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F-M Symphony Orchestra


On this date in 1951, The Fargo Forum ran a big spread titled, “Orchestra Success Regarded by Outsiders as Astounding.” The story, written by Roy P. Johnson, celebrated the symphony’s upcoming 20th anniversary.

“Had there been no public appreciation and support, the orchestra may have fallen by the wayside long ago,” Johnson wrote. “It has never had an angel, nor an endowment. That a symphony orchestra could exist in communities as small, that it could play great music skillfully, that its unsalaried players would make such a sacrifice of effort and time for their fellow men and particularly that it would thrive year after year – has been regarded by outlanders as nothing short of phenomenal.”

The seeds for the F-M Symphony were planted in 1930, when the State Music Federation held its annual convention in Fargo. Harry M. Rudd put together an all-state orchestra to entertain the delegates, and the response was so enthusiastic that Rudd and two Fargo women decided to form a permanent “Civic Orchestra.”

In the beginning, Mrs. John Alexander Jardine, of the North Dakota Federation of Music Clubs, was the driving force, but when in May 1933 she was elected President of the National Federation, she had to withdraw from the committee. She suggested Hildur Shaw take her place; Shaw came from Minneapolis, where she attended the symphony from a young age. She was also trained in voice, piano and music theory at the MacPhail School of Music.

Twenty-eight musicians were on hand for the orchestra’s first rehearsal, held on the second floor of the Fargo Chamber of Commerce. Johnson writes, “Many of the musicians can recall the kindly ways of the musically-wise Mr. Rudd as he gently coaxed the players along.”

The symphony’s premiere event was on April 28, 1931, and pronounced a smash hit. Forum critic William Ballou was not only impressed by the performance, but also the size of the audience and the thundering applause. “Anyone who thinks music is going to pot locally should have been there to note the resourcefulness shown in their symphonic work,” he wrote. “To contain the willing audience, an amphitheater would have been needed, rather than the meager 1,000 seats that the auditorium offers... Fargo takes to symphony as a duck to water.”

Mrs. Shaw remained president for more than 20 years. In 1951, Johnson wrote, “On one occasion, a piano accompanist for a (visiting) violinist failed to appear. Mrs. Shaw spied an able pianist in the audience just as the concert was to begin. The pianist agreed to play but was not dressed for the occasion. While the concert program was shuffled to avoid delay, Mrs. Shaw sent for a gown, helped dress the accompanist’s hair, then sent her on the stage. Although she had not rehearsed, she was so accomplished the program went through without a hitch, and the make-shift player won hearty applause.”

Since the beginning, Fargo-Moorhead’s three colleges have provided many of the musicians. By 1951, the symphony had grown to 64 members: 29 college students, 16 teenagers, 9 music teachers, 5 housewives, 3 office workers, and 2 professional musicians. The youngest member was 14 year-old David George Schickele on violin. His 15-year-old, bassoon-playing brother, Peter, later became known as P.D.Q. Bach – Johann Sebastian’s last and least offspring, rumored to be “illegitimate, or, even better, an imposter.” But that’s a story for another day.

Written by Merry Helm