Music at St. John’s

The text below was taken from the document “Music at St. John’s from 1867 to 1900 – A Reminiscence, by Father John B. Katzner O.S.B.”.  It can be found in the SJU Archives.

Music, being one of the fine arts, had always found a congenial home in the monasteries and was assiduously studied throughout the many centuries since the existence of the holy order of St. Benedict. It is not surprising, then, when the first Benedictine Fathers had immigrated to the United States and had established a monastery and a school at St. Vincent, Beatty, Pa., that they followed the old tradition of the Order and made music one of the branches of the curriculum of the school. Some of the Fathers though musically trained could not teach music, for they had to give their time too much to missionary work. It was therefore considered better to engage a secular musician, a certain Mr. Schwab, who studied music at one of the conservatories in Germany. He was the right man in the right place, and one of his early students was our late Rev. Ulrich Northman, who had come from St. Louis to St. Vincent with the intention of becoming a Benedictine like his brother Wolfgang.

When, by invitation of Bishop Cretin of St. Paul, Minn., some Benedictine Fathers had come West and for some years had done missionary work in the state, they looked around to find a suitable place for a monastery and a school. They finally selected the present location and called it “St. Louis on the Lake”, which name was afterwards changed to St. John’s. The first building, about 40 by 50 feet, was erected of stone and; an old frame building was fitted up for a church in 1866

This was all there was to St. John’s College, when school was opened with a regular classical course in 1867. As the professors were too few, the Fathers applied to St. Vincent for help. Among those who volunteered to come to Minnesota were Reverends Wolfgang and Ulrich Northman, two young priests; the former was appointed president of the college and the latter professor of music and other studies.

Rev. Ulrich was a very fine, kind-hearted gentleman with a pleasant character and was liked by all. He was an accomplished musician, an excellent piano and cornet player as well as a good teacher. As director of music he has done much toward laying a good foundation and developing a fine musical department. In teaching music he was ably assisted by his brother Rev. Wolfgang, who also played piano and to some extent cornet and violin. These were the men, who began to teach music at St. John’s in 1867. But what a humble beginning! The college was small, the students numbered only about 30 to 40. Any available space was used for a classroom, even the dormitory. The musical department consisted of one room with an old second-hand piano and a locker for music and instruments. Accordingly the facilities for studying music were rather primitive. There was a great need for room, musical instruments and literature and money. In 1867 the first Abbot of St. John’s, Rt. Rev. Rupert Seidenbusch O.S.B., arrived from St. Vincent. The Rev. Fathers wanted to give him a grand musical reception, but how? Besides the old piano there were only a few instruments in the house. Rev. Norbert, then a boy of 13 years, had just brought along from Bohemia 2 violins, a cornet and a baritone. Rev. Ulrich had a cornet. Besides these there was an old-fashioned alto or tenor and a 1 keyed old broken flute. But this deficiency did not dampen the enthusiasm to give the Rt. Rev. Abbot a reception. It was decided to play a quartette with 1st and 2d cornet, alto and baritone by Revs. Ulrich, Valentine, Placidus and John Hofbauer, I think. The music was arranged and practiced. The stone building had a belfry large enough for 4 men, so, when the Abbot was arriving, the quartet went up into the belfry and played their only piece, -“Home, sweet home”, with all the enthusiasm that was in them.

It was evident that the college, consisting of the one stone-building, was entirely too small, so in 1868 a two-story brick building 100 by 50 feet was erected. It was finished for use in the fall. The musical department occupied now 3 rooms with 3 pianos. The larger room was used for teaching and practicing by the choir, as also for band rehearsals for many years. The facilities had now greatly improved. More students arrived and could be accepted and their number went up to about 70 in the fall of ’68. Quite a number of boys took lessons on the piano or violin from Revs. Ulrich and Wolfgang. Some of the early scholars in music were the Markoe and Schulte brothers, Louis DeMeules, Gribler, Stockart and John Hofbauer. For a number of years each pupil had 3 lessons and 3 practice hours a week, which was changed later to 2 lessons and 4 practice hours weekly. The practice and lesson hours were so arranged as to fit in between the regular class hours, and this arrangement has continued to the present day. Evidently some progress was made in music during the first school year. (I mean at St. John’s on the present location, for an attempt to begin a college had been already made at St. Cloud with about 4 or 5 students.) Having arrived in ’67 and residing at St. Joseph I walked out here and was present at the first exhibition or closing exercises of school in 1868. For an exhibition hall a stage from rough boards was built with tree-tops on the sides and branches overhead, on the hill overlooking the lake. The small auditorium was built the same way but had no floor. A theatrical program was staged and between the acts some piano numbers were played. On this occasion I saw John Hofbauer the first time, he playing an easy violin solo by DeBeriot.

