The House Brand Woodwind Ensemble

The House Brand Woodwind Ensemble was made up of technical personnel who worked at the Univac facility in Roseville, Minnesota. They performed music as a quartet or larger group at that location and three other Univac plants in the Twin Cities from March, 1981, through July, 1982.

Glen Newton, the group's leader, tells the story of the ensemble's beginning:

In 1981, I learned from one of my friends at Univac that there was a clarinet player in building one who was interested in playing in a small ensemble at work. His name was Joe Stefani, and he was an excellent clarinetist. Joe could play classical and pop styles, ad lib, and sight read either B-flat or C music on his B-flat clarinet. We asked Dick Peik and Kate Saumur to join us to put on a few concerts as part of the "Brown Bag Lunch Seminar" series held in the cafeterias of buildings two and three. Dick played clarinet in the St. Anthony Civic Orchestra, and although I'd never heard Kate perform, Mike Andrews had asked me to talk to her about the amateur music opportunitites in the Twin Cities when she interviewed with the CMS group the previous year, so I knew something about her background as a bassoonist. The main problem we faced in getting started was, "Where can we find music to be played by two clarinetists, bassoon, and a brass instrument?"

Our first solution to the reportoire problem was to play brass quartet music, with Dick and Joe trading off on the first and second trumpet parts, me playing horn, and Kate playing the trombone parts on her bassoon. We rehearsed on the second floor of building three, in an area that was under construction near Dick's office and reached a fair level of musical competence rather quickly. I contributed more than my share of wrong notes ("clams"), due to my lack of skill on the French horn, so I brought my euphonium to one rehearsal and switched parts with Kate. (Most of the music we were playing had duplicate third parts—French horn or first trombone.) But although I reduced my clam count, the euphonium tone was too heavy and broad to give us the blend we wanted, so I went back to horn.

Deciding on a name was more difficult than deciding on musical interpretations. We considered several, including "I Solisti di Roseville", in our search for a name that was humorous, descriptive, and yet modest. The choice of "House Brand Woodwind Ensemble" was an analogy to the house brand foods and wines that provide good quality at a reasonable price.

In addition to published music, the group performed compositions and arrangements by Glen Newton. The quartet first performed a pair of concerts March 11 and 12, 1981, in the Univac (which later became Unisys) Roseville facility. The following month, Univac supplied a mini-van and driver to take the group to the Shepard Road plant to perform on April 21. The quartet performed again in Roseville June 16 and 17; Ron Middlestadt, another musical Univac employee, recorded the concerts.

That summer, Kate Saumur left the group and over the next several months several others joined: flutist Cyndi Stenehjem, bass clarinetist Jan Peterson, guitarist Marv Root, and clarinetist Don Singley. Glen Newton tells more:

The ensemble was starting to get some notoriety by this time, and after the building three concert, three people expressed an interest in joining the group, if we should ever be interested in expanding. The motivation for the change came soon, for shortly after the concert, Kate decided to leave the group. One of the recent volunteers was Cyndi Stenehjem, a flutist, so we decided to explore the woodwind quintet literature. Joe was able to play the oboe parts on his clarinet, but the fifth part was a problem, since we now had no bassoonist. Remembering that some woodwind quintet music has alternate parts for bass clarinet to substitute for bassoon, we invited Jan Peterson, who played bass clarinet in the Roseville Band and St. Anthony Civic Orchestra, to join the group.

The quintet and Marv Root performed a concert in Roseville November 25, 1981, and played the same concert at the Shepard Road plant cafeteria December 14th. Shortly after that, finding a rehearsal space became a problem. Glen Newton continues:

When construction finished on the second floor of building three, we were forced to find another place to practice. For a while, we practiced in the video studio during lunch time. But the studio wasn't well isolated for sound, and a few people in the offices above it complained. Then Cyndi spoke to Fritz Reindel, a family friend who was also one of the highest-ranking members of the Roseville management team, about the dilemma, and he gave us permission to practice in the environmental lab. The thick doors and walls were intended to shield workers from the noise of the experiments, but they were ideally suited to containing the sound of a musical group as well!

The quintet performed again June 2, 1982, at the Unisys Corporate Square location, this time augmented by clarinetist Don Singley. This sextet performed for the final time July 15, 1982, at the Univac Park courtyard in Eagan and disbanded afterward. Glen Newton explains:

The group's demise was due to a combination of events. The company was going through difficult economic times, and Jan was among the personnel laid off. Cyndi left Univac to work at another company. The Brown Bag seminar and concert series was terminated. And the rest of us felt the need to be less conspicuously spending time on musical activities during the work day.

Click a date below to learn about the House Brand Woodwind Ensemble's concert on that date.

March 11 and 12, 1981 April 21, 1981 June 16 and 17, 1981
November 25 and December 14, 1981 June 2, 1982 July 15, 1982