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Interview with Dr. Lewis Marquardt (LM)

Conducted by Dr. Homer Rudolf
10 September 2004

Transcribed by Amanda Swenson
Editing and Proofreading by Marvin L. Hartmann

Prairie Public Collection


HR: Let’s start by having you give us your name and where you were born.

LM: All right, my name is Lew Marquardt. I was born in Jamestown, North Dakota.

HR: And where did your family come from in Russia?

LM: My father’s family came from the Black Sea area of Russia. Primarily the village of Kandel, for grandfather and Selz for grandmother, that’s on the Kurschurgan.

HR: And when did they come to the United States?

LM: They came to the U.S. in 1888.

HR: And settled where?

LM: Of course, like all the settlers, they came to Eureka first and they made their way up to the Hague, North Dakota area in Emmons County.

HR: What do we know about music that was being performed in Russia?

LM: Music being performed in Russia is a large large story, and it is difficult to condense it, and it’s difficult to make generalities as you know. But generally we can say there were at least two major traditions. One being primarily the Catholic, the other being primarily the Protestant tradition. The Catholic tradition is unique because being a German from Russia, most of the Catholic services were sung in Latin, not in German. There were special occasions where they would sing the old German hymns and the German songs, but the masses or the services were almost always in Latin. And very frequently the choir was in the choir loft, singing away from the congregation. On the Protestant side, the Lutherans, the Congregationalists, the other religionists, would sort of sing more communally. They would answer their prayers in a communal setting and very frequently they would get involved with four part harmony. Something the Catholics did not spend a lot of time on. Though, could sing when they needed to.

HR: What about instrumental music?

LM: Instrumental music is a very interesting tradition to follow, because we’re not certain we know a lot about them. Pictures tell us there were lots of bands. Lots of brass bands, lots of wind bands, there were clarinets, there were even some violins, or fiddles perhaps, we could say, in some of the early bands. But when we come to the United States, the tradition that we have left that we found today, generally one needs to take a look at some of the dance bands that are over here. The instruments that came over in the dance band tradition of course, the clarinets were very popular from early on. The Volga German people generally preferred to bring along the violin. The violin or two violins would often play the lead part. Later the clarinets would sort of take over that position. They also had an accordion, everybody had an accordion, in the olden days. At first mostly a button accordion, which was limited to a few major keys on the very earliest ones. Uh, later on of course they expanded, and very later on they turned into the piano accordions. The those first button accordions, generally were accompanied by an instrument called the Hack Brett, or we know it perhaps in English as the dulcimer. A very unique instrument, but an instrument that is not very common to the Black Sea Germans. Which is a curiosity.

(talking about nothing, laughter, making fun of Travis)

HR: What evidence do we have the traditions came to the United States and Canada.

LM: Um, it is difficult for me to talk about the Canadian tradition, I have not studied it that much. But we have a good tradition of the instrumentalists in what I called the Volga German community. Primarily, the present day states of Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, part of Wyoming. And the old Volga Germans who came over here liked to play in a quartet fashion. That’s a generality. But usually they would have their accordion, their guitar. Sometimes they would have a pump organ, the old harmonium that would be with them. And almost always they would have this dulcimer, this Hack Brett. Later they would use the trombone. But the traditions we have are primarily based upon a oral tradition. The old timers have told those of us who are a little younger, who have told even the younger ones, and we believe that is the instrumentation that came over. On the Black Sea side, we have not found, in my research, or our research, a lot of the oral tradition from the earliest times. On the other hand the accordion has always been popular in the Black Sea tradition. We are told of a very very few of the old timers who did play the violin, but we don’t hear too many stories of the violin being played with the accordion at the dances. Surely they must have been played there. Lots of clarinets, usually two, often in the duet style. And usually some sort of accompaniment. Nowadays, piano, early days, probably the pump organ, and even before then probably the guitar.

HR: What about vocal music?

LM: Vocal music is a little easier to trace because I think that it is carried more by a greater majority of people. Look at the number of people who sing. You have of course congregations full of people who know the old hymns. Again that difference between the Catholic and Protestant tradition is very unique. But, one of the... a colleague of ours, has a huge collection of hymnals, which we are getting familiar with. And it is very fascinating to trace the old hymns. To follow which ones were actually taken possibly from Germany into Russia and over to America, which ones possibly were written in Russia that is a very tenuous situation, because we do not know of many if of any. And then of course those that were originally written in America, and went to Russia, and then came back to America. But that vocal tradition is still a very strong tradition among our German people, we can hear that quite often at any of the various conventions, be they the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, or the Germans from Russia Heritage Society in Bismarck, North Dakota. Both groups love to sing, and love to sing well.

