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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
INTERVIEWEE: Russell Danburg
INTERVIEWER: Marian Ludlow
PLACE OF INTERVIEW: 2801 NW23 Street, Gainesville, Florida
L: This is an interview with Mr. Russell Danburg at his apartment on NW
Twenty-third Street in Gainesville, Florida. The interviewer is Marian Ludlow.
The tapes and transcriptions will be kept in the archives of the Oral History
Program at the University of Florida.
Mr. Danburg, can you tell me about your early years, when and where you were
born, and something about your family?
D: I was born in the state of South Dakota in a little town of about fifteen hundred
called Miller on March 2, 1909. I first showed a love of music at the age of three.
My mother saw me going to the piano all the time and picking out intervals. She
said I would sit there at the piano by the hour, picking out intervals and telling her,
"Very pretty, Mommy. Pretty, Mommy," and I would then play another interval
that was not very good, and say, "That sounds bad, Mommy." I could tell the bad
chords from the good. But she got a little bit worried because I was spending too
much time at the piano picking out my intervals. She did not want to be mean
about it, but she wanted to get me outside to exercise a little bit and get some
fresh air. So she locked the piano one day, and when I went to the piano and
saw that it was locked, I got a screwdriver and broke the lock.
L: This was at three years old?
D: Yes. As long as we had the piano, which was until I was fourteen, it remained
with an unfixed lock. It was left that way for sentimental reasons. I had my first
piano lesson when I was seven years old. My first teacher was quite good, but
she was hard to depend on because she would not always show up for my
lessons. I would go to her studio, and she would have a little note explaining that
the lesson was canceled because she was out with the doctor. She was
romancing with her third husband to be. He was a doctor, and she would go on
these trips with him to wherever he had patients. My mother got very tired of this
and said I should change teachers. I remember the first composition I ever
played. In fact, I still remember how it goes, it was called "Fireflies." The teacher
told me to take only the first page of it, but I was so excited about having my first
piece of sheet music that I memorized the entire composition in the first lesson. I
can see in my mind how proud my mother and father were when they first heard
my play. We did not have electric lights then, so my father held up the kerosene
lamp so I could see the notes and he and mother listened to me play the whole
piece, not just one page. They were so thrilled. When I went to my next lesson, I
knew the whole piece by heart, so they decided that I had something to work on
I finally changed to another teacher, which was a very good thing, because
I needed what is called "theory," which is a lot of the information about how to
write chords and how to express myself musically, how to phrase. Theory is one
of the very important things of musicianship. My teacher, Elnora B. Simmons,
was a very sedate, proper, erect old maid of a music teacher, but very kind, and
very understanding. At first my folks did not like the way she was doing it,
because she had an entirely different method of instruction. Every week I would
get a new leaflet with something about phrasing or a composer, or a bunch of
questions for me to answer, and they thought I was doing too much writing and
not enough playing. But they did not understand what she was trying to do.
Looking back, it was the best thing in the world for me because it gave me a
much broader view of what music really meant underneath and the skill it takes to
form music. I learned so much about phrasing, expression in music, dynamics,
and quite a bit about beginning harmony. I stayed with that lady until I was
sixteen or so, and during that time a lot of interesting things happened. By the
time I was fourteen, I was playing many of the classics by Bach, Beethoven,
Mozart, Franz Liszt and Chopin. The technical part sort of came naturally to me.
Anyway, one of my classmates was so impressed with my playing that he asked
if I would teach piano. So at the age of fourteen I started teaching my fellow
classmates. On Saturdays I would go from house to house giving a half hour
lesson at each place. I charged twenty-five cents, which was in those days a lot
of money. So I had spending money with which to do other things. If I gave three
lessons in a day, I made seventy-five cents, and that was really great. When I
was twelve years old, my folks went to Platteville, Wisconsin, where we had
relatives, and they took me along. At that time I was playing Beethoven's
"Moonlight Sonata," and some of our relatives arranged for me to play at a
concert for the Platteville Normal School. Always eager to show off my abilities, I
agreed to play. So they arranged a time for the program--I think it was at 7:30 in
the morning--and I was supposed to play, and all these students, who were
college age, came to listen. I played a whole program, among them the
"Moonlight Sonata," and everybody just thought it was great and gave me great
applause and a standing ovation. I had never had anything like that before.
Anyway, the word got around that Russell Danburg was "something else." So,
the very next hour, I repeated my performance to an entirely different audience. I
played two entire programs, one right after another. That was quite a day for me.
At any rate, I returned to my home in South Dakota, and continued my work with
Miss Simmons. One day she said, "Russell, I want you to go to the kitchen for a
minute, and I am going to see if you have something that is very rare called
'absolute pitch."' Absolute pitch is when someone strikes any note on the piano,
and from three blocks away you can tell what note they are playing. You can only
be born with that, you will not acquire that by studying. So I went there, and
every note that she would hit, I was able to tell her the right note. I thought she
was going to just jump right out of her seat when she found out I had absolute
pitch. I used to go to the music store, and I would buy a piece of music, and they
would say, "Well, sit right down, Russell, and play that piece, so you can be sure
you are getting the right number. I said, "I do not have to do that, I hear it in my
head. I know what that sounds like." I did not know that that was unusual, that I
could hear it in my head. I do not know who I got it from. Neither of my parents
had it, but the interesting thing is that my son, Rik, has absolute pitch. He is not
even a musician.
