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).

Monday, March 31, 2014

UMM music travels of today, and of times gone by

We attended the UMM concert choir concert on March 23 at the HFA recital hall. This was the Puerto Rico tour home concert.
The concert choir is the auditioned ensemble of UMM's music program. These undergraduate students have a variety of majors.
Dr. Christina Armandarez directs. Part of her background is vocal jazz, which makes me assume she's a fan of Diane Schuur. One of the best CDs I have is a collaboration of Schuur and the late trumpet great, Maynard Ferguson. I consider that CD (or "album") the second-best Maynard ever put out, his best being the 1970 offering "M.F. Horn" (when he was in England).
Ah, UMM and its travels. It makes my mind drift back to a time very early in UMM's history. UMM as a fledgling institution did not seem secure. People associated with its birth will tell you there was nervousness. "Experimental" may describe UMM's first chapter.
The campus had been converted from its previous use which was an "ag school." What would happen to that little collection of buildings out there?
There were fears UMM might be a short-lived experiment. My opinion, expressed in my online writing before, is that UMM was probably more settled for its future than many of its early supporters thought. It just had to take baby steps for a while. Public relations was going to be important. Music was going to play a major role.
Music is not only a deep field of study, it's entertaining! I remember being on the bus for some of the regional touring by the UMM men's chorus. I remember these guys breaking into song on the bus, with the "Herman's Hermits" popular tune of the time: "Henry the 8th."
"Second verse, same as the first!"
To west, by train
The University of Minnesota-Morris men's chorus traveled well beyond West Central Minnesota too. The first big venture of this type was "destination Seattle." It was the year of the big World's Fair out there.
The Beatles recorded "Love Me Do" in that year. TV viewers were introduced to a new hit: "The Beverly Hillbillies" with Buddy Ebsen.
The first of the James Bond movies, "Dr. No," came out and was a smash. Today we call these movies a "franchise." The idea of unending sequels would have puzzled us then. Today sequels are common because Hollywood dislikes risk-taking. It's quaint to think of Hollywood movies from the early 1960s. Hollywood put out "Cleopatra" that was such an enormous bomb, it held down budgets for many other Hollywood projects in its aftermath. I would argue those circumstances actually stimulated creativity. Hollywood had to make do with less. Adversity builds character (and creativity).
The year of the big Seattle World's Fair was 1962. The Fair was also called "Century 21 Exposition."
My father Ralph E. Williams had a liking for World's Fairs. He was a member of UMM's founding faculty. In 1962 he took his prized University of Minnesota-Morris men's chorus out to the Pacific Northwest for the World's Fair. It was an important early feather in UMM's cap.
My father's role solidifying UMM was much praised. For me, for what it's worth, it was almost kind of a curse because people thought I grew up privileged. I was an only child which made matters much worse. The curse has followed me through my whole life. I will go to my grave carrying it. My own travails aren't important, at least to anyone besides me, so let's just celebrate what UMM accomplished by those early trips.
In 1964 my father would take his "pride and joy" UMM men's chorus east to the New York World's Fair. I was along for that trip as a nine-year-old. The Unisphere was a grand symbol of the New York World's Fair. It ought to stay famous today, like the Eiffel Tower, Taj Majal or Sydney Opera House. For some reason it hasn't stayed famous.
4-H event "christened" UMM music
Let's drift way back to the year 1960 when UMM music took its first baby steps. The term "band" was used then, not the current "symphonic winds." I say "baby steps" but the band was actually quite solid from the outset. In terms of numbers, this ensemble did better than what had been expected, according to the Morris newspaper article of the time.
Morris residents got this headline: "UMM band to make debut Saturday night." The paper was dated November 4, 1960. The historic performance was off-campus and for a truly community audience. My father Ralph directed the groundbreaking UMM musicians at the old armory, which we lost to fire in the mid-1960s. It was a grand building on the site now occupied by our Morris Public Library.
