|Osteogenesis Imperfecta - LIVING WITH BRITTLE BONES -
Audrey Ekdahl Davidson
Teaching, Directing, and Still Studying
There was a warm welcome for us from our next-door neighbor, Betty Anger, when we arrived at the large stucco house we had purchased in Kalamazoo, but at first I deeply missed Detroit and wondered what we were doing in this part of the state. The phone was utterly silent, and no professional singing job was available in any of the town’s churches, for all choirs were strictly volunteer. I had been hired to teach as a part-time instructor, with a work-load that actually was equivalent to full-time, at the University. I was to teach a humanities class, Arts and Ideas, which was almost the only course that seemed to be required of all students that would introduce them to art, literature, and music - and the focus was on the twentieth century only. The availability of television lectures that the instructor could use was the rationale for paying “part-time” instructors less. There was also the matter of being a “faculty wife,” later judged to be an illegal category with regard to hiring practices. But the television lectures, in living black and white, were so many of them inferior that I dropped most from my course after the first semester. There was nothing like a great books course here, or even a close attention to reading such as had been available in the required English courses at Wayne State. The pay was so low that I had to teach a couple of extra classes in the spring term to earn $4600 for the year. The humanities class was offered in a new College of General Studies, a unit that eventually was to be abolished, at which time I happily would be transferred to the School of Music. But that transfer would be a long time a-coming.
In the first year, my office was located on the second floor of the administration building, approximately where the president’s office is now situated and in the same room with two accountants, who must hardly have appreciated having students talking to me during my office hours. The classroom was across the hallway. There was no elevator, so Clifford would have to help me up the stairs in the morning and then carry my wheelchair up while I stood braced against a wall. No handicapped parking was available, so he drove up as close as possible in bad weather, then pushed me out in my wheelchair, sometimes through snow and ice, to the car. On one occasion an administrator tried to berate him for illegal parking, and he simply walked off to collect me. The administrator, who I believe had already called the campus police, later phoned us with his apologies.
As for singing, I worked at keeping up my voice, and was invited to sing in the choir of Zion Lutheran Church, where Kathryn Loew, the wife of the dean of Arts and Sciences, was organist-choirmaster. The organ loft where we sang was in the rear of the church and upstairs, so Clifford had to help me climb up there each Sunday. Kathryn was a fine musician with superb credentials, and we would together do an organ-vocal recital the next summer in which I would sing a florid oratorio by Antonio Caldara, a master of the Italian baroque who was rewarded for such works at the Viennese court of Charles VI. Subsequently we performed together quite a number of times, including a presentation of Olivier Messiaen’s Harawi song cycle that I was studying at the time. This is a ferociously difficult work inspired by Quechua melodies from Peru and other sources but using Messiaen’s own text. We also collaborated on bringing Heinz Werner Zimmermann and the Spandauer Choir from Berlin under the sponsorship of the American Guild of Organists, of which she was a very active member.
Like Heinz, I was interested in early music - an interest that had already been stimulated by Robert Holliday and by several influences in Detroit - and an unusual opportunity occurred early in 1966. A medieval conference, meeting every two years and sponsored by the newly formed Medieval Institute, had been established at Western Michigan University in 1962. The 1966 conference was scheduled for March. I think it was in early January that I phoned the director, John Sommerfeldt, to ask if he would be interested in a concert of early music. After the conversation, he told a person at hand that “some secretary from the College of General Studies” had phoned him to offer a music program. Not knowing anything about me other than what I had told him on the phone, he agreed to give me a spot on the program following the banquet, to be held in the east ballroom of the student center, later known as Bernhard Center. Casting about for a name for the group, I chose Society for Old Music, somewhat in imitation of some other ensembles but also influenced by the name of the local Bach Society. I then gathered up a group of local singers and instru-mentalists, and we began rehearsing at my house around my Steinway grand, which I had acquired in the final months we were in Detroit from a master rebuilder named Reinhold Zech, the piano technician employed by the Detroit Symphony.
The conference brought together around two hundred people, mostly from the Midwest. Our good friend Philip Schroeder, whom we would see for the last time, had come from St. Louis to read a paper on, as noted above, Spener and medieval mysticism. The concert, which also included a set of folk songs allegedly originating in medieval times and sung by a folk-singer colleague to fill out the program, seems to have been a success, so I decided, with strong encouragement from a number of people, to keep the Society together. In the fall I directed the group in a program of Elizabethan songs and madrigals, and twice or more times each year after that we presented music mainly from the medieval through baroque periods from most Western European countries. The conference prospered, and after 1970 became an annual event, at present bringing nearly three thousand scholars together in the largest medieval conference in the world. I am particularly proud of having a role in helping over the years to establish this important conference, for which I directed many further concerts.