From the very beginning of the college in ’67 it was the ambition of the musical faculty to start a band. But how? There were no instruments, no musical repertoire, no money and not sufficient members. During vacation of ’68, however, Rev. Ulrich obtained a set of old band instruments in St. Paul, I think, and as there were more students coming with the beginning of the second school year, an effort was made to start a cornet band with about 10 or 12 instruments. If I remember rightly, the following were the members of the first band at St. John’s: Rev. Ulrich, Rev. Wolfgang, Rev. Valentine, Ven. Fr. Placidus, of the faculty, and the students John Hofbauer, F. Gribler, Louis DeMeules, Markoe, M. Ryan, snare drum and John Abb, bass drum. Rev. Ulrich, as leader, had some band music copied at St. Vincent and sent to him along with an old set of band books, and other pieces he copied himself. The band practiced regularly twice a week during free time from 12 to 1 o’clock. Although this free time practice hour was not to the liking of the boys, nevertheless it was kept up for a number of years. Of the first music practiced by the band I only remember 2 pieces: The Lurline Quickstep and Songs without Words, by Lucas. The band made good progress during the year and in the summer of ’69 had the honor to play at the fair of the Assumption Church in St. Paul. But I must not forget to tell what should have happened to John Abb. During the parade his bass drum got loose in some way, dropped off the bandwagon and rolled down Third street to the laughter of the crowd.

This was a rather humble beginning, but in those days was considered something great, -a band out in the neck of the woods at St. John’s, as there were no bands anywhere, not even in St. Cloud. From now on the band of St. John’s was reorganized every year by taking from the students such musical talent as was needed to fill up the vacancies occasioned by the departure of members from the college, either professors or students. The band had to go through this process every year as long as it was in existence. But the choir and orchestra as well had to contend with the same difficulty,–always start anew, practice up from the beginning and when at the close of college the band was becoming pretty proficient, it would dismember with some never to return. But luckily the old, I might call them charter members, remained for many years with the band.

Of the larger attendance at college in ’69 quite a class took up music; some learned piano or violin, others cornet or some other instrument. I, having entered college, applied myself to learning English and piano, with the intention of becoming a teacher and organist. We boys worked and played together as friends, like children of the same family. But there was always a little antagonistic spirit in a friendly way between the musical and non-musical students and professors. Music was always considered inferior and secondary to other studies and unnecessary for a good education, and thus carried a little odium to its devotees. Such expressions, as fiddlesticks, piano thumper, horn blaster and the like, were often heard on the playground and even in the class-room, of course, in a jocular manner, and caused no ill-feeling among the music pupils. Then, again, some expressed their opinion that music was not needed for a liberal education. “What is the use of music anyway? It is only a waste of time, which might be used for acquiring some more important knowledge.” -But when it came to celebrations, these very persons would clamor the loudest for music! “Why don’t you get the band out, why don’t you play? It is a shame, you practice the whole year round and don’t even play today!” Such were the dictums on some occasions when the band was not ready to play or the superiors thought otherwise.

The old set of band instruments of every shape and make had been in use for several years. In ’73 or ’74 the college was at last able to buy a brand new set of instruments from Bryant & Stratton, together with 2 sets of band music; the one was a street journal and the other contained music more for concerts. The instruments were only of brass, but the boys were proud of them and would shine them up for every public performance. Now everybody took an interest in the band and a good deal of new music was practiced. New members were admitted, among these were Rev. Simplicius, Leo, Ambrose, myself and Frank Cotter. Frank, a brother of Bishop Cotter, played the snare drum and I the ill-fated bass drum of John Abb. But I took more care of it and played it with such precision, that an Irish priest exclaimed: “It is wonderful what animation there is in a bass drum”. The band became known for its fine appearance and excellent music and was now often invited to play at church fairs and other celebrations. Thus the band played at the benediction of the church at St. Augusta and St. Wendel (Luxemburg), at the consecration of Bishop Seidenbusch O.S.B. and the benediction of Abbot Edelbrock O.S.B. in St. Cloud; then again twice at St. Joseph and once at St. Cloud. The occasions were fairs for the benefit of the church. Needless to say, no one enjoyed these musical excursions more than we band boys. I remember well yet, when we went down to St. Augusta and home again on a common farmer wagon, that we were singing most all the time,”Fom pastur sine Kauh” (from the pastor cow) usque ad nauseam, or for a change off were smoking some inferior cigars with an unpleasant sensation at the end. On such occasions we were treated royally, we had all the refreshments we wanted and lots of fun besides. We did not mind it a bit if we had to sleep on the floor with a little straw under us and a horse blanket for a cover. These were banner days for the band boys. This practice, however, of our band going out to play was stopped in the early eighties. By this time too little country bands were started in many neighboring towns.