L: He is not interested in it?
D: Oh yes, he is interested, but he does not follow it as a career. He is in
physical education, but he likes to play a great deal of music. He writes poems,
plays a guitar, directs plays and is a very good singer.
L: Where is he? Is he here in Gainesville?
D: No, he is in Mentor, Ohio. In fact, I am going to see him pretty soon now.
L: Where is Mentor?
D: It is near Cleveland.
L: I do not know anything about that area.
D: When I was sixteen, my parents decided that I should go to a larger city
where there was a music conservatory and study with somebody who could help
advance my musical knowledge. So we chose the McPhail School of Music at
Minneapolis, Minnesota, and I went there during the summertime for six weeks
between the ages sixteen and eighteen. That helped me a great deal because I
had a lot of things to work on after I got back home. I spent the winter working on
all these new compositions, the ones they gave me at the conservatory during the
summer. I had a lot of fun, too, because there were other high school students
who were there for the same reasons as I, and so I got acquainted with a lot of
people. By that time I was playing the cello as well as the piano, because I once
heard a very fine cellist. By the way, my father was a violinist, mother played the
piano, and my brother next to me played the trumpet, so we had a little family
orchestra, and we had many a happy hour in our home just playing. I did not
begin composing on my own right away. The very first thing I remember writing
was when I was about twelve years old. The piece, however, did not turn out too
well. It was called "After the Rain," and my folks thought it was great, of course.
It was sort of a first composition, but I did not do too much with it for a while,
because I was busy playing the cello. Also, in my last three years of high school I
entered in district and state music contests in the state of South Dakota, and
gifted students who could play various instruments could go in this contest and try
out. The high school teachers chose me to represent them in piano, cello, and
voice. I entered in three different categories, and I went to the district contest at
Brookings, South Dakota, where the Brookings State College is located. There
were students from that district there, and we had fairly well-known people from
big music schools come and judge. The first year I won three gold medals at the
district music contest, that meant I could go to the state contest. I went to state
and won two golds and a silver. This went on for three years. I was awarded
fourteen gold and silver medals in district and state contests.
L: In what area did you receive the silver?
D: I guess it was in cello.
L: Did you teach yourself cello, or did you take lessons?
D: In Minneapolis I had a very fine cellist who played in the Minneapolis
symphony, his name was Carl Fisher. I had the very best cello player/teacher I
could get, and he taught me a great deal. Oh, what a wonderful player he was.
He has been gone many years now, but he was a very funny, interesting old
gentleman. He was no spring chicken when I studied with him. He was about
sixty then, and that was back in around 1925 or 1926.
My mother put all those medals on a great big piece of ribbon and hung them up
for display. I still have them. An interesting thing happened when I was going to
these contests. When you go to a small town high school or grade school, and if
you do anything that is sort of outstanding, you get a little bit of publicity. So
some of your classmates get a little bit jealous once in a while. The second year I
went to the contest, a certain person who volunteered to take me their in his car
decided it would be nice just to leave me home. So he went to the contest and
did not even let me ride with him, even though I had planned the ride. The mayor
of the town found out about what happened the next morning, and he got the
town fathers together and they paid my way on a train to get me to Brooking,
South Dakota. I telephoned the roommate with whom I was going to stay. He
was already there, he went in another car. I told him that I was coming in on the
train and to meet me at the depot. I had to go 125 miles to get there. The very
next morning, these people who had pulled this horrible prank on me saw me
walk out. They were really thunderstruck, I guess. I took first prize in everything.
Of course, I felt badly that somebody would treat me like that. That gentleman
who did it is still living, and I never want to see him again.
In time, I graduated, and I did not know where I wanted to go to college. I had a
very good friend who we talked to one night, and he said that he knew just the
lady whom I should study with, and that she had trained with Wanda Landowska,
who is famous all over the world. This lady had also worked with a very famous
pianist at that time, Joseph Levine. He and his wife were duo pianists, and he
also was a great concert pianist and made many records. My friend had studied
with them, and so he advised my parents to send me to Lawrence University in
Appleton, Wisconsin. So that is where my parents decided to send me. I
enrolled in the fall of 1927 at the Lawrence University Conservatory of Music, and
that is where I got my bachelor's degree. I had a marvelous time studying with
this lady named Gladys Ives-Brainard. She was also a maiden lady, and had all
of this wonderful experience in playing. In fact, she told me that once she had
played for Landowska [Wanda Landowska, 1879-1959, concert pianist
specializing in the harpsicord], the teacher thought her playing was so fine that
she would not accept payment for the lessons. She taught her for free, so that
spoke very well for this lady. I was with her for four years, and I have to give her
the credit for everything that I accomplished because she was the best teacher of
my life. She gave me two or three lessons a week, and sometimes she would
call up the fraternity house and say, "Is Russell there?" and I would be there
eating lunch. She said, "Put that lunch in the oven, and tell him that I have an
hour and I want to teach him now." Of course, the boys could not understand,
they thought that it was terrible to take Russell from his lunch. Well, I was tickled
to death, and I got three, sometimes four lessons a week from her, and I would
eat my lunch later. I did not mind, because it meant so much to have lessons
from her, and that she chose me when she taught so many others was quite a
compliment. Also, my theory teacher noticed that I had talent in composition, and
he gave me extra lessons in composition, which he did not have to do at all. His
name was Cyrus Daniel. He has also passed away now. I really give an awful lot
of credit to those two teachers for getting me going on the right track. I played
concertos with the orchestra at times, and I played a composition program. I
graduated from the conservatory with a bachelor's in music in 1931.