But I felt that I needed more experience with early music. Hence I signed up for a two-week seminar at Oakland University with the New York Pro Musica, which had been led by Noah Greenberg until his death early in 1966. It was an intensive two weeks, made all the more strenuous by the uncomfortable living quarters offered by a motel to which we had been directed. I worked with Sheila Schonbrun, who had sung the role of Rachel in the legendary production by the Pro Musica of The Play of Herod, which amalgamated the Herod play and the Slaughter of the Innocents from the twelfth-century Fleury Playbook. Another of the participants was Mary Springfels, who was destined to become the director of the Newberry Consort, the premier early music ensemble located in the Chicago area. It was also a delight to hear the Pro Musica perform three concerts during the course of the workshop. These performances would seem dated today, but at that time the precision of the performers and the zeal with which they performed made the concerts genuinely exciting.
In November of the next year I met the person with whom Noah Greenberg had worked in preparing The Play of Herod, William L. Smoldon, at a conference at the University of Waterloo in Canada, and we were able to see for the first time medieval drama performed, in one case very well from a musical standpoint (the liturgical Easter play of the three Marys, The Visit to the Sepulcher, in the chapel of St. Jerome’s College), and the first part of the Middle English play of Mary Magdalen, which introduced us to a theatrical genre of which we had only been aware as literature. When years later we happened to meet Larry Cummings, the convener of the conference and the director of the Mary Magdalen, on a street in Paris, we were able to recall the importance for us of the event that he had organized as a tribute to his teacher, Hardin Craig. Our return by way of Toronto from the Waterloo conference was on a flight that terminated in Battle Creek. On account of an ice storm it took as long to drive from Battle Creek to our home as our flight from Canada.
In the fall of 1967 I had become the director of the quite good volunteer choirs at a Methodist church, from which I had to take a Sunday’s leave to attend the drama conference in Canada. But I was able to continue only for a few months. The catastrophic fracture I sustained late in the year effectively terminated my employment at the church. By then I had been offered - and I had accepted - a very slightly more secure and better-paying University position as an adjunct assistant professor of humanities. My good fortune thus did not even see me through a single semester, for that is when I fell on account of being tripped by a cat, whose mother, Imogen, would be our favorite for many, many years but spayed so that she would have no more kittens. As I remember it, my wheelchair, which Clifford had carried into the house, had collected not very clean snow on its wheels, and instead of waiting I had left it behind to avoid messing the floor. I had walked through the kitchen into the dining room where I fell, and Clifford found me lying beside the table on the blue rug we had brought from Detroit. I suppose I always was too free about jumping out of my wheelchair and walking unsteadily, and this was a habit that perhaps led me to take even more risks after Dr. Edwin Guise rodded my right femur the following summer. The interval between my fall and his good work, which lengthened my right femur and made possible my discarding of the raised shoe, was more than seven months. Lying in bed for such a long time is depressing, and certainly it was an experience that took its toll on my emotional life. I think such an experience would adversely affect anyone, especially since I saw my orthopedic surgeon as failing to match his local reputation. We privately (and surely very unfairly) spoke of him as “the plumber.” With great luck Ed and his wife, who, as I have mentioned above, had been my neighbor Betty Anger’s college friend, were visiting next door at about the time that the healing was definitely shown not to be taking place under the heavy plaster body cast. He had me wait until the summer, when a colleague, Harvey Overton, drove me to Henry Ford Hospital in the back of his station wagon. The surgery has been described above, but, in spite of the difficulty of recovering from the break, I was put back “on track,” as the saying is. In the fall I was back in the classroom.
While I was lying in bed with the fractured femur in the spring of 1968, a year when the medieval conference started with a snowstorm, the Society for Old Music would perform the Officium Pastorum, a medieval liturgical Christmas play from Rouen, in the University’s Kanley Chapel. Since the parts were not learned, the singers carried books, and a heavily ritualized style was adopted. Clifford was assisted as dramaturg by Otto Gründler, who would later become the director of the Medieval Institute during the period of the greatest growth of the conference. He also changed its name to the International Congress on Medieval Studies. The Officium Pastorum was to be the first of many such dramatic productions, to which I always looked forward in some dread since with a play it is so much harder to control all the details and therefore to do a professional presentation. I found it always difficult enough to produce acceptable performances with local singers, though I always strove for excellence. While I was encouraging, in my memory I do not believe I ever congratulated them for the quality of their work. There is a difference between a member of the Hollywood self-adulation society and the perfectionistic musician. Still, my singers’ performances very often were acclaimed as more exciting than those of professional performers at that time. The reviewer for the local newspaper, the Gazette, was frequently impressed, and in the early days, when there was an effort to record the best local music for broadcast, our programs often were aired on the university radio station, WMUK.
