Bands Alumni

Pierre V. Olker

Pierre V. Olker

In the 1908 edition of The Sequel a new band leader for 1907-08 was identified as P. V. Olker, who also became the acting director of the Orchestra at the Western Illinois State Normal School that same year (Band, The, p. 123). The article from The Sequel reported the following: “The band, composed of eighteen members under the leadership of Mr. P. V. Olker of Macomb, made its first appearance at the football game with Carthage, November 22” (Band, The, p. 122).

In the research at the Western Illinois University Archives, I was given permission to view contents from all of the applicable band directors’ personnel files. It was reported from the Office of the Provost that Pierre Von Olker II was not employed at the Western Illinois State Normal School and, therefore, did not have a personnel file. This is evidence that he may have been paid through concerts given by the band. On January 16, 1908, The Courier reported, “The Band and Orchestra concert netted the sum of fifty-four dollars, which will be used for the purchase of new music and for instruction” (Band Concert, The, p. 7).

Pierre Von Olker II was born in Luxembourg in 1847 to Pierre Von Olker and Catherine Schoertgen Olker who came to the United States in 1868 (Landrum, 1961, p. 26). Shortly after arriving in America, Olker moved to the Midwest and in 1870, the Federal Census reports him living in Kenosha, Wisconsin as a music teacher (1870, p. 24). Olker directed bands in the 1870s in Wisconsin and moved to Council Bluffs, Iowa in 1877, where he continued directing bands and orchestras until 1885 (History of Pottawattamie County, 1907, p. 46). Olker moved to Quincy, Illinois in 1888, where he became involved as a leader of the Western Catholic Union Band (Second Annual Concert, 1888, p. 1) and the Ed Nolan-Pierre Von Olker Band (May 1888: A New Mayor, 1988, p. 8).

Olker was involved in the City of Macomb as the orchestra director at the Macomb Normal School and Business Institute (MNSBI), and conductor of the Macomb Town Band. The MNSBI had three faculty members who taught music in 1899. Olker was identified as the orchestra director in the Annual Catalogue (1899) of the school: “Board of instruction. P. V. Olker – violin, Mandolin, Guitar, Orchestra” (p. 2) and “Prof. P. V. Olker, leader of the famous Macomb Band, and a splendid musician and composer, will give instruction on Band Instruments, Violin, Mandolin and Guitar” (Macomb Normal School and Business Institute, p. 10).

The MNSBI changed owners and titles three times by the time Olker’s name surfaced again in the sources. Three years after its name changed to Kennedy’s Business and English Training School, Olker is listed performing with the orchestra. On May 27, 1909, the Macomb Journal reported the following:

The third annual commencement exercises of the Kennedy Business College will be held at the opera house in this city Friday evening, June 4...Following is the program...‘Processional’ – Olker’s Orchestra... Intermezzo, ‘In a Garden of Melody’ - Olker’s Orchestra... Divertissement from Donizett’s ‘Lucia’ – Olker’s Orchestra. (Commencement, p. 4)

Olker is listed as a conductor of the Macomb Concert Band in 1909, a community band that had a long history dating back to the Civil War era. The records of the Macomb Band reveal little material regarding the activities of the band, and Olker’s tenure as conductor is not well-documented. Prior to conducting the town band, he attempted to start new avenues for performing music in Macomb. On April 8, 1896 the Macomb Journal reported the following:

Macomb is now the proud possessor of a colored band. Recently the Journal spoke of a plan to form an organization of this kind being under way. Now it is a settled fact...Prof. Olker has charge of the colored band, and will teach them how to handle music in the best possible manner, if the members apply themselves to the task. (Colored Band, The, p. 3)

With Burch still acting as the Western Illinois Normal School band chairman, he and Olker were not pleased with the lack of professionalism exhibited at rehearsals by the band members and the leaders desired more structure for the program. On December 10, 1907, the following new rehearsal guidelines were established:

A motion was made and seconded that all band members that were tardy at regular meeting should pay a fine of 5 cents in not a good excuse is handed to Mr. Burch or Mr. Olker and a fine of 15 cents for absence at meeting. This motion was put to vote and was carried. The meeting was then adjourned. (Secretaries Book, p. 6)