That summer I went back to South Dakota to see my folks. I was still a little shy,
and I did not push myself forward. But my mother was quite aggressive, and
when I asked her what am I going to do for a job she replied, "We are going to
see if you cannot get a job at some university." So we contacted Dakota
Wesleyan University at Mitchell, South Dakota. She said, "I want you to call the
chairman of the music department and see if he has an opening there where you
could go and try out." Because I was bashful, I said, "Oh, I do not think they
would want anybody like me there." She retorted, "You get on that phone!" She
started dialing the phone and told me to take the receiver. Well, soon I was
talking to the head of the music department and I told how that I had just
graduated and wanted to know if he needed an extra piano teacher for next year.
He said that they had one and had not thought of getting another, but if they
were to enroll enough students they might need another one. He asked if I would
not come down and see him. Next day, my mother and I drove there and we
arrived in the afternoon. The department chairman's name was Beecher, and he
was very nice to me, and he listened to me play in the library. He said he was
very impressed with my technique and asked me to play one of my compositions.
So I did, and I told him that I had studied theory. He said, "I will think about it,
and I will let you know a little bit later." Well, this went on all summer, he followed
me around wherever I went. I had a summer job at a place called Epworth
Heights in Ludington, Michigan. So, sure enough, he came over to Epworth
Heights to see me again and hear me play. I also gave some piano lessons
there. I did a lot of the accompaniment and playing. I loved Indian music, and I
was always very interested in Longfellow's "Hiawatha." They had a trail down
there, called the Indian Trail. So that summer I composed a piece called "Indian
Trail." It is kind of a dreamy composition. I think he was quite impressed. Before
long, I got a telegram from him saying that I was hired as an instructor in piano at
Dakota Wesleyan University for a salary of 1000 dollars a year. That was a lot of
money back then. I was just thrilled to death to have a job. My composition,
"Indian Trail," turned out to be my first published work. It was published in Etude
music magazine, and later in sheet music form, and I dedicated this first
composition to my mother. My mother had a great sense of humor. When I told
her I was sending her the first copy of "Indian Trail" and that it was dedicated to
her, she said, "Oh my goodness, they will think your mother is an old squaw!" and
she laughed. Every summer that I would go to Epworth Heights, I would always
hold a concert and put "Indian Trail" on the program.
G: What did you do in Epworth Heights? Were you teaching?
D: Only part time, and I was playing accompaniment for a chorus, and I did some
programs. Also, during the first year, I did something that had nothing to do with
music. I would get up at six o'clock in the morning to go to the golf course and
knock down all of the little worm nests that had formed during the night with a
water hose so that people could play golf that day. The second year I was a
milkman. I had a lot of fun during those three summers there. A year later I went
back to Dakota Wesleyan. A very sad thing happened then. On January 24,
1938, my mother passed away. That was a lonely time for me, we were so close.
I spent the rest of the year at college, but every time I went home, I just felt so
sad all the time.
I felt it was time to branch out and see a little bit more of the world and the
country. So I sent a letter to the Lutton Teacher Agency saying I would like a
position somewhere further west, with the beautiful mountain scenery. Sure
enough, there was an opening at Washington State University where they
needed a man for piano. I met the vice president of the university, Dean
Kimbrough, at the Lutton Teacher's Agency in Chicago and played for him, and
he was very impressed. It was two or three months before I received any word,
but finally I was offered the job.
G: Where is Washington State?
D: In Pullman, Washington. I started out there in the latter part of September. I
bought my first car, a Chevrolet, for only $850. My younger brother and my father
all drove to Pullman together. I had not been there very long when I got a very
exciting letter from my piano teacher, Miss Brainard from Laurence University,
saying that there was a chance that I could go to Europe on the
Hamburg-American line with a little orchestra that I must organize from personnel
at Washington State. We would be the ship's orchestra going over and coming
back. I was thrilled that I had a chance to go to Europe, for I had never been
there before. I had just come to Washington State University and did not know
any of the music students. So I spent about four or five weeks looking at all these
students to determine which four fellows I would pick out. I finally found the four,
two violinists, a clarinetist, and a trumpeter. I arranged the music and played
piano. I spent the 1937 and 1938 school year composing and arranging music
for my little orchestra that would be in keeping with music played on a
Hamburg-American liner. We went on our trip, and we played Hamburg, Berlin,
Munich and all the big cities of Germany. While we were there we joined a
Lawrence College touring group. So we got a chance to tour Europe with all my
friends from Lawrence College. That was a lot of fun, because there was a large
group of people there. After that we went back to the Hamburg-American line.
Board and room and expenses were included in the deal.