At home the band always contributed its share to the success of public celebrations. In the seventies the feast of St. Patrick and St. Boniface were celebrated with .great solemnity by the Irish and German students respectively. In the afternoon there was a general symposium with many speeches and lots of music by the band. These celebrations, too, were stopped in the early eighties. The band was also required to render musical programs at theatrical performances during these years, but sometimes piano solos or duets, also violin solos with piano accompaniments changed off with the band. For celebrating the Rt. Rev. Abbot’s namesday, the band and usually a male quartet rendering some appropriate beautiful German songs were also in evidence. The musical department always did its best, especially at the close of school for the so-called exhibition. The band having had a year’s practice was now in the best condition and performed some of the finest classical, popular and operatic music. On these occasions generally also piano duets and solos, a string quartet by Hayden or a violin solo were played. Thus, I remember well the Elegie by Ernst, the First Violin Concerto by De Beriot and some other artistic pieces were played with great success by Ven. Fr. Norbert Hofbauer. These compositions were only played again by Max Dick, the boy artist of 14 years. I played the 5th and 6th Air Varie by the same author, De Beriot, as also My first Walz in Berlin by Gunkel, with some other composition of like difficulty. As for piano music, Joseph Schulte played a beautiful but rather stiff piano composition, then Louis De Meules executed some fine pieces. For piano duets we heard the Markoe and Schulte brothers. I and Joe (Rev. Beda) Northman played 3 duets, one of which was Poet and Peasant. To perform such music with credit required a pretty fair degree of proficiency from us students on our instruments.

Until now we have referred in a general way to the study of some instruments by the students and to the band in particular. We shall now pay a little attention to other musical organizations. The first we desire to talk about is our church choir. Rev. Ulrich being director of music, imposed this task of starting a choir on Rev. Wolfgang, so that they might have high mass and benediction on Sundays and Feast Days of obligation. This was done during the summer of ’67. The choir consisted of two members, Rev. Wolfgang and Brother William Baldus. They usually sang Werner’s Mass in C. Br. William having a very high clear voice sang the soprano part and Rev. Wolfgang played the organ (melodeon) and sang the alto. With the first school year in ’67 this humble beginning was improved by the admittance to the choir of some students who had a little knowledge of music. When I came in ’69 the choir consisted of about 6 to 8 members, most of whom were also members of the band, as De Meules, Markoe, both Schultes, Brother William and the organist, Rev. Wolfgang. I joined the choir immediately.

As in the band, so, too, in the choir old members went out and new ones carne in. Some of the members in ’71 and later were Revs. Simplicius, Aloysius, Louis, Augustine, Stanislaus, Kraus, Haberstock, Bauer, myself and a few others. After their ordination they were sent on missions by the Abbot or recalled by their Bishop and we at home had to start the choir anew. The organist, too, was changed frequently. The organ (melodeon) was played by Revs. Wolfgang, Ulrich, Milberger, Norbert, Leo, Schwarzmeier and myself in just about this order up to ’75. The only member that never left the choir and sang as long as he could was Brother William. He was the main support and singer of the choir for fully 40 years. He would lead the choir and sing his part at the same time, when no other leader was present. He would practice alone with some of the brothers and make himself useful wherever he could. The choir assembled twice a week for rehearsals during recess hours and oftener, if necessary. No study time was ever used for practicing, either by the band or choir. The song books for masses and benedictions were rather few and many songs, etc. had to be copied several times so the choir could practice them. Rev. Simplicius started this work, which was continued by Revs. Norbert and Stanislaus, with music for male choir. The masses in the Memorare and others by Lambilotte, Leshall were too worldly, theatrical and were written for mixed choirs, on account of which they could not properly be sung in church but had to be tolerated for several years, as there was no other music available. This form of music was put aside as soon as Caecilian music written for male choir could be obtained. Caecilian music was introduced by Rev. Stanislaus about 1873.

