Hard Chairs & A Clip-On Tie

In the early 1960s in St. Cloud, there was an organization known as the Civic Music Association. I have no idea when it started – there are references to it in online archives as early as 1932 – and I would guess it closed up shop sometime during the late 1960s. During the years the association was active, it sponsored about five concerts of generally classical or light classical music during each academic year.

That meant for about five years in the early and mid-1960s, I’d regularly have to dress up to go to a concert. I didn’t mind going; I just didn’t see the point of putting on good slacks and shoes, a blazer and a necktie – yes, a clip-on – on a weekday evening. But my sister and I would dress up a bit and then ride with Mom over to St. Cloud Tech High School and take our seats halfway up the grandstand in the auditorium/gym.

During the five or so years that we attended Civic Music-sponsored concerts, we saw and heard performances by some familiar names. I noted a couple months ago that Mom and I had once seen Mantovani and hs orchestra in concert; that was through Civic Music. I also remember concerts by the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra (now the Minnesota Orchestra), the piano duo of Stecher & Horowitz, the Robert Shaw Chorale, the Vienna Boys Choir and for at least two years, season-ending performances by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

And I remember hearing Van Cliburn play. Cliburn, who passed on yesterday at the age of seventy-eight, was likely the biggest classical music star we saw and heard during our years of attending Civic Music events. I was about ten, so call it 1964, just six years after Cliburn had astonished the world of classical music by winning the 1958 International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow.

I don’t remember much about the concert itself, just a glimmering image of Cliburn’s hands on the keyboard and the concentration on his face, that and a fleeting memory of wondering – spurred, no doubt, by my required daily half-hour of piano practice – how much time Van Cliburn spent practicing. What I do remember is his genuine smile and willingness to shake my small hand backstage after the concert and then to autograph a photo of himself that his publicist had handed me. (That photo and the program from that evening’s performance are no doubt in one of the boxes in the basement, boxes that I hope to sort through soon in search of Van Cliburn’s autograph and other mementoes.)

As I write, I have vague memories of Mom telling me – maybe sometime around 1968 – that the Civic Music Association had folded. That wasn’t uncommon. Last evening, I clicked a few links after I recalled that the piano duo of Melvin Stecher and Norman Horowitz came to St. Cloud at least twice and perhaps more frequently. In a 2012 Wall Street Journal piece about the duo and their foundation, I read this:

“When we toured in the 1950s, we played anything between 50 and a 100 concerts a year and a great deal of recitals,” says Mr. Stecher. “These community concert series have disappeared. Out of 3,000 that existed in America, there are maybe 200 or 300 left.”

St. Cloud’s concert series was one of those three thousand, and I’m probably not alone in thinking that whatever fondness I have for classical music – and it is there, eclipsed though it often might be by my affections for blues, soul, rock, pop and all the rest – comes at least in part from those evenings spent in hard, wooden auditorium chairs, wishing I could take off my clip-on tie and trying at the same time to absorb what I could from the gifted musicians up on the stage.

It’s quite likely that Van Cliburn was the most gifted of the musicians who visited St. Cloud for Civic Music during my years of attendance. Here’s his recording – I do not know the date; I’d guess sometime in the 1960s – of the third and best known movement of Claude Debussy’s Suite bergamasque. It was written about 1890 and, Wikipedia says, was almost certainly revised significantly just prior to publication in 1905. During that revision, the movement’s title was changed to “Claire de lune.”

Worthy of note
I frequently refer and link to the blog The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ offered by my friend jb. Earlier this week, he told his readers that come March 11, he’ll be a full-time radio guy again. That’s the day he starts his new gig as the permanent afternoon-drive guy on Madison’s Magic 98, on the air from 3 to 7. Congratulations, my friend!

And there’s a new listing in the blogroll: A note from my friend Marie, late of Catch That Train & Testify, told me that she is now offering her take on vintage music at It’s All in the Grooves. It’s well worth your time to look at and listen to her mix of, as she calls it, “Hit parade flashbacks and obscure gems.”

Amended slightly since first posting.


One Response to “Hard Chairs & A Clip-On Tie”

  1. Marie says:


    A thoroughly enjoyable post! I really enjoy reading your ’60s reminiscences. Just in case you don’t check the answer to your comment on my blog, the ‘red herring’ was:

    43. Rancid Polecat – Ian And The Clarks (Liberty)

    Thanks so much for the very kind mention of my blog in your post and for the link in your blogroll.


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