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Fargo Moorhead 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 20th anniversary.

“Had there been no public appreciation and support, the orchestra may have fallen by the wayside long ago,” Johnson wrote. “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.”

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. “To contain the willing audience,” he wrote, “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.”

On one occasion, a piano accompanist for a (visiting) violinist failed to appear. An able pianist was spotted in the audience just as the concert was to begin. The pianist agreed to play but was not dressed for the occasion. The concert program was shuffled to avoid delay and a gown was sent for. Although the pianist had not rehearsed, she was so accomplished that the program went through without a hitch, earning the player a hearty ovation.

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 the musical humorist P.D.Q. Bach – with the claim of being Johann Sebastian’s last and least offspring, rumored to be “illegitimate, or, even better, an imposter.” But that’s a story for another day.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm