During my first year at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis I joined the men's chorus which sang sacred music, went on tours, etc. After a while, four of us formed a quartet and began practicing both sacred and "barbershop" music. It wasn't very long before we began to get invitations to sing at informal functions both on and off campus. One day another student challenged us and said, "Why don't you guys go on tour next summer?"
His suggestion intrigued us and we discussed it for quite a while. One day, out of the blue, our baritone exclaimed loudly, "Let's do it!" Somewhat stunned we all agreed, although we were a bit nervous about the decision. It was then that we decided to call ourselves "The Seminary Four."
Our first task was to send about 150 letters to congregations spread over the eastern half of the United States. We offered to sing sacred music in their sanctuaries, followed by barbershop songs in their church basements. In return we requested that they "pass the plate" and take up a small offering for our expenses, and also give us one night's lodging and possibly a meal. To our amazement and delight, about half of the congregations answered our letters. In the end we were able to schedule fifty concerts for the following summer.
When our classes ended in early June of 1953, we loaded our suitcases and music into my black 1939 Buick and started driving across the state of Illinois. With our black sedan we must have looked like Al Capone and his entourage. Our first engagement that evening was far from perfect, not only because it was our first attempt but also because I had a sore throat.
Afterwards we went to the home of our hosts for the night—a wonderful family. The father wanted to help me with my throat problem, so he offered a gargle that he said would really fix me up! I thought it somewhat strange that when I gargled, it seemed to "bubble up" vigorously. As we awakened the next morning we were alarmed to hear a scream downstairs, followed by laughter. What could be happening? Later the family explained what had taken place. Their father had accidentally grabbed the wrong bottle the night before, and the gargle he gave me was actually shampoo! No wonder it bubbled so strongly. At any rate, it worked. By the next evening I felt nearly normal.
And so we traveled every day and sang every night. On Sunday mornings we usually sang in a church service. Although the adults appreciated sacred music, both they and their kids seemed to have the most fun when we sang barbershop in the basement. And besides, that's when the refreshments were served. When we arrived in big cities like Washington D.C. or New York, our host families often had a tour of well-known historical sites planned for us. (An unanticipated pleasure, especially when our guides were beautiful young ladies!)
There were embarrassing moments however. One of those occurred late one evening in a bedroom of our host family where our baritone singer and I were going to sleep. He served as the treasurer for our quartet, and each night he counted the offerings before we crawled into bed. On this particular night the bag of money somehow "got away" from him and fell to the solid wood floor with a loud crash. Since kids usually put coins into the offering, there was a continuing noise as many coins rolled around on the floor for about ten seconds. How embarrassing! However, no one said a word about it the next morning.
Another uncomfortable moment befell us in Ontario, Ottawa, Canada. The roof of the church in which we were singing had tin sheets instead of shingles. A heavy downpour of rain banged on the roof throughout our concert, making it almost impossible to hear anything.
Occasionally the four of us assisted our hosts with a project. In North Dakota, for example, near the end of our tour, we helped a farmer load and haul hay for his cattle. Unfortunately there was an accident. A nephew of the farmer pulled his hay rack too close to my car and smashed one of its rear fenders. He apologized and promised to pay for the damages. "Send me a copy of the bill," he said. After our tour ended I did send him a copy of the bill, but I never heard back. Out of sight—out of mind.
The Seminary Four's last concert was in mid-August at my home church in Iowa. After splitting the money we had earned, we went to our separate homes to get ready for another year of study in St. Louis. Each of us had $600 in his pocket—a nice down payment for the next year's tuition.