to celebrate the future. Chalk it up to the indomitable human spirit. And, the World's Fair of 1964-65 showcased that unbridled determination to leap into the future. It would be nice to close one's eyes and imagine that spirit guiding our destiny instead of the tragedy and distractions of the transformative 1960s (mid to late).
The boomers, many of whom held hands with their watchful parents as they crossed the fair grounds, were encouraged to think of a future so much more uplifting.
Many of the attractions were called "pavilions." The Ford Motor Company introduced the Mustang at its pavilion in April of 1964. Talk about another touchstone! Our family attended the "It's a Small World" show at the Pepsi pavilion. We figured the workers there might go crazy listening to that theme song all day.
"It's a Small World" was one of four shows put on by the Walt Disney Company. We saw the array of animated dolls and animals frolic. For some reason I remember the show especially well. But we saw so much fascinating stuff including the Sinclair Oil Corporation "Dinoland." It had nine dinosaur replicas, all life-size! We saw them from high up when riding the neighboring Uniroyal ferris wheel (constructed like a giant tire).
It's ironic to remember the fair's theme: "Peace Through Understanding." The ideal could have guided us through a more peaceful decade. The Cold War seemed to warp the thoughts of our national leaders. How many politicians of today would admit to being "brainwashed" on anything, the way the elder Romney eventually did? The Cold War cast a pall the likes of which the young people of today cannot understand.
The New York World's Fair ran for two six-month seasons: April through October in 1964 and the same months in '65. My goodness, the admission price was two dollars! Ron Paul would have thoughts on that (how our currency has taken a precarious course). Oh, the price was a dollar for kids.
A total of 51 million people attended the fair, actually less than had been hoped for. Try as we did, the UMM men's chorus couldn't give the decisive push! But surely these young men in maroon jackets represented our college on the prairie with class and enthusiasm. My father Ralph E. Williams was chorus director. Many people became aware for the first time of UMM.
Why might the fair have stumbled a little with attendance? There is a popular theory: lack of a standard "midway." While this may have hurt, I think the midway-less fair rose to a higher and classier atmosphere. This showcase for mid-20th Century U.S. culture and technology could have been tainted some by a "honky tonk" type of midway. Not that I can't enjoy a good midway like anyone.
I wish more good photos had been taken of the Morris party at the fair. Our family had a "box" camera but took mostly family-type photos. I think that to photograph a chorus in an inside setting would have required better equipment. Remember, good photography equipment was rare and expensive back then. I have been told that even expensive cameras then had flash units that didn't project very well. By the end of the decade we got those "Kodak Instamatics" that everyone had. Ron Howard promoted that nostalgia with a scene in "Apollo 13." Everyone was poised with their "Instamatic." The quality, frankly, was not very good.
Digital photography wasn't even a twinkle in anyone's eyes. Ah, the things today's youth take for granted!
Perhaps we can fish up some photos from that fair trip in the next month as alumni from that trip prepare for the reunion in conjunction with the 2012 UMM Homecoming. I have told organizer Gary Sethney he should put out the word in search of photos. Maybe as if by magic, some will materialize. Wouldn't it be neat to have a digitized archive?
I am trying to make sure Chancellor Jacqueline Johnson is knowledgable about this aspect of UMM's past.
The reunion is set for September 22-23. Oh, I should mention the reunion will also include alumni who made the trip to Seattle for the 1962 World's Fair. Wow! UMM was really a fledgling institution then. The reunion was planned for this year as the 50th anniversary of the Seattle trip. I wasn't along for that one. I was a mere seven years of age and learning penmanship at Longfellow Elementary School (west Morris).
What a grand affair this upcoming reunion is going to be! The alums are invited to sing with the UMM concert choir on Sunday, Sept. 23, at the HFA. It will be a time to feel optimism toward the future, in a manner that was nurtured by the spectacular New York World's Fair of 1964.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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