Self Made Symphony

A word of admiration for the inimitable Halfdan O. Stromsnes and his one-man Depression Band. Only a creative genius like Halfdan could compose and perform all his music on instruments made by his own hand from objects that were throw away during the hardest of economic times. The instrumentation included a five gallon oil can drum played by a cable rig to the right knee percussion section(the left knee controlled the cymbals). Guitar was crafted from a grease can and a Ford Fender (Not gonna say anything about Stratocaster here because this is serious). Above the string section, Maestro  Stromsnes provided the wind for five harmonicas mounted on a coffee can.


Halfdam Stromsnes was a machinist at the Defiance Lumber Company and when not entertaining audiences he mastered 14 trades meaning virtually no tool or task was beyond him in the workplace. But beyond the mill Halfdan could really carry a tune….Let me start that again because this is serious.

As Mr. Stromsnes’s concert career skyrocketed

Lobo, the audience dog begs for more,November 10 1937,  Possibly an encore from an Armistice Day Performance. TPL Richards Collection

his production standards improved dramatically.  Like John Phillip Sousa (who also played Tacoma, once before a sold out crowd at Stadium Bowl) the one man band adopted military style uniform, a brass section and trailing drum line. History does not clearly record the trajectory of the Depression Band and sadly its legendary reputation is lost in the fog of World War Two. Like Glen Miller, (or Buddy Holly)we may never know the sound of Halfdan O Stromsnes’ last great melody and no recordings of his music are known to have survived.

Please, if you know anything about this master or his masterpieces share your knowledge. Posterity cries out for it.



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This site is about the way history, in this case of a city and it's surrounds, is remembered or recorded in stories and small bits of memory. It's also about the way images and stories go together, how they inform and enrich each other and how we as thinking people fill in the content between a narrative and a visual document. So here is my city in time past, the way it looked and the people and events that create its character. For more than 20 years I have taught a 5 credit course on the History of Tacoma at the University of Washington Tacoma. With an average of 30 or 40 students a year, each doing a research paper as their primary focus for the course, I have benefited from many paths of inquiry and many researched and assembled stories. Here are some of them in the retelling along with the treasures of photographs and images in the collections of the Washington State Historical Society, Tacoma Public Library, University of Washington Digital Archives, Washington State Archives at the Office of the Secretary of State, Library of Congress, Washington State University, Alaska State Library, and many other archives, libraries and private collections.

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