Edward Christianson

edward christianson

Edward R. Christianson, 75, was born in Grand Forks, North Dakota and was raised in Pembina, North Dakota.  He was blessed to be in a musical family his entire life.  He graduated from the University of North Dakota and after a brief stint on the road with a traveling dance band he became a high school band director.  He found pleasure in hearing many talented students perform.

He married MaryJo DeMers in 1961 in Greeley, Colorado.  She had been an elementary school teacher and then became a stay-at -home Mother, raising five children.  She was the bedrock of the family.  Later she was hired by NDSU as a cleaner and then as a clerk.

Ed was privileged to play countless musical engagements throughout his life playing tuba, valve trombone, electric bass and piano in combos and jazz and concert bands.  Many were artistically gratifying and inspiring.  Some were not so hot.

He completed his master's degree at the University of Northern Colorado and his doctorate at UND.  Both were in education.

Most summers he attended workshops to study conducting and band literature.

Ed taught 38 years of high school band.  He conducted the adult band at the International Music Camp for 20 years and headed the Jazz Week Session there for several years.  He was a short-term adjunct band director at NDSU, MSUM and Concordia.

He enjoyed composing and arranging music.  He founded the FM Kicks Band and recently conducted the FM Golden Notes New Horizons Band, an adult organization.

One of his greatest sources of joy was observing the quality of lives his children were living and hearing the beauty of their musical performance.  He loved the fact that his offspring, who chose to do so, found beautiful partners.

He is survived by his wife, MaryJo; sisters, Judy Christianson, Susan Christianson, and Sally (Bob) Nordlie; children, Ellen Christianson (Eric Staffeldt), Mike (Cyndi) Christianson, Kate (Scott) Kluegel, Amy (Tim) Johnson, and Tom Christianson; grandchildren, Kristi, Joe, Kevin, Michelle, Jamie, Aaron, Kelly, Elizabeth, and Zach.

His parents, Mae and Milton, and his brother, Leonard preceded him in death.

Following the funeral, a gathering of musicians would be deeply appreciated.  Those who play instruments are asked to bring them and perform.  There will be concert band compositions and then an open jam session of jazz.  Refreshments will be served.

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Memories Timeline


  1. Moorhead MN
    To the family of Ed Christianson:

    Ever since our choir director Rosie Johnk first brought Ed to Bethesda, I have enjoyed his laid back talent and the twinkle in his eye. When he played for us at the beginning of this school year I was startled by his ill appearance. He so matter of factly discussed his trips to Mayo as if they were a stop at the grocery store.

    I just want you to know I found him to be a funny, pleasant man, with funny, pleasant children. He passed along his talent to his children and he taught everyone who came in his path.

    I am sorry for your loss and also am sorry for our loss. Thanks for sharing your piano and trombone-playing husband and father. See you from my place in the choirs.

    Jennifer Sternhagen

  2. Grand Rapids MN
    Ed often played in my father’s band, The Dick King Classic Swing Band, which also could have been called The Christianson Classic Swing Band with Ed on sax, Amy and Tim on Trombone and his nephew Dave on trumpet. I know how much my father liked and respected “Eddie” and I suspect he met him at the gate and passed him a baton! The many tributes here speak for themselves. Ed was a kind man, a superb educator and an excellent musician. His legacy will live forever!

  3. Winnipeg MBI was very sorry to hear of Ed’s passing. My thoughts go out to MaryJo and the whole family. Ed was a very special person who touched many lives. He will always be in the thoughts and hearts of the musicians from Winnipeg, who will fondly remember all the great tiimes we had together at IMC

  4. Maple Grove MN
    Dear Christianson family,

    Though I never had the privilege of having Ed as my band teacher, I admired his musicianship and leadership in the many events I saw him perform in the FM area over the years. One occasion that stands out in my mind is the small band he put together for my in-laws’ 50th anniversary celebration in 2004. He was so talented and entertaining, yet always placed the attention on his students performing by his side. He was a big-hearted man and will always be remembered fondly. Thanks for the memories, Ed!
    We will keep the entire Christianson family in our prayers.
    Terri Kavanaugh, on behalf of the Braun and Kavanaugh families.

  5. Fargo ND
    My deepest condolences to Ed’s family and friends. I also celebrate the joy of his presence in my life.

    As his student, I learned to feel his confidence in me when I had none of my own. His infectious enthusiasm invited me into musicianship and joy I might not have otherwise experienced. I learned wonderful, fundamental things from Ed that have become part of my everyday life, not just music.

    As a fellow musician, I loved his unabashed enjoyment of the experience of playing music, no matter what the venue or ensemble.

    Ed Christianson is one of the people I love carrying in my heart forever.

