By Tim Leeds
The Havre Community Concert Association is celebrating its 60th year of bringing culture and entertainment to Havre.
The association began in Havre when two young men from New York came to stay at the Grand Hotel. They were prospecting for communities interested in joining the national association.
Lola Swanson, the owner of the hotel, decided it would be a good thing to bring to Havre. In a partnership with what was then Northern Montana College and Montana Dakota Utilities (MDU), she began the Havre association, which has spanned six decades since.
The national association books artists to tour the country and stop at member communities that sign for that artist's tour. The communities book what artists they can afford through money raised in their membership drives. All work done by and for the Havre association is volunteer, donated by members.
The Havre association is currently conducting its annual membership drive. At the time the Havre association began in 1940, membership was $6 for adults and $2.50 for children. Now, 60 years later, the price is $30 for adults, $15 for children, and, for the first time, family tickets are available for $75. The family ticket will apply only to parents and their children age 17 or younger.
The list of performers the association has brought to Havre over the years is impressive. Artists of international renown have come to entertain members of the association. Performances have varied from instrumental solos, duets and small bands to comic musicians, dancers, singers from Broadway musicals, acrobats and performances of opera.
On Nov. 14, 1945, the Trapp Family Singers, on whose story the Rodgers and Hammerstein production "The Sound of Music" is based, performed in the Havre High School auditorium. While it was 20 years before the musical vaulted them to fame in the movie scene, the family was already internationally recognized for their singing ability.
French born ballet dancer Marina Svetlova, once of the Ballet Russo de Monte Carlo and later Prima Ballerina of the Metropolitan Opera, was in Havre three times for community concerts. She appeared once in 1944, also in 1950 and again in 1951.
In 1971, William Warfield, perhaps most famous for his rendition of "Ole Man River" while portraying Joe in the film version of "Showboat," appeared in the Havre concert season. Warfield was also famous for his portrayal of Catfish Row in George Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess," and for acting as cultural ambassador from the United States to many countries of Europe, Asia, the Near East and Africa in the late 1950s.
In 1976 a Havre native returned to her home town as part of the concert tour. Karan Armstrong, who attended elementary and high school in Havre before moving to Dodson to complete her high school education, went on to join the San Francisco Opera, debuting as Musetta in "La BoHeme." She also sang with the Strasbourg Opera du Rhin in Europe, the Metropolitan Opera and every other major opera company in the country.
There are also many interesting and amusing stories to go with the performances. One was on etiquette for the audience, told in a letter from Irene Moon, past president of the association.
The first concert held was an internationally famous pianist from Paris, France. While he prepared to perform, the audience was flipping program pages and making a general noise. The pianist just sat and glared down at the crowd until finally the message penetrated. When the silence was complete, he began his program. The audience had received a much-needed lesson in concert etiquette, wrote Moon.
She also wrote of a time the electricity went out at the high school shortly before a concert. The co-chairmen of the association, her husband Howard Moon and Minnie Maresch borrowed candelabra from every church in town, then bought all of the white candles Woolworth's had in stock. Moon wrote that the stage had never looked more beautiful, and the setting was perfect.
Bill Lisenby, also a past president of Community Concert, told of one problem transporting the equipment for the concert.
"We had duo-piano concert scheduled for the old high school a delightful young couple, the Medleys." Lisenby said. "That afternoon when the pianos were unloaded, we found that they could not negotiate the stairs. This called for a quick change of plans. Northern Montana College offered the college gym. KOJM filled the air for hours with notices of the change. St. Jude's School offered their bus to transport concert goers who had not heard of the change and were waiting at the high school. The concert began on time, and we were treated to one of our finest concerts duo-pianists viewed in the round."
One performer's misfortune led to a double concert opportunity for Havre. When 22-year-old soprano Camilla Williams performed "Alleluia", selections from "The Marriage of Figaro" and "Madame Butterfly," and other classical and contemporary songs, she didn't know that the cold she was developing would lead to complications landing her in Deaconess Hospital in Havre for two weeks. Her accompanist, concert pianist Borislav Bazala from Czechoslovakia, took advantage of the extended stay to perform his premiere American solo recital. Bazala had toured Europe extensively before coming to America, where his accompaniment of Williams were his first performances.
This year's concert series will feature everything from modern dance, classical to jazz. The first performance will be by Taylor 2, a versatile dance company choreographed by Paul Taylor will present "Company B", a story of WWII set to big band music. Paul Taylor is hailed as the world's greatest living choreographer.
The second concert will be performed by world renowned flutist Debra Reuter-Pivetta. Reuter-Pivetta won the 1999 Concert Artists Guild Competition, Community Concerts Performance Prize. Reuter-Pivetta has premiered numerous works, including the recent world premiere of a work for flute by Margaret Vardel Sandresky, as well as chamber works by Robert Dick and Lawrence Dillon.
The third concert presents the sensational sisters Yoon and Min Kwon, who have performed throughout the US, Europe, South America, and Asia. This violin and piano duo have performed at some of the most prestigious festivals and venues around the world, including New York's Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, Aspen, Ravinia, Marlboro, and Seoul International Music Festivals. Yoon Kwon has been featured on CBS and NBC TV. She plays a 1735 Guadagnini violin on a special loan by the Juilliard School.
The final concert members will hear the New Orleans style jazz of the Ronnie Kole Trio. Ronnie Kole is considered to be one of the "Big Three" of the New Orleans jazz scene. He has performed in over 600 cities worldwide, delighting a variety of audiences including His Holiness Pope John Paul II and the last five presidents of the United States.
For more information about the association or purchasing season tickets, contact Ruth Carlson 255-4223, Tove Elvrom 265-8478, or Tamara Johnson 265-6329.