Sometimes, if you want something, you need to ask the right person. A maestro, for example.
Aug. 5, 2008
Dear Mr. Sewell:
I have written a number of times in the last 12 years hoping to have the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra play "32nd Division March" when they travel to Portage for the concert at Pauquette Park.
Theodore Steinmetz wrote the march during World War I for his own outfit. He was director of Portage Bands for six years and my only teacher. ...
I had always hoped to hear 32nd and feel it would be a tribute to our young people fighting. ...
Many of his students attend the concert and we would feel so honored to hear his music in Portage. ...
Elizabeth M. Robinson
The "32nd Division March" isn't a stranger to Columbia County. The Dual County Community Band plays it often.
"We probably are playing it this week, Thursday, at our concert," said Carla Gerhardt of the band, which performs throughout Columbia, Sauk, Marquette, Dane, Green Lake, and Adams counties.
"It's not necessarily a centerpiece, but we have several members of the band who are ex-military," she said. "The band does pride itselfon being patriotic."
Nevertheless, the piece hadn't been performed at Portage's Concert in the Park by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.
Steinmetz taught Libbie Robinson from the time she started playing clarinet in 1946 until she graduated from Portage High School in 1950. For 45 years, she lived in a white house across from Pauquette Park, where the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra performs the annual Concert in the Park. She used to hold parties on her lawn for the concert, but she hadn't heard the orchestra play the "32nd Division," a piece of special significance to Portage, and to her.
"Every time we marched, we played the ‘32nd Division,'" Robinson said. "I think we played that at all the football games. ..."
"Always," said her friend, band classmate and fellow 1950 graduate Pat Condo.
"The best times," Robinson said.
Steinmetz wrote the piece during the worst times. Before World War I, he had served as a military band leader for several years. In 1917, the troops in his unit - by that time the 32nd Infantry Division, the "Red Arrow Division" - were training in Texas, about to be shipped off to war in France. The lyrics he wrote to accompany the march capture the times: "The Kaiser has no Chance/We'll put him in a Trance/Rah!"
A divisional history, "The 32nd Division in the World War, 1917-1919" by the Wisconsin War History Commission and Michigan War History Commission, mentions the music's importance immediately after the armistice of Nov. 11, 1918. The 32nd was sent to the Rhine, in Germany. Six days after the armistice, it says, "The Division took to the roads, marching in two columns. There were no ceremonies, though the bands played the 32nd Divison March and other triumphant pieces as the various regiments got under way. Except for the bands, the march was conducted at all times as in the presence of the enemy."
Steinmetz didn't talk much about the war, Robinson and Condo said. By 1946, he was a civilian again and had come to teach at Portage High School.
He was known as "Steinie."
"We never called him ‘Mr.,' did we?" Robinson asked, though she wasn't 100 percent certain. "That's a long time ago."
Condo played clarinet. Robinson said she started in clarinet until Steinmetz moved her to an E flat clarinet. Then he started her on the bassoon. But he was teaching more than particular instruments.
"He just took the band from a nothing ... but introduced us to classical music," Robinson said.
One of the pieces Robinson and Condo played in high school under Steinmetz's direction was the "1812 Overture," the finale of Saturday's Concert in the Park. Besides learning classical music, the band under Steinmetz's direction learned how to put on a show.
"In the summer ... on Tuesdays we would go over and play in front of the red brick building at the school (the Clough Building), and we would play songs for an hour or so," Condo said. People would drive over to the building on both sides of the streets and listen to the concert from their cars, she said. "And in appreciation they would blow their horns."
"Every Fourth of July we would march up to the parade at King, Wisconsin," Condo said. "After the parade was over, we would go over to the (Grand Army) home and play a concert for the veterans."
A few years later, in 1951, Steinmetz died at the home.
Steinmetz and his wife, Edna, had exchanged letters with his former students even after he left Portage and retired to King. They had lived close to the high school, which made it easier to connect with students.
"He was your friend," Condo said. "He cared about what was happening in your life."