The UMM band members assembled with their navy blue uniforms trimmed with maroon and gold. The concert was presented for the Stevens County 4-H young people and their parents. The preview article anticipated a turnout of about 1,000. The UMM band numbered about 50 pieces. Included were six selected instrumentalists from the Morris High School band.
"A band of this size was not anticipated the first year (of UMM)," the Morris Tribune article stated.
I'm delighted that the Stevens County 4-H program was the beneficiary of this event. Years later I would be presented with the "Friend of 4-H" award from Stevens County 4-H for my dedication as a newspaper person. Yes, I went out of my way paying attention to 4-H events. I miss all that, but all good things come to an end. The Morris newspaper of today, no longer locally owned, has far less space to devote to everything. It may be at least 50 per cent smaller than it was, and it appears to be coasting along with the benefit of revenue from a pile of Alexandria-based advertising circulars. I wouldn't want to answer for that.
UMM music got launched and things would only get better.
Governor joins celebration
I remember when my mother Martha and I stood near the steps at the state capitol, looking up as my father and Minnesota Governor Elmer Anderson joined in festivities kicking off Minnesota's representation in the 1962 Seattle World's Fair. Governor Anderson commissioned my father a "goodwill ambassador" for Minnesota. The governor presented Dad with a certificate making him a "10,000 Laker."
The UMM chorus was part of a substantial contingent that would represent the state for Minnesota Day ceremonies at the Fair's Plaza of States. The 36-voice UMM men's chorus would open the Minnesota Day program. Pretty prestigious, I'd say.
The UMM chorus sang "Onward, Ye Peoples," "Born to be Free," "Rock-a My Soul" and "Russian Picnic."
I'm struck by the "Russian Picnic" tune given we were at the peak of Cold War tensions.
Sobering times for all
While we here in Morris worried about UMM staying viable and having a future, getting beyond its "experimental" status, people all over America - heck, the world - had to be worried about whether we'd all be nuked. It was that bad. The Russians placed ballistic missiles on Cuban land just 90 miles from Florida.
JFK threatened war in an about-face from the innocent "Camelot" image we all developed about the JFK presidency.
JFK was supposed to be at the Fair's closing ceremony on October 21, 1962, but canceled due to what was reported as a "cold." Really he was dealing with the Cuban missile crisis.
I have written before that the Seattle World's Fair happened before the big social flashpoints of the 1960s - the movements and events we associate with that decade. Even the later New York World's Fair was before most of the bad or transformative stuff. Boomers who are natives of the New York City area are known to be nostalgic about that World's Fair, for that reason. It was a touchstone for a more innocent and optimistic time.
Two years earlier at Seattle, Americans were defensive about the U.S. place in the world relative to the Soviet Union. The major theme of that fair, in fact, was that the U.S. wasn't really behind the Soviet Union in the realms of science and space. The fair's vision of the future was tech-based optimism, not anticipating major social change. We all know what happened: social change ended up as a hallmark by decade's end, when we got such phenomena as Woodstock.
Frankly I wonder if my father was able to get "hip" with it all. He was a member of that grand WWII generation, and he served in the Pacific Theater of that conflagration. When he died, the one thing I wanted to be sure of, in terms of final rites, was that there be a gun salute at the cemetery. We did it. I'll never forget it, so thanks to the Morris veterans service organizations who generously and dutifully perform this.
Lest you have any doubt about 1962 being more an extension of the '50s than anything else, think of the popular songs like "Duke of Earl" (Gene Chandler) and "Big Girls Don't Cry" (The Four Seasons). Elvis Presley was right in his groove, putting out "Good Luck Charm."
In fact, ol' Elvis starred in the movie "It Happened at the World's Fair," inspired by that grand event. Too bad the UMM men's chorus couldn't be worked in. We truly could have added flavor.
