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).

Saturday, April 15, 2017

UMM and the marvelous Seattle World's Fair of 1962

This Seattle landmark needs no introduction.
UMM was showcased at the Plaza of States at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair. The 36 singers of our men's chorus opened the festivities for Minnesota Day. The young men sang four numbers. A group photo of that historic group is part of a display by the entry to the HFA Recital Hall.
Minnesota Day included royalty of the St. Paul Winter Carnival and Minneapolis Aquatennial. Four bands and another vocal group also represented Minnesota. Our men's chorus sang for ten minutes and was featured again later in the day. One of the tunes was "Born to be Free," a composition by my father, the late Ralph E. Williams, the chorus' conductor.
He was a prolific composer. He never encouraged me to learn that craft. He was more interested in directing me toward hunting and fishing.
The chorus traveled to the west by train. How quaint. Train would be their mode again two years later for the New York World's Fair. I remember being introduced to the "vista dome car" in the New York trip.
The 1962 Seattle World's Fair was also known as the Century 21 Exposition. It was held April to October. It made a profit unlike some other World's Fairs. Nearly 10 million attended. There were two clear symbols: the Space Needle and the monorail. It was the time of the "space race" (with the USSR). There was the scary specter of the Cuban missile crisis. JFK announced he could not attend the closing ceremony because of a "cold." The truth is that he was preoccupied with the Cuban missile crisis.
The world's fairs in Seattle and New York presented futurism. No one can really foresee what the future will bring. If we really knew, we'd move there immediately. The "Back to the Future" movie series imagined a future that was really just a jazzed-up version of the present. Cars were imagined that really just had more "sexy" design with the metal.
"Computers" in the '60s were big, bulky, mysterious and kept in back rooms. I guess it was hard imagining the "personal computer."
Culturally speaking, America in 1962 was still embedded in the 1950s. I have read that the torrents of change we experienced in the mid- to late '60s were simply bubbling under the surface in the 1950s.
Seattle gave us exotic futuristic visions like a "commuter gyrocopter." But no "drones." The Four Seasons gave us "Big girls Don't Cry" and "Sherry." The Ford Motor Company gave us the Fairlane. Adolph Eichmann was hanged, having been discovered in South America. The big screen gave us "West Side Story." John Glenn orbited the Earth in "Friendship 7." The first Wal-Mart store opened in Bentonville AK. Marilyn Monroe was found dead on August 5.
Oh, and the Beatles were turned down by Decca Records.
The Seattle World's Fair envisioned a future based on tech-based optimism. It did not anticipate the waves of social change that would set in, not far off. The Fair suggested that American power would grow and "social equity would take care of itself."
The Fair's monorail system became permanent. Today it carries something like two million passengers per year. It is a privately-run business. It carried over eight million guests during the six months of the Fair, easily paying for the cost of construction.
Elvis Presley sang "Good Luck Charm" in 1962. He would star in a movie that had the Fair as its inspiration and backdrop: "It Happened at the World's Fair." I seem to recall watching the movie at the Morris Theater. I remember vividly the opening scene of Elvis flying a cropdusting plane. The movie made $2.25 million. Elvis and his partner, played by Gary Lockwood, "are in financial duress due to the Lockwood character's gambling." The two need money or they'll lose their plane. They hitchhike. Remember hitchhiking? Outdated Americana indeed, like having a gas station attendant pump your gas, check your oil and wash your windshield.
Elvis and his partner are picked up by an apple farmer. They end up in Seattle for the World's Fair! Romances develop. We see the Space Needle and monorail.
Adding to the rich texture of the event was the UMM men's chorus and their trademark maroon blazers. My father had a special affinity with those world's fairs, probably reflecting a cosmopolitan outlook. He had "been around" in WWII. How nice to enjoy the placid atmosphere of a world's fair.
Will we ever hear a UMM group perform Ralph's "UMM Hymn" again? How about at graduation?
Listen to the golden sounds of the original UMM men's chorus by clicking on this link:
-Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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