ADVENTURES IN MUSIC FOR FORMER STUDENTS
THE HASTINGS COLLEGE CONSERVATORY
I had intended to make this a personal letter to each of you but the practical limitations of time and typists make that impossible. Will you not, therefore, accept this printed communication as being as personal as the letter might have been?
Thirty-eight years ago this autumn I began an adventure that is even more alluring as I write these lines than it was nearly four decades ago. It was the adventure of participating in the attempt to build on this campus a tradition of music training and performance which would be worthy of those whose toil and sacrifice had founded Hastings College on these plains; a tradition which would remain a challenge and inspiration to numberless generations of students whose feet, in the future, would cross the thresholds of these halls.
That I should have been given an opportunity to participate in this thrilling experience was due to an unaccountable optimism of a new president who found in my undeniable youth and limited experience no deterrent to my appointment. I sang a few songs for him, bared my breast of an enduring passion to teach in a liberal arts college, and he invited me to join the adventure.
The beginnings were of an appropriate simplicity. The Conservatory had been, and still was, housed in two large studios on the third floor of Alexander Hall. The necessity of approaching the portals of music via two floors of a women’s dormitory seemed no hazard to music students, and in the thirty years of our trespass, the girls became adept at their game of hide-and-seek, played through the doors of the shower room which faced the second floor landing. The music staff totaled two members: a piano instructor and myself. I married her and so we were one! My chief extra-curricular activity was to sing "The Road to Mandalay" – the president’s favorite song – for all the guests whom he brought to the campus in the hope of interesting them in our problems.
But time marched on in those days, too, and with new students came new staff members. We even had a secretary! The two big studios became twelve rooms under hammer and saw and the basement was converted to our use. Tours and festivals became annual events and enrollment in the College and Conservatory steadily increased to its logical capacity. The foundations so honestly and earnestly built by those who served in music and the arts before and after the turn of the century had deepened and the noble tradition was a lusty growth.
Three decades went by during which standards in performance and class room steadily increased and each generation strove to out-do in excellence the product of the former. Paced by a spiritually-centered academic curriculum with a superior perennial product, music on a high level increasingly became synonymous with Hastings College. Conservatory graduates were pursuing careers and making contributions to music culture which were truly significant.
Then, a second world war took from our campus hundreds of young men and women, replacing them with detachments of the Air Force Corps who filled our classrooms and whose rhythmic tread echoed from hall to hall. Music studios were needed as barracks and in a matter of three weeks the Conservatory adapted Clarke Hall, a women’s residence and home economics unit, to its use. Thus, after thirty years, the song died away in Alexander Hall and was reborn in Clarke. Pianos went in over porch roofs, through windows, and through excavations in the foundations; cellotex partitions sprang up in the basement to form practice cubicles – some without ventilation except through bored holes in the doors. But through careful planning and the cooperation of students and workmen we had four floors of relative comfort and privacy in which to carry on the tradition. True, it was only a stucco building – a tinder box – if the antique electrical wiring failed, but war is war and it was our only solution. At least we had a home, an integral unit, with the exception of the band which still carried on in the old chapel.
Although the world was aflame, music did not die. What men and women together had done, the women now did alone and they did it well. It was heart-rendering to watch those boys come to their last performance in some music unit – to realize, with them, that the next morning would see them inducted into a future from which there might be no return. From all the theaters of war came back letters thirsting for news of the campus and voicing the hope that the old days might yet live again. To an almost unbelievable extent these hopes came true and the post-war days knew joyful reunions and a quality of music performance which had not been surpassed.
The influx of new students stretched our capacity to the bursting point. Clarke Hall bulged at the seams. The discarded Army canteen became a series of practice rooms facetiously dubbed by the students "John Deere Hall." Here, despite the manufacturer’s incredulity, a pipe organ was installed in one of the "six by nine" rooms. There was no place else to put it. Even the old chapel pricked up its ears when a pipe organ was added to its multiple resources. Of course, trumpets, clarinets, and the organ might all be going full blast at the same time from various corners of the ancient structure, but who cared? Peace had come and the tradition must go on!
Next came the proposal by the Director of Fine Arts at the University of Nebraska that we apply for membership in the National Association of Schools of Music. With our meager and time-weary equipment I was dubious of acceptance by so powerful a group of the foremost conservatories of America, many of them equipped with spacious buildings, comprehensive libraries, and lush appointments, but I had faith in our students and their ability, so I applied for the two searching biennial examinations required by the Association. I shall never forget the examiner’s quiet but soul-stirring talk to our students at the close of the strenuous examination, in which he paid tribute to their performance, nor his final parting words to me: "I have never seen a finer product from such limited physical resources."
Thus, to the various make-shift surroundings, the years have brought successive generations of music students whose talent and contributions none may question, and in whose record lives our greatest pride. Statistics are sodden things, but it is arresting to find that over ten-thousand students have participated in the ongoing music march of time in these thirty-eight years. The colleagues who have participated with me in serving them have been devoted capable teachers whose influence will be limitless.
But what of the present? More important still – of the future?
Looking back over the vista of years I count myself as one of the most fortunate of men for having a kaleidoscope of memories which challenge description. The ties of student friendships and mutual adventures would consume a lifetime of retrospection. The past is gone. It is not forgotten, nor are those who made it significant, but as I said in the beginning, the present is no less a challenge. Each season brings to us new generations whose talent, ability, and potentiality are in every way worthy to be linked with the tradition builders of the past. Being of the present, must they indefinitely go on with the equipment and housing of the past? What factory, business, or institution could continue to produce a standard, approved product for forty years without vital plant renovation and expansion?
