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The Tri-City Symphony

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Had Albert Petersen, Alfred Mueller, and Robert MacDonald acted more sensibly on a cold January evening in 1916, the Quad Cities might just now be getting a symphony orchestra. But they were flighty musicians playing dinner music at the Kimball House in Davenport. One cannot expect artsy types to understand the importance of committees and sub committees, reports, surveys, fund raisers, patrons, and contracts.

"Let's all of us musicians from Davenport, Rock Island, and Moline get together and form our own orchestra," they decided that January.

Finding musicians was no problem. The Germans who had emigrated to Davenport in the late 1840s has brought a rich musical tradition with them. All three cities were full of singing societies, Sunday afternoon concerts, and marching bands. But symphonic music had to be imported from outside—from Chicago or St. Louis.

The three Kimball House musicians gathered nine other local musicians—four of them women—to a meeting at the Davenport Commercial Club on February 10th, and the Tri-City Symphony Society was organized. They decided that a single concert of such high quality that it would bring audiences back was the way to go. And, being flighty musicians with little idea of logistics, they scheduled that concert for May 29, 1916—four months away. All they lacked were musicians, instruments, a conductor, a program, a concert hall, and rehearsals.

On February 11, they invited Ludwig Becker, a violinist who had given recitals in Davenport, to become the first conductor. By the end of April, when the organization contracted for use of the Burtis Opera House, Becker had auditioned his musicians and begun rehearsals.

May 29th, 1916 was cloudy spring day. Early in the evening, inside the Burtis House, with a packed house of 1,200 people, conductor Becker's baton rose on Wagner's Prelude to "Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg."

This "orchestra made in a night," said the newspaper reviewer, "scored one of the greatest triumphs in the annals of the local musical world," and was met with "a cyclone of approbation." The Tri-City Symphony, now the Quad City Symphony, was here to stay—all the result of a break between sets at the Kimball House.

Rock Island Lines is underwritten by the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.