Rev. Norbert Hofbauer had become quite an accomplished musician. He had studied piano with Rev. Ulrich and violin with the artist, Rev. (Abbot) Nepomuc at St. Vincent; he was now an excellent violin player, also very good on the cornet and alto and played the organ in a manner befitting the church for at least 25 years. He was an active member of the band and the leading spirit of the orchestra. He would furnish the means for new music and instruments and help along wherever he could to advance the musical standing of St. John’s. He never, so to say, gave instruction in music, though he was able and capable, as his time was taken up by official duties as secretary and prior of the monastery. He was an able man, a true friend and a humble, obedient Benedictine. St. John’s suffered a great loss by his early death in July, 1901.

Rev. Stanislaus hailed from Wuertemberg. He was not an educated musician, though he had some natural gifts and educated himself by study and reading. He became an ardent defender of choral and Caecilian music and suffered no contradiction to go without reproof. He had not a very musical voice but sang according to his own fashion before the Lord. Having been very much impressed with Caecilian music from the very beginning, he, as leader of the choir, did much in introducing and rendering this kind of church music for many years in conjunction with Rev. Norbert, the organist. One of the first masses of that kind was Schweizer’s, then came masses by Stangl, Singenberger, Witt, Mitterer, Stehle and others, then 2 collections by different authors for offertories and benedictions. Finally we had quite a repertoire of Caecilian music to select from. Most of the music was comparatively easy to sing but some was rather difficult and tiresome to perform. The regular practice hours were strictly adhered to. Much music was also copied by Rev. Norbert and Stanislaus in extra sets of books. New members were admitted every year as usual to fill vacancies and the membership of the choir went up to 16 and more.

After his ordination Rev. Stanislaus was sent out to do missionary work and Rev. Norbert, as organist, became the sole leading spirit of the choir with Br. William Baldus as leader. Strenuous work was done and the choir lost nothing of its excellence. When after some years Rev. Stanislaus returned home, he again took up the leadership of the choir. Until now we did not sing Vespers because we had no Vesperales. About 1888 the fathers of St. Vincent Abbey published a Benedictine Vesperale, which we introduced and from now on vespers were sung regularly on every Sunday and feasts of obligation. But Rev. Stanislaus was not satisfied with that choral; he considered the Antiphons of the Vesperale in many places interpolated and printed from an old faulty edition. He preferred the new diocesan edition of Ratisbon by Pustet. But how to get it? Well, he went to work, learned printing and adapted the Roman Ratisbon Vesperale to our Benedictine vespers. He personally set the type and printed the whole Vesperale, which is still in use today. His last work was an edition of choral O Salutares and Tantum Ergos for benedictions. The good man who did so much and worked so zealously for our church choir, had to give up the leadership on account of failing health about 1900 and died in 1915. The other organists mentioned had no lasting influence over the choir as each of them played the instrument only for a year at most.

It is with pleasure that I am able to record of a society started for the culture of German songs. Most of the inmates of St. John’s were German born or of German parents. The German fathers having studied in the fatherland would talk about the students and their social songs over there beyond the sea and suggest that the boys of St. John’s, too, should devote a little time to singing.  Well, finally Rev. Wolfgang started a class for practicing German songs. The members were selected from the Clerics, Seminarians and students, in all about 12 members. I had the privilege to be among the number. We had only two different song books for male quartets and had to copy our parts from these books. We made small books from common paper, ruled it and copied the songs selected for practice. We had one hour for practice each week just after supper during recess. We did pretty well and learned quite a number of songs. I still remember “Die Wacht am Rhein”, “Was ist des Deutschen Vaterland”, “Du schoener Wald”, and “Das ist der Tag des Herrn”. These songs contributed their share to the entertainments during the year. I might just as well mention right here, that all our entertainments were given by home talent and no outside artist ever came here for such a purpose. After some years Rev. Wolfgang took charge of a parish and Rev. Ulrich was appointed director of the college. The German Lied was now for some time neglected, though some songs were practiced and sung every year on different occasions, as the names day of the Abbot, of the director of the college, on New Year’s Day and the like.