I had planned to attend the University of Minnesota to work toward a Ph.D. in the summer of 1968, but of course this was not to happen and had to be put off until the next year. I traveled by plane to Minneapolis, since the trip by car would have been difficult for me as yet. Clifford, however, drove out in advance so that he could meet me at the airport, and I enrolled in classes for the two summer school sessions. My advisor was Johannes Riedel, who that term taught a course in the music of the Renaissance masters Orlando di Lasso and Palestrina. Though he had encouraged me to enter the Ph.D. program, at first I don’t think he separated me from the other students, except that I was in a wheelchair and had to be helped in going up to the classroom in the building located across from Scott Hall, which then housed the Music Department and also was less than accessible. But I caught his attention when, on a performance day, I directed the other students in class in a polyphonic Mass. Unlike the other class performances that had taken place on previous Fridays, this one was polished and, according to Johannes, exciting enough that he would have been pleased if it could have been done in an actual concert. The pressure of a five-and-one-half-week session of course precluded that.
At the same time, I signed on for a class in South Indian vocal music, taught by Jon Higgins, the only American singer ever to have been able to learn and perform the intricacies of this musical tradi-tion to the very exacting standards prevalent in India. One of the instrumentalists in Higgins’ group that summer was T. Ranga-nathan, whom we called Ranga; he was a legendary mradangam player, a member of the Tanjore family that had been musicians in Madras state for centuries. His sister was the famed classical Indian dancer Balasaraswati, and his brother Viswanathan, who also came to Minneapolis that summer, played the Indian flute. The members of Higgins’ class sat in a circle on the Scott Hall stage, with me in a wheelchair of course. Naturally one cannot master a whole tradition in eleven weeks, but I learned a great deal about Indian rhythms and tonal systems, perhaps the most complex in the world, that stood me in good stead when it came time to do research for my dissertation on Messiaen, who had absorbed something especially of their polyrhythmic structure. A course from Alan Kagan helped to solidify my all-around understanding of Indian music and to learn some astounding things such as the belief among some that certain Vedic chants by Hindu priests were required in the morning if the sun was to rise that day. After my transfer to the School of Music at my University, I belatedly was able to make good use of this knowl-edge too, since I was assigned to teach ethnomusicology. Clifford also benefitted, since he was able to acquire an article by Ranga’s wife, Edwina, on a type of classical dance drama that honored the temple deities from Madras State for the journal Comparative Drama that he had begun to edit a couple of years before.
I had inquired about accessibility at the University of Minnesota, and had been told to apply for a special permit that would allow parking in normally restricted spaces. And we were directed to Bailey Hall, where many married summer school students, some of them enrolled in a summer workshop in criminal justice, were staying. There was no air conditioning anywhere, and in the hot Minnesota summer I developed allergies, which I had to ignore as much as possible so that I could do my work. Further, the space at the residence hall was crowded and not as accessible as we were led to believe. Bathrooms and showers were of the usual sort, men’s and women’s, that one might expect in such buildings built before 1950. But it was at least minimally satisfactory, and I was even able to make do while Clifford returned home to take care of necessary business. We especially remember Bailey Hall, which was actually located on the farm campus in St. Paul, as the place where we sat in a crowded little room and saw the landing of the Apollo astronauts and their first steps on the moon live on television, albeit on a small black and white set.
My advisor, Johannes, and I worked out a schedule that would give me full credit for previous graduate work but also permit me to complete the residence requirement the next year. There is no way that I could have handled the mobility problems on that campus during fall or winter since the weather makes wheelchair travel impossible for many months. So in 1970 I signed on for the spring quarter, arrived in late April after our winter semester at home had finished, and then attended both summer sessions, with the spring program of the Society for Old Music put in the hands of Ted Toews, who directed the Notre Dame Mass of Guillaume de Machaut, regarded as the first of its kind, for the 1970 medieval conference. Finally, to complete the residence requirement I enrolled in directed study for the fall. Unlike a number of my male colleagues, I did not drop out of teaching for a year or more to complete my Ph.D.
