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Reviewed by:
  • Music at NDSU by Robert Groves
  • Katherine Norman Dearden
Music at NDSU. By Robert Groves. Fargo: North Dakota State University Press, 2017. 179 pp. Illustrations, index. $25.00 paper.

Robert Groves documents more than a century of musical achievement and service to North Dakota and its surrounding region in his book Music at NDSU. Through over four decades as a North Dakota State University faculty member—in fact as the longest-serving music faculty member in the history of the department—Groves provides an invaluable insider perspective on the people and events he chronicles.

The North Dakota Agricultural College, renamed North Dakota State University in 1960, was established in 1890. It did not take long for music to become a part of campus life. By 1895, students could take part in a singing club or study voice, piano, guitar, [End Page 324] and mandolin with local music teachers who offered private lessons. This led to the establishment of a Department of Music in 1903 under the leadership of George Putnam who served as chair, with the exception of a brief hiatus from 1914 to 1916, until his death in 1944. Groves describes the accomplishments of the department under Putnam and three other long-serving chairs, Ernst Van Vlissingen (1948 to 1965), Edwin Fissinger (1967 to 1985), and John Miller (1998 to present), arguing that the stability provided by their dedication and long tenure was the foundation for excellence and growth. In chapters titled "The Early Years" and "A Time of Administrative Flux (1985 to 1998)" Groves provides details of the department in less stable times.

Faculty, facilities, and working conditions form a part of all chapters, and the book is replete with information about the professors, the buildings in which they worked, and the challenges they faced. All of this is enhanced by the inclusion of dozens of photographs, dating from 1902 to 2016.

It is clear that the book has been painstakingly researched. This sort of written and photographic record does not come without many long hours spent in archival review. At the same time, it is not heavily footnoted, attribution often broadly designated to archival sources or internal files. The struggles faced by the faculty to raise music from a service department, which merely entertained the campus and community, to a department with respected curricular standing at both the undergraduate and graduate levels reflect the broader struggles in the discipline to be taken as a serious area of study. As such, Music at NDSU is a welcome addition to the scholarship on music and its place within academia. Alumni, students, and patrons of NDSU, as well as those with an interest in local history or the role and importance of music in the upper Midwest will find Music at NDSU both an informative and enjoyable read.

Katherine Norman Dearden
Department of Music
University of North Dakota


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pp. 324-325
Launched on MUSE
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