During these early years it was out of question to start an orchestra for we had no musicians, no instruments and no music. Besides, it was not just necessary, as we had a good band. Yet we all knew very well the value and beauty of an orchestra and desired to make a start some time. So after my return from the novitiate we made up a string quartet with Rev. Norbert, I. Violin, Rev. Jerome II. Violin, Rev. Ulrich, Viola and myself, Cello. We came together on Thursday afternoon and practiced some of those beautiful quartets by Hayden. Oh, how I did like these rehearsals! I thought there was nothing finer in music, nothing more sublime than these quartets. But for want of time and other reasons, these rehearsals, too, were discontinued after 2 or 3 years. A real though small orchestra, however, was started about 1885. It consisted of 7 pieces, 1st and 2d violin, flute, cornet, trombone, viola and piano. This was the beginning of the orchestra which was gradually enlarged to about 18 or 20 members and had developed into a fine regular concert orchestra.

It is with some apprehension and reluctance that I now introduce myself. I would rather not say a word, but I find it necessary for this reminiscence, as I have been actively connected with all the musical organizations of St. John’s almost from the beginning till 1900. Our family immigrated to Minnesota from Bavaria in 1867, where I had learned music to some extent. When I entered college in 1869, I could play the violin fairly well and also had a good start in guitar, clarinet and piano. I studied piano with Rev. Ulrich and continued to practice violin myself. After my determination to become a Benedictine in 1872 I was invited to join the band. I practiced especially the baritone and the cornet. I got acquainted also with the other brass instruments. So, in course of time, I had a practical knowledge of all brass, reed and string instruments. Of course I could not play them all perfectly, for there were too many, but I could and later had to teach them in preparing students for their entry into the band and orchestra. Father Norbert, though a better violin player, had no time to teach, so I, still a student, was appointed to teach violin in 1874. After my novitiate in ’78 I was made prefect of music and assistant professor. Now I had to give lessons on all kinds of instruments, as piano, melodeon, violin, viola, cello, f1ute, clarinet, guitar, cornet and other brass instruments. I was rather bold and self-reliant; I would teach anything in the line of music. Just to show how daring I was, I want to tell how I learned the bass fiddle. As student I was sent to St. Cloud to help along in an orchestra mass, on Christmas day. When I came to St. Cloud the day before, Mr. E. P. Kaiser, the organist, told me that I should play the bass fiddle. I said I can’t play that instrument and he felt rather disappointed. “Oh well,” I said, that can’t be so very difficult to play, let me see the base”! We went into the basement of the church, he brought the bass and the music. I asked him the names of the strings and told him to let me alone for half an hour. Then I played the mass through once or twice and next morning I played the bass fiddle in the orchestral part of the choir at high mass. Mr. Kaiser considered this an extraordinary feat and I thought nothing of it. As cleric I had to devote almost half of my time in teaching music. This cut the time rather short for the study of my theology, but I got there all the same. A man can do a great deal if he has a mind to work.

I was ordained priest by Bishop R. Seidenbush on the 5th of February, 1882 and celebrated my first holy mass in Albany on the 12th of that month. Sometime before I transcribed a mass originally written for mixed voices and arranged it for 4 male voices. I had this mass practiced at home and our choir went to Albany and sang it at my first mass. I might now just as well mention other things I have done in writing music. For the Jubilee we celebrated in honor of St. Benedict in 1880. I composed the music to an ode in his honor. It was sung by 40 boys in unison and accompanied by the whole band. I also wrote a few pieces for the band and some I arranged from piano scores. When Rt. Rev. Bernard was elected Abbot I thought I had to do something extra for the coming celebration of his benediction. First I wrote the orchestral part to a mass intended to be sung. This seemed to me necessary for greater effect as we had no pipe organ yet. Then I wrote a medley for the band from the beautiful national airs of his country. To get the melodies I went to New Munich and had Father Severin Gross O.S.B. sing all the Carniolian songs he remembered, and as he sang I copied them, some 22 in all, went home and composed the medley for the band. It was a great success with all the Carniolians. Later it was played several times for Rt. Rev. James Trobec, bishop of St. Cloud, who also is a native of that country. By urgent request I had to send 3 of my compositions to a friend, leader of a military band in New York City, who had these pieces performed by his large band of 60 members.

Along with my musical work at home I had to do missionary work for 7 years. Every Saturday afternoon I went to my mission. On Sundays I would celebrate low and high mass, preach, hear confessions, give benediction, teach catechism, partake of a short dinner, drive home and on Monday morning at 7 o’clock I would be again in the music rooms ready to give the boys their lessons. I liked this change of work every week very well and though I had much to do I did not mind it as I was young and strong. I consider these years as some of the happiest of my life. But too soon I had to give up this mission work, as the work at home needed all my time and attention.