In 1941, the vice-president called me into his office and he told me that I had
been drafted. I was supposed to go right away but the dean was able to delay
my entrance until summer, letting me finish the year out by teaching. In June I
was drafted right into the infantry, and, like everybody else, I did not know what to
do or where to go. I was sent as a one-man shipment to Huntsville Arsenal in
Huntsville, Alabama--a poisonous gas arsenal. I remember we got in at one
o'clock in the morning, and this man met me at the train. I had brought my duffle
bags packed with my clothes and gear, two of them, and they got so heavy I
could hardly carry them. When I got to camp, I saw all these pup tents, just line
after line of pup tents, and that is what I had to sleep in. This was around
September and October, and it was getting pretty cool then in Alabama. The
man said, "This is your tent over here, Danburg, right over here. Here's your
roommate." My roommate did not awaken, so I did not talk to him until morning.
His name was Turk. He was a foreigner, he did not speak very good English, and
he could neither read nor write in English. He was a Polish boy.
L: What was his first name?
D: Ron Turk. So there I was. It did not take long before I realized that all the
soldiers in that place there were hillbillies from North Carolina and South
Carolina. I have got nothing against hillbillies, it is just that I dared not let them
know that I played piano or did anything in the arts. You had to be awful careful
that you did not show off, or else they would make fun of you all the time. I
decided to keep my mouth shut about my education. My tentmate's favorite
expression was, "Goddammit." Once he said, "Goddammit, Danburg, I cannot
write, and I have got this gal who lives in a little town. I sure do like her, but I
want to write a love letter to her and I don't know how to do it. Could you write it
for me?" So I agreed to write all his love letters for him. I do not know if I wrote
the wrong thing or something, but all of a sudden her letters stopped coming. I
got tired of doing nothing but work. I had to find some way of letting them know
that I can play the piano, so I can share my ability and maybe have some fun.
The ideal time came when one fellow was at the piano, and he was trying his best
to pick out the tune "Deep Purple." He was awful. So I went over and stood
behind him and asked what he trying to play and he told me. He asked if I had
ever played, and I told him that I like to tinker around a little bit. He said, "Well,
do you know how to play this?" I said, "Well, I will see what I can do with it." I
started out real simple, you know, and then I would give it a little more style, and
then I gave it my finest touch. Soon a crowd of soldiers was standing around the
piano with their mouths hanging wide open and wondering where Danburg had
learned to do that. When I was through they clapped, and they yelled, and they
made such a commotion about it, and they were so happy, and they said, "That is
great!" I was their friend for life, and they took me in as one of them, and, of
course, they always asked me to play piano. People in town got to hearing about
it, and they invited me to the music clubs of Huntsville, and I played for them.
I was a military policeman, and I was scared to death when I first held a loaded
gun in my hand, it was kept cocked at all times. The man said, "If anybody
comes around here that is not supposed to be here, shoot to kill." I was not used
to handling a gun, but I did not tell anyone that. I was on duty one night in about
February when I got a phone call. It was from the 2nd Air Force base in
Spokane, Washington, and I was told to report to the band located there as soon
as possible. Suddenly I realized that there was no room for a piano and a cello in
a band, but I did not ask questions and I left for Spokane the first opportunity I
got. At that time, I was very much in love with my future wife, who was in New
York. She was a musician at the Eastman School of Music, where I got my
L: When were you at Eastman?
D: That is a chapter I forgot to tell you about. I got my master's degree at
Eastman School of Music, and I had some very fine professors there. That is
where I met my future wife. She was a coloratura soprano and sang in a lot of
operas. She had a very beautiful voice. It was at Eastman where I really
changed my style of composition. When I first went there, I started playing
"Indian Trail" for my composition teacher, who had a funny, kind of a whinny
voice. He was a great modern composer. He used a lot more dissonance than I.
When I played a few measures of "Indian Trail," he said, "Eh, I do not like that."
"Take that ice cream cone out of that Indian's mouth," he said, "get some feathers
on him. Use something that is dissonant." I thought, "Good God, do I have to
compose like that?" He was of course exaggerating, but he wanted me to get
more dissonant and to use some different chords and branch out. That is just the
way he had to say it. I had a wonderful course with him, and he would give all
our class records by Shostakovich and Stravinsky and the different modern
composers for us to listen to, and that helped us to get the idea of what was
expected of us. To get my master's degree, I had to write a symphony.
L: My goodness!
D: I prayed, "Dear God, help me to learn how to write stuff that this man is going
to like, and something that will sound more modern." The very next time, I took a
theme and began my symphony and he liked it. He thought it was great, and I
was all set. He said, "Just use that theme and continue on with your symphony."
So, little by little, as I heard more modern music I began to change my style.
Now my style is quite modern. Just so long as you have an idea and express it in
a reasonable way, people will enjoy it. That is the most important thing. You do
not always have to have one, four, or five chords all the time. Up to now I have
written over a hundred compositions.
L: Are they all published?
D: No, but quite a few are published.
L: Let us get back to your master's. What year did you get your master's
D: I went there in 1934, and in 1935 I got my master's degree.
L: Did you study full time?
D: I went full time. I was still at Dakota Wesleyan then. So, after I got my
master's degree I went to Washington State.
L: Well, you were just going back to Washington to join the army band.
