Historic V for Victory from Kleinhan's Music Hall

Dec 23, 2011

Music has  the power to touch the heart, to move you, to make memories that can last a lifetime. Nobody knows that better than Gene Setel of Buffalo. As a teenager, he was an usher at Kleinhans Music Hall. That was a long time ago. He started at age 12, but he was 16 when he ushered for a concert event that he will never forget.  “Never seen anything like that night,” he says. “It was just overwhelming


It was may eighth, 1945. Hitler was dead. The Japanese had yet to surrender. But it was the beginning of the end of the Second World War. British Prime Minister Winston

Churchill signaled victory in Europe, V-E Day. He flashed his familiar V-for Victory hand sign to crowds in London, declaring May 8th as “your victory.”


 Germany had surrendered, and coincidentally,  Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra had been booked to play Kleinhans on May 8th.  At the last minute, Ormandy changed the program for that evening. “And it was changed to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony,” Gene tells us. “The crucial part was at the very beginning ‘bum-bum-bum bummm …’”  Gene explains: Dot-dot-dot dash is Morse (code) for “V,” for Victory, and if you ever see pictures of Churchill during that time, he’s always showing ‘V’ for Victory, and it was sort of a theme song for the Allies during World War II


Longtime Buffalo News  music critic Herman Trotter has a half dozen versions of Beethoven’s Fifth, including one by the Philadelphia Orchestra.. “I can’t imagine the audience coming in, knowing that the war in Europe was over and hearing that symbol of victory,” he says.  “It must have been a very tremendously moving experience.”


“The audience was just thrilled from the start,” says Gene. “They came in just to have the war over and to be coming to a wonderful concert. Beethoven’s Fifth was something else again. At the end of the Beethoven’s Fifth, the audience rose as one person, applauding madly.”


The Buffalo Evening News reviewer, Theodolinda Boris wrote. “The symphony stirred the heart. it spoke of joy in victory…but also of compassion for a distraught and sickened world.”


The orchestra closed that evening with the Stars and Stripes Forever. “People were shouting and crying, hugging each other, weeping, yelling,” Gene says. “I never thought that  I would have an experience that would last me my entire life, that would move me as deeply as that night.”


Music is like that. It touches the heart. It preserves memories. And in Kleinhans Music Hall on that night, May 8th, 1945, music proclaimed the approach of a new era, and the end of a world war.