HR: How about secular music?

LM: Secular music is also in that tradition. And when we get into secular music we have to talk about a few different conventions here primarily for the Catholics. The Catholics like to sing on what they call their Names Day Celebration. The Catholics would and there, of course, is a little of a mixture. There would be popular secular songs, there would be some sacred songs, because the Catholics seem to feel that it was more important to honor the saint after whom they were named, than to celebrating their actual birthday. My name for example Lewis, I think is August 25th, and if I were an old timer, I would have a pretty big party on the 25th of August. We would perhaps imbibe in a little bit of schnapps, maybe some beer. We would sing some of the old songs, and of course today we would bring in some of the new songs. But as far back as we can go with our oral tradition, the old timers would sing many of the old German songs, and we have been told that sometimes the evening would entirely be sung in German, the songs were sung in German. Ah, the men folk would sit in the back, play some cards. Usually it was not a woman’s tradition. Women were sometimes there, but more frequently it was a gentlemen male tradition.

HR: Do we know of any folk songs that were written in Russia?

LM: That again, is difficult for me to answer without my notes here. I suspect we know of some. But when my wife and I were doing some research, the few songs we found generally had an American connection. I can’t answer it better than that without my notes.

HR: Well, you know there was the um, like you know the Sisters of Freulich...Nach Tiberien...Ich Kann Nicht Lange Leben

LM: Right, right. Yes and the Kandelers, I should say the Kutschurganers had a huge tradition of folk songs that they would talk. There was one about the colony of Seltz, another about the colony of Kandel. So yes, there are many of those. My memory is a little short at the moment. But I should like to mention the uh, Wir Sitzen so Froelich Beisammen. (We're sitting so happily together.) And this is an interesting song, because it is believed that that song was written after the Napoleonic invasion of Russia, and of course when Napoleon's troops were in Russia, and lost that part of the war, many of them went home, and many more of them went south to at that time were the Volga colonies, much closer. We have instances and records of some of the Napoleonic soldiers marrying into the Volga German tradition. But if we go to the song then, Wir Sitzen so Froehlich Beisammen (We are sitting here so merrily together). Is a little bit misleading, because if you go to the second or the third or the fourth verse, we also hear that, “Well we are sitting here so happily but, if Napoleon only would have stayed at home and left his troops at home, he too could have been sitting at home so merrily with his friends”.

HR: Why would Napoleons troops wanted to stay in Russia?

LM: I think they wanted to stay in Russia, for various reasons. One.

HR: Let me take a step back, were they French?

LM: Yes, I need some assistance here, I believe that Napoleon had a mixed army, and while some of them were French, obviously so many more of them he picked up on the way, before Germany was, of course,0 a state or a nation in 1871. Many of these little colonies, these little uh, federations, these little kingdoms. He would pick up people from these various places. So perhaps, many of the soldiers that did come with him were actually of a similar speaking language than the Germans that were in the Volga at that time. If that’s where you were going.

HR: Yes. What are some characteristics of German Russian music that you have been able to identify?

LM: The characteristics of our music are again unique. The first thing that comes to mind is the uniqueness of the Hack Brett of the dulcimer. It is a very unusual instrument, in the fact that almost all of them were hand created in the olden days. I think even today if we go to the Appalachians to find the modern dulcimer it’s still created by hand. Ah, there is an old story about some of the first Volga dulcimers. The fellas would say, "Well, we had to kill one good piano in order to make one good dulcimer." But the dulcimer tradition has come over and it is very strong and very unique. When the Dolsimer plays in the what is called Dutch Hop Music. It is a very unique, sort of clangy sound that is a almost over pervasive, both in that particular song. But it fits in very well with the sound of the accordion, the trombone, and some of the other instruments. On the other hand, one must also say something about the accordion. The accordion is of course throughout the world. There are accordionists in Texas, also influenced by German people. There are accordionists, there are the Bohemian accordionists, the Slovenian accordionists, hundreds of them. But the accordion is unique also to our German Russian people and it always plays a lead role. The interesting thing is that, as the accordion has evolved in time, it is moved from this early small little keyed instrument that could only play a few of these limited keys into that now piano accordion range that really one good accordion is all you need today because it can be made to sound like many of the other instruments, and with amplification, what more do you need than perhaps a drum set?