About ’86 the new large college building was finished. The musical department was provided for according to its needs. It occupied 7 fine rooms, one being a specially large room for band and orchestra rehearsals. New pianos were bought and also a new set of instruments for the band and orchestra were procured. This was made possible partly by making a little money in buying pianos and organs for outside parties by Rev. Norbert, the procurator. It was about this time that Rev. Ulrich resigned his position as director of music and I had to take his place. At first I did not mind it much as I had done most of the director’s work for several years already and knew what was required of me. Rev. Ulrich be-came now my assistant professor in teaching piano, but remained leader of the band for about 2 years longer, then I took charge of the band. He kept on teaching piano and playing cornet in the band and orchestra till he was disabled by illness. He died in January, 1890. Rev. Ulrich was a good man, an excellent teacher and musician, a kind friend to all, a true Benedictine and a loyal subject of his superior. I felt this loss keenly, more so than others; my help was gone, I was now the only professor of music and this was rather strenuous work. Now I realized my position and its burden as director of music without any help. I comprehended that the study of music, its progress and future success was entirely dependent on my efforts in that direction and the responsibility resting on me if I should fail in producing these desired results. There were the band, orchestra, church choir, vocal class, choral and some 45 students learning different instruments. There was also the pressing need of educating scholastics with a pronounced musical talent, who could in after years help me as professors.

Well, I went at it as best I could. The band was in good condition. Some years before already, as stated, I gradually remodeled the old brass band into a military band by adding piccolo, flute and clarinets. Some of the players on these instruments were Revs. Adrian, Otto, Clement, Beda, Louis, Robert, then Mr. Leopold Eruenner and Bernard Schuhmacher. The membership of the band went up to about 28. The leading parts were played by real good musicians, as Ulrich, Norbert, Jerome, Isidore, Alexius, myself and a few others. Rev. Alexius was not permitted to study music during his classical course, though he wanted to and had the best of talents. But from singing and self-instruction he became a very proficient cornet player and acquired a general knowledge of music. So then at the untimely death of Rev. Ulrich, Rev. Alexius was well able to take his place in the band. I always made it a point that no inferior members were admitted to the band and favored our scholastics more than others, for the very reason that they would stay with the band some 4 or 5 years and as clerics come back to the band again, while others would stay perhaps only a year or two. The music performed during the 80s and 90s was of a more advanced, higher grade. It consisted of military marches, selections, waltzes, solos, medleys and operatic pieces. I was leader and played the baritone at the same time. Generally during May and June we gave open air concerts, which were always well received and appreciated.

The orchestra with a membership of 18 to 20, was under the directjon of Rev. Norbert. All the best players of the band be-longed also to the orchestra. This could be dome as some band members had studied violin or other instruments. I took still more care in selecting new members for the orchestra, as correct intonation, particularly of the string instruments is absolutely necessary for a good orchestra. The music of an orchestra is not so noisy as that of a band, is more of an artistic, delicate na-ture and therefore more suited for the concert hall or theatrical plays and entertainments. The music performed by our orchestra was always of a high standard. No trash or ragtime was ever per-formed by either organization up to 1900 and both approached always nearer the goal of perfection.

I soon realized it to be of great importance for the monastery, where much singing is to be done in choir and church, to teach our young men how to sing. With this idea in my mind I started a class for singing at the opening of school for a number of years. All scholastics and others who wanted to were invited to join. I generally had a class of 40 to 50 boys. I used an elementary song book gradually leading up to 1, 2 and 3 part songs. For instruction I always used the violin. But when vespers were being introduced I discontinued this class and in place of it started a choral class every year to prepare students to sing along vespers with the Fathers in church. This was a success and has endured until now. For the students sing today their own choral masses and vespers. In this manner choral was introduced and gets its due attention according to the Motu Proprio of the Holy Father.