It was a time of turmoil at the University of Minnesota on account of the Vietnam War, which almost all the students opposed, many of them loudly in demonstrations. A small radical fringe even were attracted to Mao, so there were those who carried around his Little Red Book with its revolutionary slogans. But most simply were by then convinced of the folly of the war, for which they blamed President Johnson’s duplicity in the Tonkin Gulf affair. They all seemed to know students who had been snatched away by the draft. And under the new President, the war was dragging on. When protestors at Kent State University were attacked by members of the Ohio National guard and several killed, the whole University was shut down. Thousands of students filled the great mall all the way from Northrup Auditorium to Coffman Union at the other end. Johannes asked our class if we should go on, and I spoke up to say that I thought we should join the general strike with the other students. No one objected. Johannes, who had dealt with the duplicitous German government of Hitler in his youth, naturally was favorably disposed to the strike, although obviously he knew that President Nixon was not the Nazi that some claimed him to be. Johannes was immensely learned, yet on account of his heavy teaching load and his other responsibilities he was capable of being mistaken about a fact on occasion. He was not arrogant, and could lecture at immense length without notes - and with erudition. His early training had been in Germany, which he had left without a degree when he fled to Ecuador once he had managed to extricate his Jewish fiancée and her parents from danger. In South America he had been known as Juan, and had become a radio personality. He was also a researcher in the folk music of the region in addition to his teaching duties and choral conducting. On coming to the United States in 1948, he had quickly completed his education and upon receiving his doctorate in 1953 had been hired by the Music Department of the University, where he stayed the rest of his life. His interest in American music followed. It was for his class that I produced the first draft of my article on Charles Ives and the transcendentalist milieu in which this composer worked that was to be published in the American Quarterly. Later I collaborated with Clifford on a short biography of Johannes in the Festschrift that we edited in his honor (published in 1985), and it is an astonishingly impressive story of an activist scholar who achieved a great deal and influenced a very large number of students in his career. My own contribution to this Festschrift was appropriately an article on singing early music in which I analyzed the preference by medieval theorists for the qualities of high, clear, and sweet tone. I inter-preted these as indicating a well-supported tone that would be at once strong, delicate, and bright rather than breathy or wobbly.
The downside of my study in the summer of 1970 was that Clifford had to teach one of the summer sessions at Western Michigan University in order to cover our expenses, so I had to live by myself in Centennial Hall for some weeks, where I was able to observe the new ways of co-ed dorm living. Friendly students such as Sister Anna Totta and Sister Joyce Klinger saw to it that I got to class and back to the residence hall again. They also helped me to negotiate the steps at Scott Hall so that I could get to my classes, one of which was a course in opera taught by Dom Argento, the highly respected contemporary opera composer. I confess that I was very nervous at this point, since I did not want to spoil the 4.0 average (i.e., straight A’s) that I had built up throughout my master’s and doctoral work. Thirteen years later when we were in Florence we happened to meet Argento and his wife attempting, like ourselves unsuccessfully as it turned out, to obtain entrance to a Claudio Monteverdi concert. We talked about my experience and nervousness about my grade when I had signed on for his course as we sat out of doors at a café that Henry James long ago had frequented on the Piazza della Signoria, and he then told about the work he was composing at that time for the soprano Theresa von Strada.
During the summer of 1970, I had the opportunity to sing some songs by Charles Ives as part of an Ives liturgy at the Ives Festival, with transportation provided to and from by Richard Axelson, who had been Clifford’s roommate in college. My contribution included “At the River” and others, all of which I had loved since I had first learned about them while studying with Robert Holliday fifteen years previously. On one weekend I also flew to Detroit, where Clifford met me at the airport, for I was to sing at the wedding of Malcolm Johns’ son Cort which was to be celebrated at Grosse Pointe Memorial Church. Later Malcolm would leave this church and begin serving as organist and choirmaster at Old Christ Church, also a beautiful structure which had been designed by the fine Victorian Gothic Revival architect Gordon Lloyd, who also designed our current parish church in Kalamazoo. When Malcolm, at age 72, and his wife Marian retired from Old Christ Church, I traveled to Detroit to sing with his present choir for the festive occasion. Also singing was Nick Batch, a fine tenor who frequently sang with my early music group, since while attending law school he too had sung professionally at Grosse Pointe Memorial. So we were able to ride together in his car to the event. Malcolm was a lesson in determination, for he thereafter accepted another organ job in a Roman church in Windsor across the river, saw the construction of a new Casavant organ there, and worked until, afflicted with prostate cancer, he retired once more, only to continue to play almost to the very end of his life even though he was in absolutely miserable physical health.
The summers of 1971 and 1972 were devoted to dissertation research, except that I had also to pass my French examination, a requirement for the Ph.D. Each of these summers I spent some time at the British Library, and from the French music shop then located around the corner on Montague Street I was able to purchase scores of Messiaen’s compositions at prices that now seem ridiculously low, sometimes at less than ten percent of the list price current today. After considering work on his song cycles, I decided instead to focus only on Harawi along with the two other compositions linked to it in what has come to be known as his Tristan trilogy since they are loosely based on the medieval story of a tangled love story involving Tristan and Iseult and his uncle King Mark. These, as mentioned above, are the Turangalîla Symphony and Cinq Rechants. By the end of the first summer I had a draft of my chapter on Harawi, and I would proceed through the laborious business of analyzing the next two segments, one each summer, along with, of course, an introduction and conclusion. Once, when Messiaen and his wife Yvonne Loriod were scheduled to play a duo-piano recital in Minneapolis, Johannes called me and insisted that I come to hear them. They played Messiaen’s ferociously difficult Visions de l’amen. I was surprised at his piano technique, since his hands seemed to lie almost flat on the keys. After the concert I met him, and we conversed a bit in my broken French and his broken English. This was still useful, since it helped me to clear up a loose point in my dissertation.