"And he and his wife didn't have a family," Robinson said. "So I think the band members were their family."
Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra music director Andrew Sewell corresponded with Robinson. She was "insistent," he said. Sheet music was found in Marshfield, Steimetz's birthplace and burial place. Then, on Jan. 14 of this year:
Dear Ms. Robinson,
I'm writing to you with a belated Christmas present. I wanted to thank you for your persistence in bringing to my attention the memory and music of Theodore Steinmetz, and to tell you that we will be performing the ‘32nd Division March' at our July 3, 2010, Portage Concert at Pauquette Park. ...
"We're looking forward very much to coming to Portage on Saturday, and that will be a great treat - this one particularly because of the July 4 theme," Sewell said Tuesday.
Sewell added strings, woodwind and timpani to Steinmetz's arrangement, instruments suitable for a chamber orchestra but probably not found in the 32nd Division in 1917.
"It's mainly a brass ensemble," Sewell said of the original arrangement.
How does the new arrangement sound?
"Well, to be honest we haven't conducted it yet," Sewell said. "It's a perky march, and there isn't a lot to marches - they move right along."
"What I do think though is it's going to gain a popularity," he said. "I can see this isn't going to be the last time we perform this march."
"I think the march itself is well-crafted and includes ‘On Wisconsin!'" he said. "It's a Wisconsin march."
But Sewell said Steinmetz himself, not just his music, was impressive.
"What I've since found out ... is that he was really quite a man, educator, bandmaster, overall decent human being," Sewell said. "He promised himself that if he ever got out of this, meaning the war, that he'd get home and do something positive. He went on to teach."
Dennis Dorn, of Portage Lumber, will be the guest conductor for the march, courtesy of some friends who knew he was retiring from the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra board after 19 years and bid on a chance for him to guest conduct.
"It was a very, very generous gift," he said. "It's a gift from some people I care a great deal about ... and I'm very flattered that they thought first about me and most about my community."
Robinson had talked in one of her letters of the music's significance to soldiers serving overseas. Steinmetz's 32nd Infantry Divsion is no more. But in its place is the modern 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, the largest unit in the Wisconsin National Guard and known, as was its predecessor, as the "Red Arrow."
"The 32nd Brigade is coming home right now," Dorn said. "Patriotically, it's just a wonderful time to be doing it."
It had been Dorn's idea to bring the Madison Concerts on the Square to Portage more than a decade ago, although he quickly added that longtime community promoter Gloria Kirking and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra director at the time were the people who made it happen and decided on Pauquette Park.
"I have so much enjoyed my tenure on the chamber orchestra board," he said. "I think that's one thing that I can look at in my lifetime that I've been able to bring to my community."
And on Saturday, he'll guest conduct.
"Isn't that neat?" he said. "The full circle."
The march Robinson lobbied for will open the second half of the performance.
"People should come early," Sewell said. "It's going to be a very grand occasion."
Robinson and Condo will be there, they said. The Saturday forecast calls for a high of 83. "Sunny and beautiful," it reads.
Dear Mr. Sewell-
Your note was the best Christmas present I received. ...
- Elizabeth Robinson
If you go
What: Concert in the Park.
When: 6:30 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Pauquette Park, Portage.
Theme: "Salute to Our Veterans."
Musical highlights: A "fifth-quarter performance" by members of the University of Wisconsin Marching Band; Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra will perform "32nd Division March," "1812 Overture," salute to George M. Cohen, "Candide" and 10 other pieces; guest soprano Amanda Huddleston will perform several works with the orchestra.
Conductor: Andrew Sewell.
Guest Conductor: Dennis Dorn (for the "32nd Division March").
Fireworks: After the concert, the evening will wrap up with a fireworks show over the Wisconsin River.
Although the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra will perform the march without a choir, Steinmetz also wrote lyrics for the piece. They begin this way:
"Here Comes the thirty-second
"The Loyal Thirty Second
"We're on our way to France
"The Kaiser has no chance
"We'll put him in a Trance