When I took charge of the musical department, I at once felt it also my duty to educate some scholastics who had really good talents for music in an especially careful manner by extra attention and more thorough instructions, so that in course of time I would get assistant professors. This was all the more necessary when Rev. Ulrich had died and I was the only professor in the house to teach music. But students with real good talents for music are very scarce, hardly one among a hundred boys has a really good talent and the proper physical constitution for it. Yet I was successful in finding some with the necessary qualifications. The first student with really good talents was Leopold Bruenner. I gave him a thorough course in piano for five years. He made good progress. Besides piano he learned also clarinet and played in the band. He went into the novitiate for a few weeks and then left for St. Paul, where he is now organist and Professor of music. Then came Rev. Otto Weisser; he too had good talents, got along fine on the piano, though he was lacking some of the proper dispositions. After 5 years’ instruction he was sent to Germany for 2 years to learn organ. When he returned I made him my assistant. After teaching one year his nerves gave out and was therefore sent on a mission for good and I was alone again.  Next came Rev. Innocent with extra good talents. He too had five years’ instruction on the piano and also 2 years on the organ. He also learned cornet and cello. As soon as he was able to, Rev. Norbert made him assistant organist. Well, he stayed and I got my help. For violin I found Revs. Edmund and Kilian both having good talents and have become fine players on that instrument. There was no lack of good players on other instruments. Finally after many years and much hard work I had succeeded in training young men who were able to help me and eventually became my successors in the department of music in 1900. By this time I had ruined my health; I had become very nervous from over-work and had to give up music entirely.

Long before 1900 I felt that I could not do the work alone much longer and applied for an assistant, but could not get one. Music, which was a pleasure all my life-time; now became a burden to me; it just jarred my nerves, particularly the piano and violin. To obviate its grip on my nerves as much as possible, I took up work in the garden and as I had a liking for horticulture I started to graft and grow apple and plum trees and then planted an orchard. This work improved my condition, but never cured me. After my resignation in 1900 I went to a sanitarium and also took electric treatment from a nerve specialist, but with little improvement. At last I resolved to be satisfied with my condition, to be of good cheer and make the best of it since there is no cure for broken down nerves. Had I had an assistant or a change of work in time, perhaps I might have been good yet for many years. Well, my work in music is done and God be thanked.

I shall now mention, as well as I remember, all the members of St. John’s who for some time between 1867 and 1900 were members of the band. Those that have died are: Revs. Fathers Ulrich Northman, Wolfgang Northman, Valentine Stimmler, Placidus Watry, Simplicius Wimmer, Beda Northman, Norbert Hofbauer, Leo Winter, Jerome Heider and Melchior Bahner. The Clerics: Ven. Felix Wolke, Jacob Bruenner and Barthol Rebholz. Still among the living are: Revs. Fathers Aloysius Hermanutz, Ambrose Lethert, John B. Katzner, Martin Schmitt, Conrad Glatzmaier, Alexius Hoffmann, Laurentius Steinkogler, Wolfgang Steinkogler, Isidore Siegler, George Scheffold, Adrian Schmitt, Clement Dimpfl, Philip Bahner, Lucas Fink, Otto Weisser, Anselm Ortmann, Dominic Hofmann, Louis Traufler, Kilian Heid,  Edmund Basel, Hugo Tell, Meinrad Seifermann, Jacob Hansen, Raymund Basel, Robert Wewers, Werner Schneppenheim, Richard Simmer, Fridolin Tembreull, Claude Wiemann, Magnus Hermanutz, Beda Mayenberger and Innocent Gertken. Then the Rev. Fathers who were still students: Herbert Buerschinger, Pius Meinz, Xavier Kapsner, Severin Gertken, David Yuenger, Polycarp Hansen. And last but not least I have the honor to mention two Rt. Revs. Fathers, who were one time members of the band: Rt. Rev. Peter Engel played in the band up to his election of Abbot, and Rt. Rev. Oswald Baran till his departure for St. Martin’s in the state of Washington. This certainly shows that their loyalty to the band at St. John’s was no impediment to their election to the high abbatial dignity.

I was requested to write this reminiscence on music that its historical value shall not be lost to those who come after us. At the same time to show in a particular manner what the early Fathers had done for music in spite of poverty and difficulties of all kinds and that their enthusiasm for music and zealous endeavor may always be a shining example to be emulated by our younger generation. What an immense change do I see to have taken place when I look back over those 50 years! Truly, St. John’s was then like a babbling babe trying its first steps, that has now grown up to the full vigor of manhood. But the efforts of man are nothing, it is the Lord who built and blessed St. John’s. The kind reader will pardon inaccuracies as my memory has lost much of its power and retentive qualities. Ora pro me!

Rev. John B. Katzner O.S.B.

Capitular of St. John’s Abbey.

February 5, 1917.