During this trip to Minneapolis, something very tragic and sad occurred. We were acquainted with two brothers from Kerala, students and members of a family that we had known since our days at Wayne State. I phoned, and Jacob answered the phone to tell me that Mohan, the elder brother, had been missing for two weeks. He was returning from choir rehearsal at the Westminster Presbyterian Church in downtown Minneapolis, when he and some others stopped at a restaurant for a snack. Neither he nor his car was ever seen again. The Minneapolis police were decidedly unhelpful. Though they recognized that his bank account was intact, they pointed to his expired visa with the suggestion that he was trying to evade the Immigration and Nationalization Service. I strongly insisted that foul play must have been involved, but the response was something like “Lady, I have been an investigator for a long time. Don’t tell me how to do my business.”
As I was working on my dissertation, it was necessary for me to study for my preliminary examination, for which I purchased the fifth edition of Grove’s Dictionary, in ten paperback volumes, and read through a large part of it. I was permitted to take the exam at my own campus under the supervision of the dean of my college on account of the difficulty I would have had in traveling to Minnesota. By the end of the summer of 1974 I had everything pretty much complete. The dissertation was in Johannes’ hands, and I arranged to travel to consult with him about the final stages of revision and submitting it to the other readers. “Now,” he said, “we need a conclusion.” He had forgotten that I had already sent it to him, but without much hesitation shuffled through some of the myriad papers in his office and fished it out. Thereafter things went swimmingly. The other readers reported, I made the few revisions that they requested, and permissions for using quotes from the texts and music were acquired. In time I had the 423 pages of the dissertation prepared to be duplicated in accordance with the guidelines of the Graduate School, and it would be bound in two volumes. And finally, in the spring of 1975, I flew to Minneapolis by myself and faced the examiners, who passed me through without a hitch.
As indicated above, research and writing for the dissertation had gone along with teaching, including the development of a year-long historical Arts and Ideas course and, for a time, an overload, still on adjunct pay, as well as with directing the Society for Old Music, now a non-profit corporation in the state of Michigan. The use of the facilities of the British Library (not separated organizationally from the British Museum until 1974), along with local inter-library loan, had worked out well. I believed that I never could have managed the more formidable Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, though later I discovered that many Parisians, noted for their surly attitudes, particularly to Americans, could be especially nice to ladies in wheelchairs. I did research also in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, and found this more difficult, most of all for those items I wanted to see in Duke Humphrey’s Library, which was built in the fifteenth century. In fact, I would return again and again to the British Library, still housed inside the British Museum, for twenty years, and when the new British Library was being built at St. Pancras in the 1980s I was invited by a librarian to give some advice on handicap accessibility. Unfortunately, I was never to be able to use that new facility, but Clifford has reported how accessible it all is and how much more “user friendly,” as the saying is.
I still remember the friendliness of the British Museum guards, even in those years when the Irish Republican Army was setting off bombs and phoning in bomb threats in London. One guard, in the days when handbags were being searched, would always say to me, “Got any bombs in that wheelchair, madam?” One cannot imagine that being said by a security person at an American airport! The first year we were at the British Museum Clifford would help me down the steps to the coffee shop, where we chanced to meet the learned expert on English organs, William L. Sumner, who, when he learned we were friends to Will Smoldon, complained loudly that Will was WLS1 among the authors listed in the fifth edition of the Grove’s Dictionary, while he had been relegated to WLS2. We did see Will at his home in Essex that year, and he took us on a car tour through northern Essex and into Suffolk. I remember the day since it was the one following the Sunday when President Nixon floated the U.S. dollar. We were looking for a bank in order to convert some of our travelers’ checks. When we stopped in Lavenham, one of the great wool towns of the late Middle Ages and at that time one of the largest municipalities in the country, we saw a bank, but it was only open on Thursdays. Only when we had returned to London could we change money, I think twenty-five dollars at a time. Anyway, we had a good chance to talk with Will about liturgical drama, especially since my Society for Old Music had recently performed the Fleury Visit to the Sepulcher from the edition he had prepared for Oxford University Press. I had been able to make an audio tape for him to hear.
But, to return to the British Museum for a moment, there were times one year when the guards would take me along to a temporary coffee shop while the new one was being constructed. “The tourists are a trial,” one said to me, “but the Americans are the worst.” I still remember the example she gave of the American who wanted to see the Magna Charta, and stood nonplused before the exhibit. “Is that all there is?” he asked. “What did you expect, a statue,” she said. “Yes,” he answered. Then there was the matter of those who came to look into the great domed British Library reading room and to ask where Karl Marx had sat, since it was known that he always occupied the same seat each day. The guards would look about, arbitrarily pick out an unoccupied seat nearby, point, and say, “There.” At first people from Eastern Europe almost kneeled down and worshipped at the spot, but they came to ask less and less over the years and at last hardly at all by the time that I made my last visits to the British Library. Of course, among the readers at the library there were always eccentrics enough among the natives. For many years Clifford and I would often take seats near the one occupied by Miss McDonald, an elderly lady who always wore tattered clothing and pored over learned treatises in many tongues. On the last occasion when I saw her, I was leaving Britain so I handed her a pack of blank note cards and asked her what she was working on. “I am searching,” she said, “for the origin of all languages.”
