Springfield’s city band marches into Salzburg
August 23, 1990
International goodwill tours seem sweetly naïve in the Trump era. The one here described found Springfield’s Municipal band concertizing in Austria, where they gorged on the sights and the beer and pastries. The band members, it seems fair to say, returned to central Illinois broadened in more ways than one. I also wrote about the band here.
The moment must have triggered a pang of homesickness in some in the party. The Springfield Municipal Band had just finished the first concert of its Austrian tour last July in the resort town of Baden outside Vienna. The performance had been a rousing success, and the band and traveling party—eighty-nine people in all, including Mayor Ossie Langfelder—were in a celebratory mood when they were whisked back to Vienna by coach for dinner. As soon as they were seated the waiters swept down upon them bearing huge steins of beer. Beer as a first course—why that's almost like Lincoln-Fest!
My father was among those happy eighty-nine, being one of the band's drummers. Municipal bands don't often get to take their acts on the road—I believe the Springfield band has played in Riverton—and this was most members' first trip to Europe. Officially the point of the expedition was the Graz American Music Festival, but music was the only departure from the standard git-'em-up-and-move-'em-out six-cities-in-ten-days package tour.
The tour directors devoted themselves relentlessly to the official sights. "Lots of castles," my father recalls, "and churches." The schedule permitted few opportunities to mingle with the locals, although the name "Springfield" sparked a knowing smile here and there. There probably are more people in Salzburg who know of Lincoln than there are people in Springfield who know of Mozart. Like Salzburg, Springfield is a tourist city, but the resemblance stops there. Salzburg is one of the world's most beautiful cities while Springfield is, well—let's just say that Springfield is not. Salzburg has the Alps, of course, and was built by some monument-minded archbishops while Springfield must make do with the State of Illinois.
Mainly, though, Salzburg has Salzburgers. Sour jokes were passed among the local party about how this old building or that one would be a parking lot by now were it back home. My father was especially impressed with the flowers that grew everywhere, in window boxes and even in pots on the pylons of the many bridges over the Salzach. Such graceful touches would not long survive in a U.S. city; the Germans may have outgrown their Vandal heritage, but we are still living ours.
Goodwill was part of the point of the tour, and the band party certainly left a warm glow in the hearts of the local souvenir vendors. They earned friends with their music too. The band played three concerts outdoors (a fourth was rained out) and closed the festival's opening ceremonies in Graz. They performed from a band shell and a gazebo-like bandstand and, most remarkably, from the bottom of a swimming pool in the spa town of Bad Radkersburg, which was drained and converted into an impromptu concert stage. Ask a band member if you don't believe it. They have pictures.
The band played well, as their local fans might have predicted. The big finish of each concert was "Stars & Stripes Forever"—the Germans love Sousa— which usually brought the audience to its feet to clap along in rhythm. Cries of "Bravo! Bravo!" were heard at the finish, which usually is heard during their usual Tuesday concerts at Douglas Park when a patron gets his lawn chair to fold up right.
The musicians weren't certain how they would be received by foreign audiences. They know their band music in the land of the oom-pah-pah, after all. Conductor Gene Haas had programmed some American music favorites for the tour. In addition to the Sousa marches, the band did medleys of songs popularized by Frank Sinatra and Gershwin, plus the latter's "An American in Paris." "We swung on those Sinatra medleys," my father reports, which may explain the enthusiastic response by the locals. German bands strut, but they do not swing.
Ossie served as emcee at each concert, addressing the audiences in German and, no doubt, relishing the local-boy-makes-good role. He left Austria at fourteen, to return as burgomeister of the capital city of a major state and Lincoln's home town. Hearing this, the crowds applauded politely, the way they might congratulate a distant cousin who'd just earned his degree. Occasionally the audiences laughed at remarks by Ossie that English speakers in the band didn't understand, and there was enough stage business going on between Ossie and conductor Haas that one might have wondered whether Ossie might be trying out some shtick in preparation for a career in clubs. No chance; says my father, "Ossie told us later it was tougher than making a political speech."
The tour schedule was so tight—and Salzburg was so crowded—that the party didn't have time for the ninety-minute cable car ride up the Monchsbcrg past the imposing Hohensalzburg fortress. It is not clear how many people were disappointed by this; Salzburg was last stop on the tour, and the offer for an improvised tour of a nearby salt mine to replace the rained-out concert was met with polite rebellion by several of the party who decided that culture would be better served by a study of the architecture of a local beer garden instead.
One person who was disappointed was my father. He had been stationed in Salzburg as an infantryman in the waning days of World War II, when the city was headquarters for the 42nd Infantry Division. He was pleased to see how little Salzburg had changed in forty-five years. True, tourist buses clog the narrow streets instead of Army trucks, and the shops now have things in them to buy, and it is no longer only the Americans who have the money to buy them with. But the bridges and the squares and the fortress—which has stood in its present form since 1500—had survived another war in good shape.
There was time for a small adventure. A small party from Springfield ventured abroad after the concert at Bad Radkersburg, which sits across the river Mura from Yugoslavia. "We walked past a couple of houses, turned a couple of corners, and there we were at the bridge," explains my father. Our band had passports but no visas, but after a few words with both the Austrian and Yugoslav guards they were waved through. (Mayor Langfelder, good Democrat that he is, may have dropped the name "Mike Madigan" into the ear of the guards, and why not?. It opens all manner of doors in Springfield.)
With tensions eased of course, a party of Springfieldians stands less risk of arrest while crossing into a Yugoslav border village than they do crossing into Leland Grove [a self-protective Springfield suburb], but it was an anxious moment nonetheless. They stayed only a few minutes. As East-West cultural exchanges go these days, the visit was unproductive. "We looked at them," my father recalls about the locals taking coffee at the sidewalk cafes, "and they looked at us." ●