Our current problem has been drastically increased by a fire which swept away the old chapel on an early morning of February last. Into the flames went not only all the panorama which centered there, but the organ, the band studio, and thousands of dollars worth of instruments – this, just preceding one of the band’s most important tours! Characteristically, it did not accept defeat, for through gifts and loans of instruments the band went marching on! Now a theory room in "John Deere Hall" has been relinquished to form the current band studio, and band rehearsals are held in whatever space on the campus may not be in use at the moment. Orchestra and choir are also likewise impoverished for space in which to function. The orchestra rehearses a mile and a half from campus, and the choir shares quarters with a tolerant Department of Speech and Drama.
Invariably, on tours in which our students take the music of the campus to thousands of listeners who have learned to expect a quality of performance eloquent of our tradition, I am painfully conscious of the humble surroundings in which the music was born; and I wonder, how long, under such conditions, we can continue to attract the proverbially talented students, who have been our pride and inspiration.
In long contemplation of these problems I have asked myself what is the possible province or function in them, and at length, in all humility, I am persuaded to attempt to do something about them. I am approaching the last decade of my executive function. If the former years have left an undying fragrance of memory and have held the challenge which was theirs, surely, in all justice, I should do all within my limited powers to assure that the future may hold like qualities for those who shall carry the tradition forward.
So, with no formal training in fund-raising or finance, I have committed myself to the attempt to put a fine arts building on this campus worthy of you who helped to build our music and of those who will follow you. This may seem a fantastic and fruitless aim, but I have faith that it will not fail. I have, perhaps, only one asset: an utter lack of reticence or timidity in voicing the cause of boys and girls to whom the Hastings College Conservatory is a logical source of training, and who, without it, might otherwise be denied the privilege of a college music education.
We have a magnificent chapel; a memorial music-listening room of exquisite beauty; a private devotional chapel which is a gem. In the new chapel auditorium, thanks to beneficent friends, we have a new Steinway concert grand piano and a four-manual Skinner pipe organ of unexcelled quality. An additional gift provides us with a collection of early instruments and music which is both rare and unique. The campus now boasts a stadium which would grace any college campus, and a dormitory for men that reflects the finest of its class. All these have come to realization in the last eighteen months. And a science hall is in the making.
Shall the Conservatory eke out its days in a studio fire-trap and an equally hazardous glorified shed? Not, I believe, if justice be done.
WHAT DO WE NEED?
An all-inclusive building for all the training in music and the fine arts on this campus, with ample studios, rehearsal rooms for choir, band, and orchestra; classrooms, practice rooms, and facilities for small recitals – all sound-proofed and functional.
WHAT WILL IT COST?
An estimated $300,000.00, plus equipment. (I have made a private vow that only one of the grand pianos bought in 1919 shall enter the new building. It will be mine, and it will be a museum piece.)
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
In two ways:
First: If the days you spent here still live for you; if you would wish to see this final dream realized to bless the students of the coming years, you may send me any amount from one dollar upward, or a pledge covering two years from date.
For every one of you who so participate in this adventure, a permanent inscription of your name and years at the conservatory will be put on the walls of the new building in a lounge or alcove dedicated in your honor. That is a bit of sentiment which I have promised myself shall be indulged.
Second: If you know of some person or persons who have funds for so worthy a purpose, to whom you may appeal, you should by all means tell them the story. If a direct appeal from me would be of aid, I hold myself ready to go any distance at any time to make such an appeal. You have only to write me about it. Naturally, any comments or suggestions you may have for the project will also be gratefully received.
It will take many contributions, small and in bulk, to achieve the goal, but by the concerted effort of all of us, in the spirit of the days we knew together, it can be done!
In view of the magnitude of the task I can send you only this one letter. I shall not address you repeatedly. The story is told, and your part in the result must come from its one telling. It is long but so is the cause. The greater the number of you who share in the adventure, in any amount, the greater naturally will be my joy and the greater my satisfaction as I hope to stand and read your names indelibly enrolled.
While I have been writing, you have been passing before me in review – a thrilling panorama. Some of you were here so long ago that the experience is vague in recollection; some, figuratively, left but yesterday. Such a chronology is part of the thrill. May the reading of this message have been as pleasant as the writing of it.
Shall the tradition go on?
Yours in complete devotion,
Doctor Fuhr’s contacts with world-renowned contralto Marian Anderson, and the resultant February 2, 1952 fund-raising concert for which Miss Anderson donated her services (to the cause of "building a new ‘home’ for the Hastings College Conservatory") produced the initial money set aside for the Conservatory Building Fund.
Later that same year Doctor Fuhr circulated to all Hastings College music alumni his famous "Adventure in Music – Shall the Tradition Go On" letter. With sufficient funds on hand to assure the completion of the projected building, a ground-breaking ceremony was held on Monday, April 11, 1955, at which time Doctor Fuhr turned the first spadeful of earth while College President Dale Welch and Dr. O.A. Kostal, Chairman of the College Board of Trustees’ Building and Grounds Committee, observed the operation. Although the building was completed in June 1956, its dedication was delayed until September 23, 1956, in order that it might be a part of the 1956-1957 Diamond Jubilee Year, celebrating the initial opening of the College seventy-five years earlier.