As I look over the programs of the Society for Old Music after 1971, I realize how important the British Library was, but also how much I gained from music available in English music stores such as Blackwell’s when it was located on Holywell Street in Oxford. And I recall sitting in the loft, to which I had been practically lifted up, at Banks Music Shop in York where we spent hours searching through scores, many of them long out of print. Music in those days was amazingly cheap by today’s standards, and I could fairly inexpensively build up a substantial personal library of scores upon which I could draw for concerts. The idea was to provide a different type of music in each concert, and to choose music not commonly done in the community. Of course, not all the music that we performed was imported from abroad. In the spring of 1973 we used Malcolm Johns’ edition of Hugo Distler’s Dance of Death, originally published as Totentanz in Germany. Distler was of course a modern composer who had the misfortune of suffering under Hitler. For our performance, we interspersed the sections with readings from John Lydgate’s text of the Dance of Death, translated by him in the fifteenth century from the texts in the Cemetery of the Innocents in Paris. The reader was the manager of the University’s radio station, Garrard Macleod. This part of the program was combined with more rare music that I had found: Geisslerlieder, or German flagellant songs that were sung during the plague years of the fourteenth century to ward off the disease; laudi, spiritual songs and flagellant songs from sixteenth-century Italy, many of them unpublished and provided to me by Cyrilla Barr; and a “Dance of Death” from the Spanish collection called the Llibre Vermell (Red Book). The latter, starting with the words “Ad mortem festinimus,” or “Toward death we hasten,” is a long and powerful song which gives the impression that it was danced in the fourteenth century, so in our case the local ballet company, directed by Therésè (Terry) Bullard who was knowledgeable about early dance forms, was called into service.
The previous fall the Society had performed, again with the help of the same troupe of dancers, the witches’ dances “round about the cauldron” from act 4 of Macbeth, with choreography supplied by Terry, and using the music as edited by John Cutts, but I also directed the group in Christopher Tye’s Western Wind Mass, based on the lovely melody of a popular song of the early sixteenth century - before, that is, the change in religion which brought Latin service music into dispute. Then in 1974 we staged a Renaissance entertainment, Adriano Banchieri’s Festino, complete with commedia dell’ arte skits and pranks (the texts were adapted by Clifford) that were played by talented local actors for both the local community and for the (now annual) medieval conference. In spite of the unfavorable space used for the latter performance of the entertainment, we unexpectedly received a standing ovation. And then, looking ahead, in the fall of 1975, I directed the Society in a concert of early music from Spain and Latin America, some of which I found in an edition in the Bodleian Library. There were settings of texts in Quechua, the native language, as well as religious songs from the Zuola Commonplace Book originating in the old Inca capital of Cuzco in Peru. I also was able to offer the first example of polyphony that appeared in music printed in the New World - dated c.1631! Press reports consistently praised the group for its beautiful singing. But it was the performances at the medieval conference that gave the Society a national, even international audience almost every year and hence an unusual amount of visibility for a group such as ours.
One of those in the audience at medieval conference time was Dom Jean Leclerq, monk of Clairvaux and a great scholar who had devoted much of his life to the study of St. Bernard. There was the time that he had cut his hand on glass from a cracked shower door in Spain and arrived with a bandage that needed replacing. Clifford brought him to the house, and we saw to it that it was properly cleansed and once more bandaged. Fairly early on other scholars also came from abroad, and these included Richard Rastall and Lynette Muir from Leeds, who have now been long-time friends. After each concert, we hosted a reception, at first at our old house on Wheaton Avenue. There was the time that my advisor Johannes came to read a paper, and after all the others had left our house we sat deep in conversation outside on our lawn in the balmy May night until after the dawn had arrived.
I received my Ph.D. in June 1975 in a ceremony for those who were being awarded advanced degrees on the stage at Northrup Auditorium. The president of the University of Minnesota at that time was C. Peter McGrath, who had succeeded Malcolm Moos, the man who was credited with writing Eisenhower’s “Military Industrial Complex” speech when he was a speech-writer for the President. My sisters all came to the ceremony since I now was to join my nephew Peter in being the first persons in the family to receive doctorates.