"Minnesota Day" at the Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition) was on Tuesday, June 12, 1962. The UMM chorus was joined by another vocal group and four bands, plus the governor and royalty from the St. Paul Winter Carnival and Minneapolis Aquatennial. Later in the day, the UMM singers would perform at the Plaza of States.
The group got out west and back by train. A grand send-off was held at the Great Northern depot here. Just think: a group from Morris on the same level and with the same status as the likes of the Aquatennial, Winter Carnival and the governor himself. Someone might well have told Morris: "Pinocchio, you're a real boy now."
Many people showed supreme dedication getting UMM off the ground. My father Ralph was proud to be in those ranks. I wasn't smart enough to consider attending UMM. I hit the wall with science and math. Because of that darn Cold War, we felt here in America that math and science standards had to shoot upward, and I was screwed by that.
I eventually squeaked through a state college because I could persuade enough people I could write. Frankly, I wish I had never attended college at all. I followed a script that I felt society had imposed on me. I should have spent one full year at home, maturing emotionally and physically and learning "life skills" which back then were never taught in school. But what would we tell relatives who'd call and ask "well, what is Brian doing now?" Dustin Hoffman had someone whisper "plastics" into his ear. There was no one like "Mrs. Robinson" in my life. (She was played by an actress younger than she should have been, but that's Hollywood.)
When I was 18, if someone asked me what insurance was, just the concept, I wouldn't have been able to say. But I was expected to be able to master algebra exercises. Ridiculous.
(Yes, this does come across like Robert Stack at the end of "Airplane!" saying "I had a rough childhood, Striker.") 
A different America in '62
In the year of the Seattle World's Fair, African-Americans were not welcome at some U.S. colleges. Federal troops and U.S. marshals had to take control.
The Beatles were actually turned down by Decca Records. Adolph Eichmann was hanged. Ford introduced the "Fairlane" which was good for inspiring some country music songs. Hey, the average cost of a new car was $3,125! Eggs per dozen were 32 cents. Gas per gallon: 28 cents.
The "old school" in Morris by East 7th Street was still considered in its prime.
The Elvis movie "It Happened at the World's Fair" was made in the spasms of "post-Cleopatra" Hollywood. I wrote about this before in my post about "State Fair" (the Pat Boone version). Hollywood saved set and staging costs by going "on location" with real major events as the backdrop, and the Seattle World's Fair certainly fit the bill. In the Elvis movie we see Seattle Center, including the famous "monorail" and Space Needle, as the backdrop for several scenes.
This might jog your memory: the movie begins with Elvis flying a cropduster plane. Elvis plays pilot "Mike Edwards." Various romantic escapades develop. The film made $2.25 million.
Monorail: symbol of 1962 World's Fair
The Seattle Center Monorail was the nation's first full-scale commercial monorail system. Today the trains carry two million passengers every year. The system carried over eight million guests during the six months of the World's Fair, easily paying for the cost of construction.
Marilyn Monroe was found dead on August 5 in 1962. Sleeping pills?
Holy cow, the first Wal-Mart store was opened by Sam Walton in Bentonville, AR. John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth, in "Friendship 7."
Nearly 10 million people attended the Seattle World's Fair. Unlike some other World's Fairs, it made a profit, presumably buoyed by our UMM men's chorus and their trademark maroon blazers!
The 1962 Fair was not reflective of the decade that was just starting to unfold. How sad the Viet Nam War turned into such an ungodly festering sore for our nation. But it happened and we must learn from it, lest we be dragged down by another such sinkhole.
The Seattle World's Fair was a time of joy and optimism, two ingredients that we always must strive to promote. Just like we in Morris promoted an optimistic view for our University of Minnesota-Morris. Our amenities seemed small back then. But the heart and conviction were anything but small.
I was present for UMM's first graduation ceremony in 1964. You could easily sense the stability and firm foundation for UMM then, at least from my child's perspective.
What a time. Just get yourself a recording of "Duke of Earl."
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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