D: Yes. I got off the train in Spokane, Washington, and the band director met me
at the train with a clarinet and a pouch of music. He said I was going to be a
clarinetist, and I said that I did not even know how to hold a clarinet. He said I
would learn. There were about twenty-five clarinetists there to teach me, and so I
was taught twenty-five different methods. They all helped out, but they all said
something different. Still I squeaked and I squawked, and saliva came out of my
mouth all over, and I was making just terrible sounds. I thought that I would
never make it as a clarinetist. He wanted to get me transferred to
the Spokane base so that I could compose and
arrange for the band. They could not get a piano player approved, so they told
the commanding officer that I was a virtuoso clarinetist, and I had to live up to this
billing. So, I marched in the band, and I learned a piece on the clarinet part. I
tried to play it, but I made so many squeaks and squawks that I screwed up the
whole band arrangement. Finally, the director said, "Danburg, do not play
anymore. Just keep marching and wiggling your fingers, and keep your mouth on
the clarinet mouthpiece, but do not play anything." So, I faked it for about a
month without playing a note! They finally decided that a better place for me
would be in the drum section. They switched me with the man who was on the
drum, and I was on the drums for awhile. One thing I could do was keep time.
They finally decided that since I knew my way around a keyboard, they would put
me on the glockenspiel. I had a lot of fun at that because I could play all kinds of
melodies and little obligatos. The piccolo player got angry whenever we played
"Stars and Stripes Forever." He had had that nice little piccolo part all to himself.
But now I would play that along with him. It took away all his steam. He did not
like that, so I stopped playing that part. I stayed on the glockenspiel the rest of
the time I was in the band. We were moved to Colorado springs. On August 18,
1943 my wife and I were married in Seattle, Wahington. At any rate, the band
was transferred to Colorado Springs, but they kept me back as a one-man
shipment to play a concert for an organization in Spokane. While in Spokane, I
played for the officer's club. Once one of the officers said that they enjoyed the
classical music that I played, but that I needed to figure out some humorous
things thatcould make people laugh. So I thought of some humorous things to do
in my act. One of them was called "Opera First Nighter," and of course I had a
high soprano voice, and a tenor and a bass. So my wife made me three wigs: a
basso profundo wig, a red-haired tenor wig, and a blond wig for the soprano.
When I did the "Opera First Nighter," every time I changed my voice, I would
change a wig, and make this opera up as I went along. Improvisation comes
very, very naturally to me. I would make up these operas and play them and sing
along. The conductor would come out on stage and start the orchestra, and I be
wearing my black wig. Pretty soon, the tenor would appear in a red wig, and he
would sing. Then the soprano would come in and sing a high note. This act
followed me into civilian life, and I did it all over North Florida. At any rate, the
officers had me entertain at the officer's club a great deal. Every time I
entertained, I would always come in the back door because I was not an officer. I
was just a plain old private first class. The colonels and the majors would all be
in there, and they would applaud like mad.
I was discharged from the army in 1945, and then I went back to Washington
State, where I stayed until 1948. Then in fall of that year, I decided to branch out
to a different part of the country. So, I contacted the Lutton Agency again, and I
was given a list of various places with openings. I flipped a coin, and it came
down that I was supposed to go to Florida where a new music school was just
underway. Everybody who was going there would begin their first year. They
needed another piano teacher. Beecher was going to be the new chairman, I had
had him before--not very many people have the same person in two different
jobs. He knew all about my ability, and so I got the job. I came here to Florida in
1948. All we had was an old dilapidated building called Building R to teach in.
The roof was bad and would leak when it rained. It got struck by lightening once
in a while, and we had all kinds of experiences there. That is where we started
our music department.
L: What was your starting salary?
D: When I went to Florida I got $4000 a year. In 1948 $4000 was quite a lot of
money. This improvisation program was quite an enjoyment. They would paint
all kinds of pen and ink sketches of me that I used for some of my publicity. I
took this program all over the state. Even the National Art Series got ahold of this
program. Also, I joined Accompanists Unlimited, an organization which served to
big time singers from New York who did not take their accompanists with them
when they toured. I had to be available to accompany these very fine
metropolitan artists from the Metropolitan Opera who did not have a regular
accompanist. We had little time to rehearse, and sometimes they would get here
in the afternoon and say that they are playing a series of five different groups that
night, starting with a Bach group. She would sing a little, two strains, and I was
supposed to be remembering everything she was telling me: "And now we are
going to rehearse the Schubert." They were all very nice, but I had to really be on
the ball and watch what I were doing. I did not dare make any mistakes. Some
of them would come the day before, which was nice, and we would have a
chance to go over the music. But some of them just asked terrible things of you.
One man, just before he went on the stage said, "Mr. Danburg, I am sorry, but I
cannot sing this in this key tonight. I want you to transpose it down a minor third.
I have a cold." He wanted to use the Earl King by Franz Schubert. I played it at
sight a minor third down. Having studied so much theory, I was able to do all
that. So anyway, some of them were unreasonable, like that man.
L: Another question I have here is about the 1960s and the integration period.
Was there any trouble in the music department?
D: No, we had no trouble with integration. That just seemed to be an unheard of,
unspoken thing. Nobody seemed to say anything about it.
L: Was that the whole college, or just the music department?