Instead of returning home, I was to stay for the next six weeks and teach a graduate course in the Music Department at the University of Minnesota. Accessible housing was a problem, but we managed to rent a house on Lake Minnetonka that was being let for the term. The course, originally scheduled to be taught by Johannes, focused on the German baroque composer Heinrich Schütz, whose music I had long admired. I had to make myself an instant expert on his work for a class that met daily in the lower level of Scott Hall. On the first day, Clifford helped me down the steps, and we sat in the usual place where we had always eaten our sandwiches. I heard some students talking nearby, and one said, “I heard that Dr. Riedel isn’t teaching the Schütz class.” Then: “Some woman with a new Ph.D. is, and I’ll bet she doesn’t know anything.” There was embarrassment when I wheeled up to the front of the room, but I also knew that I had to “perform” as an instructor. It was a fine experience, since I had some tremendously bright candidates for higher degrees, both masters’ and doctors’, in the class.
At the same time, we were able to spend considerable time with Clifford’s aunt, almost ninety years old. She was having problems with her brother John, who had managed to have himself made her guardian. We believed, rightly or wrongly, that he had designs on her money and property. She had come up from being a poor Norwegian farm girl who had gone to work at an Episcopal school for privileged girls at age twelve, and by 1918 could afford, with considerable effort, to have a very nice house near Hamline University and thereafter a comfortable but not an idle life. Clifford, having lost his own mother in childbirth when he was born, loved her above all others in his family, surely as much as his own father. Within a year she would be placed in a nursing home, and eventually would be moved to her brother’s town in Wisconsin, where fortuitously she was well cared for at a nursing facility run by the Seventh Day Adventist Church as she declined, though she was never happy again. Clifford made annual visits, and I came along when I could. Near the end, when we stopped to see her for an afternoon on our way to Minnesota, I could only penetrate her confusion by singing old Norwegian and Swedish songs. After she died at age ninety-eight in 1986, her guardian, by then Clifford’s cousin Albert, failed even to provide an appropriate garment for her burial, and it was only through our intervention that she was clothed decently. But in the summer of 1975, in spite of her problems, we had a last and beautiful chance to enjoy her company - and to help with numerous things, including buying groceries for her - before her final illness had taken over. This too was a benefit of this summer. We still have the Swedish Christmas goat, made of straw, that was given to us by an elderly lady we knew only as Mrs. Gustafson, who for many years had been staying with aunt Lena (she had been christened Carolina).
I did not feel that, because I had my doctorate in hand, my education was over. I was especially anxious to learn about new developments in early music performance that were taking place in Europe. Hence I had signed up for a two-week workshop in early music with the Studium Musicae of Brussels. As soon as the summer session was completed, we flew by way of Chicago to Amsterdam, where we had an altercation with the personnel of KLM. First, and this was most unsafe, the stewardess had me walk forward to the exit door of the plane while it was still moving. I don’t know why we didn’t object immediately. Then, once we were in the terminal, after walking down the ramp - my leg felt as if it would break - the KLM personnel refused to get me a wheelchair so I could get to the next gate for the flight to Brussels. Finally, after we told them that their service was worse than Pan Am’s, at that time notorious, a wheelchair was brought. On the flight to Brussels, a lovely and pleasant young stewardess gave us a candy bar, two parts chocolate but with a Dutch tile included instead of candy at one end. She pointed it out to us and said, “It’s a stone. Don’t eat it.” When we moved to our new house, we cemented this tile into the wall of our bathroom.
The workshop was every bit as valuable as I had predicted. I worked with Barbara Thornton, then in her early twenties and fresh from the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Switzerland. By the time of her untimely death at age fifty, she had made a permanent mark on the early music field with her role in the ensemble Sequentia. I learned new techniques of singing and some remarkable repertoire, both of which influenced what I was able to do with the Society for Old Music, though when one is working with local musicians it is not possible to carry out all that one would wish. The workshop was held in a monastery, formerly Cistercian until the time of the French Revolution and now inhabited by a few nuns only, at Marche-lès-Dames, a short distance up the hill from the Meuse River north of Namur. On the other side of the river, I was told, was the location where the Battle of the Bulge was fought during World War II and where Clifford had lost a cousin. We had a room upstairs, so Clifford or someone else would need to help me up the steps, but on the whole the facilities were remarkably comfortable, though the toilet and shower facilities were such that anyone afflicted with Anglo-Saxon modesty would be offended. The place was very peaceful, even if occasionally a NATO jet would fly overhead. Clifford was able to travel around Belgium to look at Netherlandish art at Bruges, Ghent, Tournai, and Huy. Barbara’s coaching was supplemented by other sessions in choral and ensemble per-formance. At the end we had a concert in the church, which also served as the parish church for people living in the area. When we left, we brought away a medieval fiddle that had been created by one of the organizers of the workshop, Jacques Passauro, that we then had to carry with care on the airplane back over the Atlantic. But first we trekked briefly to Paris, then by way of the Channel ferry, to England. In London we by good luck became acquainted with the splendid music at All Saints, Margaret Street, where masses by Mozart and Haydn were normal fare for the Eucharistic service every Sunday of the year.