HR: Do we have evidence that some of the music in Russia came from Germany?

LM: Yes. (laughter) But I’m blank on it.

HR: Folk songs and church music and that sort of stuff?

LM: Yes, yes. Many of the songs that we know from the old country whether it be Volga or the Black Sea, did come from Germany. The hymns primarily, we know that because we can trace them, they were generally written down. This is one of the interesting things about instrumental music. Instrumental music is almost entirely done in the oral tradition. One learns from their father, one learns from their uncle, one passes it on to their sons and sometimes daughters. The instrumental tradition is almost never written down. It is very very difficult to trace these without being a ethno-musicologist, or some specialist. On the other hands, the hymns are quite easy to trace, if we can judge the reliability of the hymnals, if we can go back and back in time. And interestingly many of the hymns are still being collected in Germany today and many of the folk songs are being collected. I understand there is an institute in Frieburg, that collects the folk songs and has been studying them for many many years. And if we wanted to look into that, one could study a lot of these, as they may have begun in old Germany, what we might call old Germany today. Traversed over to Russia, and then of course become familiar again back to us here in America.

HR: Well you’ve talked about the Black Sea and Volga and pointed out differences, why are there differences between those traditions?

LM: This again is another interesting question. I don’t want to say everything is interesting but it is to me. The Black Sea area was a more, the Black Sea are was, I wanted to say a homogenous group, they all are. Um, the Volga German area is an older tradition. The Volga Germans came over lets say probably 50 to 60 years before the Black Sea came over. When the Volga Germans came to Russia from Germany they were prior to a certain period of things such as freedom, after the American Revolution took place in 1776. Then they started to move into the South of Russia. The Black Sea Germans knew a little bit of what freedom was, this concept of personal property, personal privileges. The Black Sea was different in that sense from the Volga area. The Volga’s went over and perhaps remained a little more provincial. A little more isolated. At the same time, when the Black Sea colonists were in the south of Russia, they had a huge trade going back and forth with Germany. Many of their instruments, and by that I mean their harvesting, their machinery instruments, were going back and forth. They were obviously a little bit closer to Germany than the Volga people were. I think that’s close enough to the question.

HR: Are German Russian traditions alive in a strong way in the United States now?

LM: Yes, I would say that. German Russian traditions are very strong here in America. They are very strong in Canada, and they are very strong of course even in South America. But if we speak of the tradition in America, we perhaps many of us know of the phenomenon called the Polka Fest. Now when one goes to a modern day Polka Fest, one really hears many kinds of polkas all put together. One will hear the Bohemian Polkas such as Whoobie John would play. Six Fat Dutchmen one would hear the Slovenian such as Frankie Yankovitz would play and so on and so on. The particularity of the Dutch Hop polka which is played in Colorado or Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, that is a very unique and different sound, it is a sound that we really don’t hear even here in the Dakotas. The Dakota tradition is very different from the other. On the other hand when I say polkas, I do not mean to exclude the two step which is very common or the waltz which has been going on for years and years. The business about the polka is that actually it was found, or invented or defined after the Volga Germans got to Germany. So they didn’t take it with them to Russia. The Black Sea people sort of picked it up at that time, and then when it came to America, it was developed and changed or transmogrified into something new and something unique. But yes the Russian music is quite distinctive. One needs to listen, of course, and one needs to pay attention to these things but you can tell the differences yes.

HR: Do you think that people other than German Russians, are familiar with German Russian music?