D: When I first came here, it was the year that the school became
co-educational. The first year I was here there were 9000 men and 1000 women.
The women had a lot to choose from.
L: You were talking about playing for the soloists who came in.
D: Yes, the artists. I did that for quite a long time. Before 1977 I did alot of
composing, and I gave three all-Danburg-composition programs. In 1961 John F.
Kennedy was inaugurated, and he gave the inaugural address. While I was
listening to it, I decided to set his inspirational words to music. I did not tell a
soul, not even my wife. As soon as I got a printed copy of the address, I began
writing a composition based on the inaugural address. I decided to call it the
"Heritage of Freedom," and was written for a full symphony orchestra, with a
300-voice choir and three soloists: bass, contralto and tenor. I worked night and
day. Because of my absolute pitch, I composed almost everything away from the
piano. I have composed many of my pieces completely away from the piano. Of
course, I would eventually go to the piano to answer little questions, but not too
many. I must admit that it made working a very pleasant experience. One of my
nicest compositions--and I guess the good Lord was very nice to me and let me
do it--was written during a church service when the minister was talking. I did not
like his sermon very well, so I composed a poem for horn and piano, and it was
so good that it was published by Southern Music Company.
L: How about the one you wrote based on the president's address?
D: I wanted a little theme that would announce his name, so the opening three
notes of that whole symphony is J-F-K. The horns and the trombones come in. I
set to music every single word of that inaugural address. The very next day after
the first performance of "Heritage of Freedom," I received a phone call at my
home. It was the conductor of the Washington Symphony Orchestra and he said
that he had heard that the premier performance went very well and that he would
like to have permission to do the next performance in Washington.
L: Were you going to play?
D: No, no. Why would I play? I just composed it. They do not need any piano
player in that, and they had plenty of cello players. I was just going there to hear
it. My brother came from Louisiana to hear it. I gave him permission, and I sent
the music to him, including the score and all the parts. They kept it and they kept
saying that they were still trying to get the President to select a date to hear this
composition. Before he ever found the time he was assassinated. The
performance probably would have changed my whole life. Think of the
tremendous publicity I would have gotten all over the country.
L: Is this still being played at all?
D: No, one part of it entitled "Let Us Go Forth to Lead the Land We Love" is
published. I guess it just was not to be. I got a nice big write-up in about the May
tenth issue of TIME magazine in 1962 about my "Heritage of Freedom." People
from all over the United States had read about me in TIME magazine. That is
something that everybody dreams about. I did not even put an article in,
somebody just put it in for me. They thought it had already been performed. It
took almost an hour to perform it. There would be and aria by the tenor, followed
by an aria by the soprano, and then the chorus would come in. I did not use a
piano for any of it. That was the pride and joy of my composition career. That
was my biggest work. I have a tape of it, and once in a while I listen to it. I do not
really like to hear it too much, because it makes me feel bad. It is what could
have happened. It is what would have happened if the president had not been
assassinated. They said it would be in very bad taste to even try to do it now that
the president is gone, so they sent all the parts back to me, and that was the end
L: That is a shame.
D: After the president was gone, the last chorus would have meant a great deal,
"Let us go forth." People found that it was such a good piece for
commencements, "Let us go forth to lead the land we love." It is just perfect for a
graduating class. I sent the orchestra parts out to different places, and I have a
recording of that, too.
One of my grandsons is nicknamed Rusti, and one of my nicest compositions, an
ensemble, is called, "Toddle Tunes for Rusti." It is an assortment of short pieces
describing a child's day, and there are sounds for a frog's hop. In 1977 I took ill--I
had an infection in the bloodstream, and I had to go to the hospital. People
noticed that I was falling asleep while I was talking. My brother said, "There is
something wrong, and Russell, you have got to go to the doctor." They found out
that if they had not gotten me to the doctor, I would not have lived more than six
months. I spent the first hundred days of my recovery at North Florida Regional
Hospital, getting my blood back in shape so I could have an operation. Then I
had an operation, and they put a pig valve in me. I have a pig valve, and I always
tell people I have to oink-oink yet.
L: That was in your heart?
D: Yes, now I have a pacemaker and get along fine. It gives me no trouble, but I
am on five or six pills a day. The pacemaker is just working fine. Since 1967 I
have done three composers programs, which included all my own compositions.
One program was dedicated to the time when we went into our new building,
which is now where the music department has its home.
I have not said much about one of my hobbies, which gives me a great deal of
pleasure--and that is painting. Bob and Estelle Carson together with and Grace
and I would go as a foursome overto Cedar Key and Silver Springs and all kinds
of places. Bob and I would paint, and we just had a wonderful time. It was Bob's
encouragement and his help that inspired me to continue my work in water
colors. I kept painting more and more all the time, and I continue to paint to this
day. I find that my hobby is very relaxing to me, and I just keep going from one
painting to the next. I like it almost as well as I like to compose and play the
piano. It is a third love for me, you might say. I have sold quite a number of my
paintings to people here at the retirement home. I like to paint landscapes and
mountain scenes, and I am learning how to paint animals. I paint a lot of flower
pictures, but I stay clear of portraits. I do not want to insult anybody.
