Today I’d like to share a rare piece of sheet music related to my undergraduate alma mater, Valparaiso University: the “Northern Indiana Normal School March,” composed by faculty member August Wolf and published in 1896. The Northern Indiana Normal School (“N. I. N. S.”) was renamed Valparaiso College in 1900 and then became Valparaiso University in 1905, so this is in effect the “Valparaiso University March,” which is why I gave this blog post the title I did.
As far as I can tell, the “Northern Indiana Normal School March” had been lost to history until I spotted a copy on eBay a couple weeks ago and snagged it with a winning bid of $12.25. The title turns up among published copyright registrations, but there isn’t any record for a copy of the actual music in WorldCat or in any of the more specialized sheet music catalogs I’ve checked, so you’d have pestered interlibrary loan for it in vain. Valparaiso University’s own Christopher Center for Library and Information Resources, home to the Archives and Special Collections, would seem to be the most likely place for another copy to have survived. However, given that they cataloged their sheet music copy of the college fight song “On to Victory” (1930), but don’t list any copy of the “Northern Indiana Normal School March,” I suspect that even they don’t have one, making this a pretty rare bird. (I’ve written to ask and will add a postscript if I hear anything back.)
With all that in mind, I’m pleased to introduce this long-forgotten work to the twenty-first century by making a scan of my copy of the piano sheet music available online here. And for those who’d prefer to listen instead, here’s a quick-and-dirty MIDI realization embedded as an mp3 (you’ll also find an alternative audio version at the end of this post):
So what do we know about the composer, August Wolf? The most detailed biography I’ve seen for him appears in the 1894 Pictorial and Biographical Record of LaPorte, Porter, Lake and Starke Counties, Indiana, which states that he had been born in Roben, Thuringia, on September 21, 1869, the son of a local musician there.
During his youth our subject studied music for three years in Gera, Thuringia, Germany, and then finished in Hamburg, Dresden and other places, being connected with some of the leading orchestras of the country. He was a member of an orchestra that traveled by steamer from Hamburg to other ports, and on one occasion had the honor of entertaining the Emperor. For six months Mr. Wolf crossed the ocean between Bremen, Southampton and New York, on a North German Lloyd steamer, furnishing band and orchestra music for the officers and cabin passengers. Mr. Wolf came to America in December, 1891, and made his way to LaPorte, teaching in that vicinity. In November, 1892, he obtained the second prize for violin solo at the contest of Northern Indiana Music Festival, and immediately after was offered the position of instructor on string instruments in the Northern Indiana Normal School at Valparaiso. Prof. Heritage says that he has been very successful in that work.
According to a newspaper account, the Northern Indiana Music Festival where August Wolf’s violin solo won second prize in 1892 had been held in the N. I. N. S.’s “new college auditorium,” meaning the imposing Chapel-Auditorium completed earlier that same year. Even though the venue was “the second largest hall in the State,” it had still been unable to accommodate the thousands of people who had flocked to Valparaiso for the event, surely one of the most memorable occasions of Wolf’s life. This is the same building we see pictured on the cover of the “Northern Indiana Normal School March.” It was destroyed by fire on November 26, 1956, prompting the construction of the current Chapel of the Resurrection.
“Prof. Heritage” was Richard Aaron Heritage, who was not only director of the school’s music department at the time Wolf was hired, but also the namesake of Heritage Hall, now the only architectural vestige of Valparaiso University’s old campus. Actually, I should qualify that statement. The original 1875 structure was torn down in 2009, despite being on the National Register of Historic Places, and a modern replica was put up in its place. “The reconstruction of Heritage Hall represents a major step in the university’s vision,” says President Mark Heckler.
But back to August Wolf—or, to be more precise, August H. Wolf. His middle initial turns up in the 1910 federal census, when he was still living in Valparaiso as a violin teacher with his wife Helen (age 33, born in Germany); they’d gotten married thirteen years before and had a six-year-old son named Darwin. Googling for more details, we find that Mr. Wolf was an “Instructor of Violin and Zither”; also that he had “[g]raduated from the Musical Department in Frohburg, Hamburg, Germany, in 1887”; and that he inherited a four-hundred-year-old violin from an uncle in Heidelberg; and that he was the leader of Wolf’s Orchestra in Valparaiso, which furnished music for local gatherings. Apart from the “Northern Indiana Normal School March,” the only other composition I’ve seen credited to him is a piece registered for copyright with lyricist Lewis Edgar Dowdell, better known as a local printer:
Sea (The) the home for me. Baritone solo, with piano accompaniment. Words by L. Edgar Dowdell; music by August Wolf.
Copyright by L. Edgar Dowdell, Valparaiso, Ind. 1898, no. 65911, Nov. 10; 2 copies rec’d Mar. 3, 1899.
By the time of the 1920 census, August Wolf and his family had moved to San Diego, California; then, in the 1930 census, his wife Helen is listed as widowed. Their son Darwin M. Wolf (1903-1973) went on to become a merchant seaman and to patent a type of noise-producing toy pistol.
August Wolf dedicated the “Northern Indiana Normal School March” to Henry Baker Brown, who served as the president of the school from its founding in 1873 until his death in 1917. (Yes, I know that Valparaiso University now dates its origin back to 1859, when the earlier Valparaiso Male and Female College had opened on the same site, only to fail in 1871. But during the Henry Baker Brown era, the official seal explicitly stated “FOUNDED 1873,” and I’ll defer to the judgment of folks back then as to whether they saw the Poor Man’s Harvard as a continuation of the earlier school or not.)
The cover lists two versions of the sheet music available at different prices: piano solo for thirty-five cents and orchestra for sixty cents. My copy is clearly the piano solo. However, its second page has segments labeled “Flute,” “Viol. pizz.” (violin pizzicato), and “Clar.” (clarinet), hinting at details of Wolf’s orchestration. And a set of lyrics accompanies the last of these segments:
Valparaiso Normal School
is a well known Institute.
—and then with a traditional rhyme based on a contracted past participle, “educat’d,” that no native speaker of English would ever have used:
Students come from ev’ry State
just to be well educat’d.
That last tortured rhyme isn’t the only clue that we’re dealing here with a work by a recent German immigrant (he was less than a year off the boat when he got his teaching job at N. I. N. S., and he had been in America only five years when his march was published). One comment I’ve had so far from several listeners to my MIDI rendition is that the music sounds distinctly German to them.
It’s also a bit of a hodge-podge, coming off more as a medley of unrelated parts than as a coherent whole. And to be clear, I’m not under any delusions about having rediscovered a lost world-class march masterpiece here. There’s a reason why you’ve heard of John Philip Sousa and not August Wolf.
But the “Northern Indiana Normal School March” is still an authentic bit of historical Valparaiso University culture that I’d like to see revived, cherished, and played by present and future generations of students, faculty, and alumni. Say what you will about its musical merits, it’s old, it’s fun, it’s quirky, it’s quaint, and it’s ours. In closing, here’s an alternative audio file with MIDI voices assigned to accordion and guitar and a little reverb thrown in.