I would return to Marche-lès-Dames two years later for a second workshop. Then I would sing the solos in Claudio Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers at the final concert in the church, which, incidentally, possessed a beautiful twelfth-century statue of the Virgin Mary and Child that I still remember. But this was at the end of our journey. We had come by Icelandic Airlines with its very crowded seats, with a stop at Reykjavik, where I braved the cold rain to look at manuscripts housed at the University. I recall too how hard it was in Iceland to sleep through the night on account of the singing of birds at dawn after, I believe, only a couple of hours of real darkness. Between Chicago and Iceland I sat next to a large man who was even making my small frame uncomfortable by oozing over into my space, and of course I was thinking daggers, as the saying is. I asked him about his occupation, and when he told me he was working in parapsychology at Duke University I wondered if he could read my mind. After arriving in Luxembourg, we set out by rail for Denmark, with complications for someone such as myself with a disability. We had unfortunately been misinformed by our travel agent about the fare for a sleeper between Namur and Copenhagen so we had to spend much of the night in a compartment with two alcoholic Swedes returning from Cannes and sporting large bottles of hard liquor. They did not work, they said, since they were “sjuk” (“sick”). Then an American woman, a young student, and a young Frenchman came into the compartment, a twosome which one of the Swedes was challenged to break up. Fortunately this drew the college girl and one Swede out of the compartment, and we later saw them kissing goodbye when the train stopped at Copenhagen. The final leg of the journey as we passed through North Germany and Denmark was much more peaceful, and in the morning we arrived at our destination. There I would visit the Danish National Archives to examine the manuscript of the Danish St. John Passion, which I would edit for publication as part of a commentary on both the Danish and Swedish Passions and on the whole tradition of singing the Passion, a practice which culminated in J. S. Bach’s St. John and St. Matthew Passions. It was interesting that the Danish Passion had been performed regularly at Roskilde Cathedral on Good Friday until in 1736 it was denounced by the king’s chief secretary as “a ceremony which seems to be a relic of former Carnival performances and which strives against devotion, quietude, and seriousness.” Though cheaply printed from typescript, as the practice was for many scholarly books in those days before the computer, my book would find wide distribution and fairly rapidly go out of print.
Our first crossing to Sweden was on the hydrofoil. Upon landing in the land of my forebears I nearly felt like crying. We had a short distance from the dock to the Malmö train station, but with the wheelchair and our luggage it was impossible to get there without a taxi. The driver, a law student, stood and looked with deliberation at my wheelchair. We said, “It folds up.” “I know that,” he said; “I am just thinking about where to put it.” After taking the train to Lund, I looked at manuscripts of the Swedish Passion in the University library, and then I went on to Stockholm, where there were more. At the Royal Library I met Viveca Servatius, then a sub-librarian, who was destined to be perhaps the most knowledgeable student of Gregorian chant in the North. We found Stockholm accessible, even the tunnelbanen or underground train, on the whole. Less satisfactory was the train to Oslo, which we took on the wrong evening, the final day of school when everyone pretended to be a student and everyone was drunk. One who was sitting on a bench in the central station was having the DTs, stabbing out at the empty air and in Swedish saying, “Go away!”
Our stay in Oslo was brief, but we could play the tourist here. Clifford pushed me up the hill in my wheelchair to see the stave church in the folk museum, as I have noted above. We also saw Henrik Ibsen’s study, which had also been moved to the museum, and the portrait of his rival August Strindberg over his desk. Ibsen is said to have remarked, “I cannot write a word without those eyes staring down at me.” I was impressed that in Oslo the tram driver would come down out of his tram to help me board. The Norwegian capital city was, to be sure, only a prelude to the journey by train across the mountains to Bergen. Though it was very close to Midsummer, the snow in places reached almost down to the train tracks, but in Bergen we found the temperature rather too warm, an effect for which the Gulf Stream was responsible. Bergen was the town from which my mother’s father had emigrated to the United States. We visited Edvard Grieg’s house at Troldhaugen, and stayed at the summer hotel that had been made available at the Bibel-skolen. Coincidentally, Clifford’s mother’s family had ancestors who had lived in Bergen in the seventeenth century, but they had come up from Holland and within a generation or two they transplanted themselves to America. The next day we were on a ship going down the fjords to Stavanger and were on our way to Newcastle. I was to stay in England for a month, mainly at Leeds, where Lyne Muir had arranged for us to live at Tetley Hall - and, yes, there is a connection with the family that had founded the Tetley Tea Company. Clifford commuted daily to York, where he worked on an index of medieval art, including the marvelous stained glass in the Minster and parish churches. At that time I was well enough that he also could leave me alone and go off to a medieval drama colloquium at Alençon in France for a week.
But some of this is getting ahead of myself, since the trip in 1977 occurred during what for me were dramatic events at my university. This will be matter for the next chapter.