L: Do you paint things that you see in front of you, or do you put down what is in
your own mind's eye the way you do when you are composing?
D: I paint what I see.
L: Do you go out on location?
D: I go on location, and if there is something I want to paint but I cannot stay long
enough to complete the whole picture, I sketch it, so I remember what I have
done. I remember the colors that I like, but I do not really color objects the way
they are. Then I come home, and I finish the picture at home. I have got a lot of
my paintings in the library here that everybody comes and looks at and enjoys.
L: Do you paint right here in the apartment?
D: I set a card table right up here, get my paints out and paint right here.
L: There is a picture in Florida Living of your doing that.
D: Yes, that is right there.
L: And the picture of the barn is there.
D: Florida Living accepted two other paintings of mine to put on the front of that
magazine in later issues--one of my pictures from Apalachicola and another
picture from Cedar Key. I am a very great train lover. I have a little layout here in
the next room that my son helped me make, but we have not got it finished yet.
All my life I have loved trains, but I do not have any of my train pictures here.
They are all at the Iron Horse.
L: There is one right up there.
D: Oh yes, I have one. The trains and painting are my two principal hobbies. I
firmly believe that everybody should early in their life establish some field in which
they are interested, which could be a hobby; may it be collecting stamps or coins,
or something that appeals to them. The same thing will not appeal to everybody,
but it comes in handy. I know from experience with retired people that they do
not know what to do with their time. That is why I heartily endorse learning a
L: Well, you certainly have done well with yours.
D: I am working on compositions. I am going to be performing one of my
compositions in April for the Thomas Center. Jack Kitts and I are going to be
playing my "Sonata for Bassoon and Piano." The publishers have yet to publish it
for performance. It should be coming out soon, though. I wrote it on the piano.
L: You do have an ear.
D: Oh, I have and ear all right. It bothers me to no end when one note is out of
tune on any piano. I play in the dining room every night for them here for dinner.
I got into a bad habit. If I did not come and play one night, they would become
L: You played the other night for the party there, did you not?
D: Yes. I play all the time, even at vespers. I always eat my dinner first. They
love to hear the old, old songs like when you and I were young--"Silver Threads
among the Gold," "Let the Rest of the World Go By," and "Indian Love Call."
They just love those pieces, and I know them all. At vespers I play all religious
music. They love to hear the old songs, "My Faith Looks Up to Thee," and "What
a Friend We Have in Jesus," "In the Garden." I want to tell you a funny thing that
I should have told you at the beginning. I got my first experience in music playing
hymns. I played for Sunday School at the Christian Church in Miller, South
Dakota, and one of the favorite songs I learned was "Yes, Jesus Loves Me, This I
Know, for the Bible Tells Me So." I learned to play that, but my legs were not long
enough to reach the pedals. We did not have a piano, we had a reed organ.
The superintendent of Sunday Schools, who was about sixty-five then, would
pump while I played the keys. Everybody sang, and once in a while she ran out
of breath. Of course, when she would not pump, we would not be getting any
music, so my music was stopped, too. We had quite a time with that.
I have known quite a number of composers who have affected my life and have
inspired me. One was a black composer by the name of R. Nathaniel Dett, and
he is very famous for two compositions: one is a piano composition called the
"Juba Dance," and the other is a very fine choral number which is always sung at
Eastertime called "Listen to the Lambs." He took a very special interest in my
talent and inspired me and encouraged me to go forward. I have to give him a lot
of credit for being interested in my talent. Another man who was well-known in
those days, Wakefield Cadmann, was a very close friend of mine. Anybody who
ever got married from the 1920s to the 1950s played his song, "At Dawning." I
used to get letter after letter from him, telling me all he was doing, and he would
encourage me and tell me, "Just stay in there, and work for it, old boy. You have
got the talent, just keep working, and you are going to get there one of these
days." He just kept me inspired. Another man that meant a lot to me was Dr.
Howard Hanson. I played one of my early compositions for him way back in 1931
at the Interlachen National Music Camp. By the way, I forgot to tell you, I worked
for the Interlachen National Music Camp at Interlachen, Michigan, for four
summers later on in my career. The composition that I played for him was one I
had written while I was in high school. It was a sonata in three movements for
piano, the "Historical Sonata." It described the growth of America from the time
of Columbus. Dr. Hanson was so interested in my composition that he listened to
every single page. When I got through, he said, "I am giving you a scholarship
any time you want it for the Eastman School of Music." That was in 1931. He
kept that scholarship open for me for about three years. When I applied for it in
1934, he kept his word. He composed a beautiful theme, in probably his most
famous composition, the "Romantic Symphony." Every concert at Interlachen
ends with this beautiful theme from Hanson's "Romantic Symphony." It always
makes you cry when you hear it. I received a lot of inspiration from that man. He
is gone now, and so are all these people. I also had the opportunity to play for
Mr. Aaron Copeland one time. He gave me encouragement also. I did not get to
know Mr. Copeland as well as the others. He was not as outwardly friendly as
some of the others, so I did not get a chance to know him quite so well. It means
a lot to know some of the people who have made a good name for themselves.
L: You have had an interesting life.
D: I do not ever consider it that way. My life is not over. I still have lots to do yet,
and I want to keep chugging as long as I can move a muscle, or move a finger, or
play a trill.
