The origins of wind band music at Augustana University have a long, rich and varied history, dating back to 10 February 1896, when a few industrious young men at the Lutheran Normal School in Sioux Falls, South Dakota gathered “for the purpose of organizing a band.” While the minutes of this meeting were brief, their vision was the antithesis. Thinking of ways to buy instruments, promote concerts, schedule rehearsals, and require practice, these young men set out to develop a musical organization of which their school could be proud. Although unknown at the time, these gregarious young men who started this band in 1896 inaugurated a tradition, passing on their industrious legacy to future generations in a tradition that would grow from humble beginnings to one of the university's greatest assets.
Their efforts were met with apparent success. In 1899, the Lutheran Normal School Mirror
notes that “the Lutheran Normal School Band is active, and music is the order of the day. The boys seem to be very much interested, and the band plays now as well as it has ever done before.” By 1900, the band was one of the few school activities in which students were able to participate. So popular was the band that monies raised by admission to concerts was ample enough to aid the band in their purchase of uniforms. This band of young men premiered their impressive new uniforms—consisting of black pants, white coats with black stitching, and black caps—at a concert on 17 March 1900. A photo of this band shows twenty-one members, consisting of four clarinets, six trumpet/cornets, four baritones, two trombones, two tubas, two percussionists, and one drum major. As evidence that the performance of these young men was at least as impressive as their new uniforms, The Lutheran Normal School Mirror
notes “since the concert on March 17, the boys have been called upon to play at the National Populist Convention held in Sioux Falls, the Republican County Convention in Dell Rapids, and the Republican State Convention in Sioux Falls. On all these occasions the boys have acquitted themselves with credit, and have received flattering notices both from the city papers and from the public.”
Undoubtedly their appearance at the National Populist Convention in Sioux Falls was both exciting and rare for the band, and it launched them into nationwide recognition. Indeed few college bands had the opportunity to play for such important visiting dignitaries during their formative years. The Argus Leader,
noting the performance of the band in their coverage of the convention, states: “The band of the Norwegian College is receiving many flattering compliments for the fine music which it discourses on the streets. The band has been organized but a short time and this week is its first public appearance. The members of the band are all young men and all are students at the college. They give promise of soon becoming one of the leading musical organizations of the country.”
The Lutheran Normal School Band remained an active part of school life and one of the school’s most popular features. The present day Augustana Band owes its existence to the merger of Augustana College and the Lutheran Normal School in 1918. This merger added further strength to the band organization—both in number and quality. Augustana, then located in Canton, South Dakota, brought to the merger their tradition that began in 1908 with ìmembership that was open to all students who owned instruments. This, partnered with the tradition of the Lutheran Normal School Band, resulted in a rich tradition and appreciation of band music.
In an effort to add philosophy and meaning to their existence, the band, in 1918, approved a constitution stating that "the purpose of this organization shall be to create interest in band music, to furnish an opportunity for instruction on the various instruments, and to provide a means of entertainment."
During the next ten years, the band remained a popular activity of the college, providing both concert music as well as music at athletic events. A new era began in the fall of 1931 when the music department expanded offerings, including a symphonic band. The Augustana Mirror, headlining the publicity for the ensemble, states “Symphonic Band is Latest Step in College of Music Expansion.” The headlined article reports “the organization of a symphonic band is the latest progressive move made by the Augustana college of music. Under the director of Mr. Richard J. Guderyahn, professor of violin and cello, and conductor of the Augustana symphony orchestra, the personnel of the band is now being selected.” The same article further states that “the primary purpose of the band is to provide an opportunity for those who do not participate in the orchestra to be members of a concert organization.” In an additional effort stressing the difference between the Collegiate Cadets, a pep band, and the new symphonic band, the article notes that the new symphonic band will be exclusively a concert group. The music department’s progressive new endeavor — the symphonic band — made its initial debut appearance during the college’s annual Viking Days celebration on 24 October 1931 as The Augustana Band.
The band enjoyed a very successful infancy, and in 1939 had a sales drive for the purpose of funding new uniforms. The Augustana Mirror notes that “approximately eight hundred dollars will be needed to complete the outfitting of the band.” The Mirror also notes that because the organization is still young, it was not included in the student activity fund. Professor Guderyahn conducted the band until 1956, the same year the band took its first concert tour during the spring. This tour, while it was the first for the Augustana Band, was not without precedence. The Lutheran Normal School Band took their first concert tour in the spring of 1900, touring southeastern South Dakota and Minnesota, including Crooks, SD, and Hills, MN. With the onset of concert tours for the band, the music department now had two substantial ensembles touring the nation, including the Augustana Choir which took its first concert tour in 1921.
In the fall of 1956, Leland A. Lillehaug, a magna cum laude graduate of Augustana in 1951, began his tenure as the second conductor of the Augustana Band (after enrolling at Augustana in the fall of 1944 temporarily as a music major). Lillehaug brought with him an impressive pedigree including a year of study in Vienna, Austria as a Fulbright Scholar, as well as a three-year stint as band director in Waverly, Iowa. It was in the spring of 1956 that Augustana President Lawrence M. Stavig persuaded Lillehaug to return to Augustana as professor of music and director of bands.
Lillehaug, who served as Director of Bands until 1977, is credited with developing an exciting and vigorous comprehensive band program at Augustana, including a very popular marching band which played for a Minnesota Vikings football game, an ambitious band festival for outstanding high school band students, a plethora of national and internationally known guest conductors, soloists, and clinicians as part of this festival, an expansion of curricular offerings in the instrumental area of the music department, and national tours east, west, and the deep south. Lillehaug, who retired as Director of Bands in 1977, served on the music department faculty until 1991.
Gary A. Tanouye became the third tenured conductor of the Augustana Band in the fall of 1977, following a year as assistant director of bands. During his tenure, the Augustana Band enjoyed successful tours, culminating in their performance at the national convention of the College Band Directors National Association. Tanouye held this position until 1983, when he retired due to health reasons. Following interim direction by Dr. Paul Schuerle, and Mr. David Mitchell, Lillehaug again served as Director of Bands during a transition period. It was during this transition period that Bruce T. Amman was hired as the fourth tenured conductor of the Augustana Band in the fall of 1989.
Under Ammann’s ambitious and excellent tutelage, the Augustana Band gave its first performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., where the Washington Post
picked the concert as “the concert pick of the week.” Under his direction, the band has also performed on the stages of many of the nation’s finest concert halls, including Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the Great Hall of the Washington Pavilion of Arts and Sciences in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. As well, the Augustana Band has also performed at the national convention of the Music Educators National Conference, as well as the regional convention of the Concert Band Directors National Association. Ammann also led the Augustana Band in its first international tour, spending January of 1999 touring the Asian continent. Similar tours to China followed in January of 2003 and in 2007. In 2011, the Band spent the January term in Egypt. Their study and concert tour was a success on all levels, and their opportunity to witness the first days of the Egyptian Revolution made national news in the US.
Dr. Ammann retired as Director of the Augustana Band following a sabattical leave in 2013. He continues to teach full-time within the department in conducting and wind instruments. Dr. Paul Schilf took the reigns of the Band during Amman's leave, and continued in this position until May, 2015.
In March of 2015, Augustana announced the appointment
of Dr. Christopher Unger as the 5th conductor of The Augustana Band. Unger joined the college in September 2015 and continues building upon the history and success of this outstanding ensemble.
Today’s Augustana Band is both proud and honored to cultivate the industrious legacy passed on to them by a few visionary young men, and are pleased to present the manifestation of one hundred and twenty years of wind band music at Augustana.
History of the Augustana Band is possible through the research work of Dr. Greg Handel, '91.