Ad Libitum

This page is just for fun. Currently we are featuring our favorite conservatory, Athol! If you have not heard of our great and infamous Athol Conservatory take a moment and read up on some well-known and little known facts.

Athol Conservatory of Music

SDMTA’s Flagship Institution

Sometimes in the course of an ordinary life, something extraordinarily silly occurs–even in the life of a music teacher, or two . . .

With little regard for historical specificity, we can attest that Athol Conservatory was founded in the late twentieth century. Its impetus was a shared experience sometime in the early 1980s by Arlene Krueger and Lucetta Johnson. They, along with their husbands, had attended a wedding in Redfield, SD. The wedding dance that followed took place at the Community Hall in nearby Athol (one of those small prairie towns that is disappearing). When they arrived a recent rain had left the ground soggy and muddy but that didn’t affect the festivities in the least. Car trunks already were open, revealing the libations for the dance and music wafted out from the hall. The dance orchestra consisted of a grandmother, mother, and a very pregnant daughter performing on two accordions and a guitar. Inside the people danced around a barrel in the middle of the dance floor which provided a depository for empty beer cans and bottles. Spirits were high and a good time was had by all.

Upon their return home, the Johnsons were effusive in their comments about this event. In Sioux Falls several piano teachers gathered each Thursday for coffee. When Lucetta shared this story Suzette Brazones with amusement and enthusiasm promptly commented about the musical training at Athol Conservatory. Thus, an institution was born.

After many months of good-humored teasing, Lucetta and Arlene decided it was time to hold an Athol graduation ceremony for the piano teachers of the Thursday morning coffee clatch. A teachers’ workshop at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, provided the perfect venue. Arlene assumed the position of the Presidency of the Conservatory. Lucetta was the Dean. For her academic regalia the President donned a well-used choir gown with a stunning letter “A” on her paper clip chain of office. The tassel on her mortarboard bobbed gently over her nose.

Adding to the dignity of the occasion were diplomas, commissioned works by Don Levsen, Director of Music at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church. The Athol Conservatory staff presented these diplomas to Veronika Lakstigala, Suzette Brazones, Helen James, Joan Teichmann, Mag McCabe, Sharon Hegge, Penny Larsen, Jackie Frerichs, Janice Houts, and Ellan Muyskens.

For several years the Athol Conservatory quietly thrived. Then came Sheila Richards and David Piersel. They just thought it was too good to let go and the Athol Conservatory expansion began.

The state SDMTA Convention in 1988 was held in Brookings at SDSU. At this time Arlene was SDMTA President, Sheila Richards was Secretary, and David Piersel was Convention Chair. At the Athol Conservatory reunion, our convention artists Dallas Weekley and Nancy Arganbright eagerly accepted affiliation with the school, as did Margaret Lorince, MTNA Vice-President from South Carolina. An edifying workshop was presented by Marie Schlosser on building hand strength for pianists through bottle-feeding baby lambs. The Athol Conservatory symphonic band, under the curling iron baton of Veronika Lakstigala, entertained the assembly in the motel room.

At the national MTNA Convention in Wichita in the spring of 1989, a reunion was held for faculty and alumni of Athol. More members were matriculated into this elite body. Perhaps it was the invitation posted on the bulletin board!

The next alumni reunion was held at the MTNA National Convention in Little Rock, AK, in March of 1990. Special guests were the Weekleys, Joan Reist, MTNA national Baldwin competition chair, Norma Siefert, West Central Division President, and Tom Gerou and Carole Flatau of CPE/Belwin. SDMTA President Arlene mc’d the festivities. As a special treat, Tom and Carole performed Somewhere My Love on kazoo and nose flute!!! After the stunning performance they distributed nose flutes and kazoos to those assembled, compliments of CPE/Belwin. Then they offered instruction! Students could learn solos, duets, or in group numbers. The students diligently practiced, applying all their energies to this new endeavor. Now Athol Conservatory could boast of a (key) signature instrument.

At the SDMTA convention in Aberdeen that fall, the Athol Conservatory Annual Meeting was held at Sheila Richards’ home. Mary Alice Spencer, Athol Poet Laureate, read an original pome dedicated to Athol founder, A. Krueger. Virginia Hall shared her new-found expertise as a performer on the nose flute. Following that demonstration Virginia also played Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms in the Atholian mode on the piano. For those of you who may not remember your theory classes (and we know that most Atholians cannot), that is the scale with the raised 8th. To aid in theory instruction for Atholians, Allan Jacobson was commissioned to compose a piece “dans la mode mineur” a la Neapolitana, utilizing the tune of Happy Birthday. Another commission went to the newly appointed “artist-in-residence” Alyce Berggren. She was to paint a muriel for the AC Archives Building. The completed commission resembled the famous Mount Rushmore but features Athol Conservatory’s Founding Mothers: Joan Teichmann, Lucetta Johnson, Arlene Krueger, and Suzette Brazones. It is a MOUNTuMENTAL artistic rendering.

At the 1990 MTNA Convention in Little Rock, AK, the Atholians encountered a problem when the hotel refused to allow extra chairs in the rooms for our reunion without a $2.50 surcharge for each. Never deterred, this gross injustice inspired Frank and Carolyn Page (SDMTA Treasurer) to generously offer to endow a chair for Athol. Their gift of $2.50 has been in safe keeping ever since, in a lovely plastic baggie. Dr. David Piersel was asked to “chair” a search committee for the endowed chair. Should it be for nose flute, kazoo, French Provincial or Queen Anne?!

Mysteriously, most of the money for our endowed chair has disappeared. Of the 250 pennies contributed, only six remain. Radical deflation? It seems unlikely. Sadly, the muriel and the pome are also gone. Due to the misplacing of the endowment, the muriel and the pome, a new class will be offered next spring at Athol. It will be a class in PRE-dementia, subtitled “for crying out loud, if you have been given something for safekeeping, REMEMBER where you put it.”

The silliness goes on. Reunions continue to be held. 1994 began a search for the chair. In 1998 our guest artist Garik Pedersen was inducted into our Hall of Fame. 1999 and David Piersel’s retirement brought a full-scale alumni reunion to see him off. It also brought Athol into the digital age when a (spider) web-site was developed. Membership in this elite group requires nothing more than a desire for harmless and witty entertainment after the work of organizing and/or attending a convention.