L: That is wonderful.
D: I thank the good Lord for giving me a chance to live a long life and enjoy my
wonderful family, Rik and Nanci and my two fine grandsons Rusti and Jarrid. I
have so many friends here and everywhere, and I keep in touch with them.
About two weeks ago, a friend I had not seen since he was at Lawrence College
as a student, came by here with his family and stayed with me for dinner. We
had a wonderful time, and now we are starting to correspond again. Also, I keep
in touch with some of my fraternity brothers. I think the secret to retirement is
to keep busy.
L: This is April 16, and we are back at Mr. Danburg's apartment. Mr. Danburg, I
would like to ask you some questions about your years at the University, what
your duties were besides teaching piano, and your community activities.
D: Well, my duties at the university were quite diversified at first. I had five
different things that I was required to do when I first came here. I had to promise
to direct a high school street orchestra. I am so glad I did, because it gave me a
great deal of training in writing, conducting, and in working with beginning school
string orchestras. This eventually led me into writing compositions for beginning
string-orchestra players, which resulted in my publishing two volumes of string
music for grade school and high school string-orchestra students. I am very glad
to have had that experience. Also, I was supposed to teach theory and
composition. A great deal of my work here was done in teaching theory to the
first and second year students and composition to the advanced students.
L: You said you had written some compositions, and that you had written one in
honor of the new president, President Criser.
D: Yes, I did. I was commissioned to write a special composition for the
inauguration of the new president, Mr. Criser. I got a phone call one day from the
department of music, and the department chairman, Lewis Udell [Budd Allen
Udell, Associate Professor and Chairman of Music Department, University of
Florida, 1977--present] said that I was appointed by the faculty to write a new
composition for the inauguration. So I immediately began to work on that, and on
inauguration day my composition was performed by the band and the mixed
chorus at the O'Connell Center. It was a really fine success. My son, Rik, wrote
the lyrics to the composition. It was sort of a father and son project. He has
some talent in writing poetic lines, and he did very well.
L: Now you and your wife were active in church work, were you not?
D: Yes, we were very active in the Methodist church here, and ever since the
very first year we came--which was in 1948--we both sang in the church choir. In
addition, I did a lot of composing for them. Mrs. E. Ruffin Jones was the choir
director at the time, she was very fine musician and organist herself. She
persuaded me to set some of the psalms to music, which I did, and they were all
performed by the congregational community choir at the Methodist church. I
wrote an oratorio called, "Beyond Lies God," and I also wrote an Easter contata,
which was used in performances here and there. It was done by a youth choir,
and was well received. I have written quite a bit of church music, and other
things upon request. For instance, I wrote all of the music for my son's wedding.
Sometimes he would write saying, "Dad, I need ten more minutes of music. I ran
out of music for the time it takes to complete the wedding ceremony. Can you
write me ten more minutes of music?" I would get busy and write ten more
minutes of organ music and send it to him so he would have plenty of background
music. That went on until the night he got married. Then Helen Jones asked me
to write various little short pieces for offertories and so on, which I did.
L: Has any of this been published?
D: Not my organ music.
L: Well, that is too bad. I think people would enjoy it.
D: I am not sure. Maybe sometime later on, I do not know. I have not pushed
the issue lately, because I have other things I am working on from a publication
L: You are still composing, then?
D: All the time. In fact, just last week two of my compositions were performed on
the same day here in Gainesville. I could not even get to both performances,
because they both were scheduled that same night. My "Sonata for Bassoon and
Piano" was played at the Thomas Center. At the same time at the University
Auditorium, they played my "Petite Suite for Horn." So I did not get a chance to
hear that because I had to play piano at the first one. I have written in just about
every medium there is now. I have never written an opera. But I have done one
symphony and several orchestral things, a great deal of instrumental and
ensemble music, some chamber music, and nearly every medium of singing.
L: Can you think of any particular contribution you made to the University or to
the music department of the University?
D: I think everyone who has taught there feels that they made a contribution, or
would like to think that they made some kind of imprint on the school. After thirty
years I must have made some notable feeling over there, because people have to
take your place once you leave.
L: I am sure you did, because your name is still well-known. I have always
thought music was wonderful, but I cannot play. I have no talent. After talking to
you, however, I can see that from the time you were three years old you have
enjoyed music and have been able to contribute something back to the field.
D: Yes, my whole life. I was telling you about the humor that I made, how
important that is, and how people enjoy it so much. It takes a little humor to make
it with the serious-minded.
L: Sort of Victor Borg-ish.
D: Yes, I had not done any of the same things that Victor Borga has done. But I
always enjoyed him very much.
L: Is there anything else that you can think of that you have done here in the
community, or at the University?
D: I think you have covered it pretty thoroughly. Of course, I am still writing
music, and I am still active. I am devoted to sharing my music with my friends
here at the village, and I am glad that I have somebody with whom to share. So
every night I play background music during the dinner hour. It is getting to the
point now where they expect it every night. I am going to be gone for a whole
week to visit my son and family, and I bet they will miss that.
L: Well, I thank you very much.
D: After you leave now I will probably think of other things to say.
L: I will probably think of something I wanted to ask you.
D: I am going to play two Brahms waltzes [kept on tape].