LM: No, I think that is a good question. I think for the most part, we here in America sort of become a united nation. We sort of put ourselves together. It is often been said that we are a melting pot, rightly or wrongly. But at the same time, unless one spends a lot of time, or at least a certain amount of thinking time, one sort of puts all the music together. When one sits back and does a little study, certainly a lot of study, when one sits back and listens one can begin to define these traditions. For example in Texas, we really don’t hear much about the German Russian tradition, though it is known down there, but on a very limited basis. But we surely know polka fests, and we certainly know our confunto Mexican music. Which is now becoming very popular, almost more popular certainly in Texas than the polka or polka fests might be. But the more one listens and the more one gets out and starts to pay attention, yes, there is a uniqueness and we can find it in both the instrumental and vocal tradition. The vocal traditions however are usually found in the churches, just as the instrumental traditions are frequently found in celebratory events, if we go to weddings, if we go to certainly an old time wedding. Then that’s when the old timers will come out and they’ll get started perhaps, a little bit of Red Eye, or Schnapps will loosen them up, and then the old songs will come out and they’re just a delight to hear.

HR: What are other things that you can think of that you would like to.

LM: That I would like to speak of?

HR: Exactly.

LM: Non political?

HR: Right..

LM: Okay, well, what can I talk about. Give me a hint

HR: Let’s see.

LM: Any body Homer? I really don’t have anything else to add Homer. I do want to make the distinction though between the various religions. The Catholic tradition was different in the olden days. Nowadays, let me go back even before that, when the Black Sea Catholics came to America, of course the whole Latin mass, the ritual of the mass, the liturgy, was almost entirely in Latin. The choir would sing in Latin, the organist would play, the congregation would sing in Latin. At certain feast days in Christmas time or Easter, yes they would sing the old German songs. On the other hand, the Protestants, when they came over the old Lutheran hymns were really a mainstay for them, and they continued them. Nowadays, when one goes, or certainly after 1960 about the time of the second Vatican Council when the Catholic churched switched from the old tradition into the modern or local narrative, then the songs began to change. But again the German songs sort of died out even further, and what we might call more the popular songs of the day, the popular religious songs of the day, came to the foreground. At that same time, I think the German songs took another hit backwards, they were even pushed further into the background for this what I might call modernity. This modern sound. Though the Catholics do know some of the good old Lutheran hymns, the hymnody tradition of the ages, they will be able to sing them on special occasions. But in general at an average, Catholic mass or ritual today, it will be a song that will be perhaps what I might call popular, common. The Protestant churches, I cannot speak too closely about as what they are singing at the moment, but I do believe they will be a little bit closer to the older traditions in that regard, the older vocal traditions.

HR: Are there, other than music, are there other parts of German Russian culture that are surviving well or are they all disappearing?

LM: Oh, yes, no. Both. Um, I think foods will survive for a long time. When we talk about German Russian foods, many of us not even we old timers, such as I put myself in, I could just spend all day talking about German Russian foods. I think the foods will last a lot longer than some of the other traditions. Things such as card playing for example, that is changing. Now we have our modern computers, you can play cards on computers any more. But you really can’t play (unclear) on computer, an old German Russian game that they would play. The men or the ladies if they were invited, they would sit in the corner and play these games, for hours and hours and hours on end. That tradition has perhaps, gone down the tubes. But there’s some more.

HR: Language?

LM: Languages, languages, my stars yes, languages are changing. Now languages of course are something that are’s alive. The language that my father spoke, I don’t speak, because times are different. My father is now deceased, and now his language has sort of left with him. So, languages have changed, and if we speak about the German languages, one even has to begin by asking, well what exactly is the German language, because there are many dialects that our people spoke, and many variants of those dialects. But as those people went through the years, lets say from 1808 when they first in general began in the Black Sea Colonies, up until today 2008 if we want to go that far, or surely 2004. Language changes, it’s an alive thing, people will change or shift words from day to day. We see that today even in just the American language. So yes, languages are changing. Languages are not really staying the same. But at the same time, there still are pockets of German that are being spoken, and its delightful to listen and hear them again.

HR: And how much longer do you think those pockets are going to be around?

LM: That is a very difficult question, because I do not know, I hope they remain. I also want to mention, onething that almost entirely lost, and that is our literary traditions. Poetry for example of our German Russians which you see is almost a musical tradition, surely a literature tradition, rarely does one hear the old poems recited. It has been said that our people even enjoyed the dramatic, the drama over in the old country. I have yet to find a single copy of a play, of any sort, that was even performed by our people. So the literature, some of those arts are fading away. But music is holding longer, foods are holding longer, languages are holding how long, its difficult to say.

HR: Any other ideas?

Just talking about how well Lew Marquardt has done with the interview.

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