  6. Moorhead MN
    Ed was such a wonderful mentor to Dave when he student taught with Ed back in the spring of 1975. He “got it” when it came to music education. I (Dave) spent my entire tenure as a high school band instructor aspiring to his greatness. Ed, you will forever be in our hearts, no matter what kind of music we are playing. We both have also had the privilege of knowing the Christianson family, and also had the honor of playing music with Tom. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of you. There is one hell of a jam session goin’ on in heaven right now.

    “Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty, well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, totally worn out and proclaiming …”WOW!!! What a ride!!!”

  7. Fargo ND
    Hello Christiansons:

    Please accept our condolences (from David L. Week, Cathy Week, Pam Weigum and Lynde Monson—and families).

    We all had Mr. C for band for many years.

    A Blessed 2012 to you.

  8. Fargo ND
    I’ll always remember Ed and his jazz mass at Trollwood Park in Fargo for the River Jazz festival. During my days at KDSU 91.9 fm radio, I gained a deep appreciation for Ed, his music, and his enduring desire to share the joy of music, especially jazz and blues, with students and other musicians.

    He touched the lives of many.

    Paula Larsen

  9. Winnipeg ManitobaI’m sorry to hear of Ed’s passing away. Many of us in Winnipeg have fond memories of Ed at “Band Camp”. He was an outstanding conductor at the International Music Camp, and a generous, warm-hearted person who brought out the best in people.

  10. Lake Park, Minnesota
    Ed was all five of our kids band director at North High. He was special.
    I sang in the choir at Elim Lutheran Church when he was a great director.
    I believe we were designated as foster parents of your children if anything happened to the two of you which was special.
    So sorry to hear of his death. He will be missed by many.

  11. Erie ColoradoEd was my high school jazz band teacher, almost 30 years ago. We learned the blues scale and 12-bar blues progressions, modern chord structures, and improvisation. It was the first opportunity I had to play with other instrumentalists. He had fun comparing my ear to his hand-held tuner during warm-ups. We miss you Ed. Thanks for all the notes.

  12. Chandler ArizonaI worked with Ed for many years at North High and he was the consummate professional. He was not only a fantastic teacher but an even better person. He raised some great kids and my thoughts are with all of you at this time. Your Dad brought a lot of joy to many students and people through his gift of music.

  13. Arlington VAI think I knew Ed, Mr. C, almost from the day I was born. Our families seemed like they were always linked. Early memories were of going to hear Ed’s Jazz Mass performed in church. Later, I got to be in his bands and see what a great teacher he really was. I remember the clinics he’d take us to, jazz clinics with monster bands from monster schools playing. We had a trombone section of one actual trombone player (me) a viola player, a cello player and a bassoon player, all of whom Mr. C had roped into learning the trombone. We managed somehow to be the swingin’est band at these clinics. He was a man who wasn’t afraid to let his personal morals show. I remember on one trip we wanted to spend some free time at the zoo but Mr. C said he didn’t feel comfortable looking at animals in cages. I always respected that. It was so great to have an adult display his morality in a way that wasn’t preachy. He’s remained an example for me to always find pleasure in what you are doing, to find opportunities for self-improvement, to live a life of purpose. He’ll not be forgotten!

  14. Fargo, ND
    The first time I met Ed was at the “Daveau” Music store, now the “Avalon” building downtown Fargo. I was purchasing music or something at the store and he was waiting for a ride from Mary Jo. I introduced myself to him and he stated that he had heard of me and I said that I certainly knew who he was!!! This started a great and long friendship with a wonderful human being and musician. Over the years we played many, many “gigs” together. He always performed with much enthusiasm and excitement. His solos were always a joy to hear.

    The last time I saw Ed was at a “Kicks band” rehearsal on Nov. 19th. He was weak, but still had the energy to play a great solo on an arrangement he had just written. I will never forget that he still had the desire to play and compose music. He did what he loved to do to the very end. Ed you will be missed by many, many musicians.

    Keep composing and playing.

    Harley Sommerfeld

  15. I knew Ed back in the 70s, through my roommate, Joe DeMers. Although I have a lot of great memories, including his arrangement of Take the A Train, The Yeastern Star, a very young Family Band, Frank Scott gigs, and student teaching for him, my fondest memory is of a gig in the summer of 1975 at the Red Carpet Room in Ada, MN
    . We couldn’t find a bass player, so Ed filled in on Tuba. It went surprisingly well, and thinking about that night’s rendition of Proud Mary still brings a smile to my face.

    My condolences to all of you you will be in my thoughts and prayers.


  16. Sandy Lake MBSo sorry to read of Mr. C’s passing. I was in the FNHS class of ’68 so only had him for a short time. But I enjoyed every minute of it. And then the Dixieland at the Pizza Hut – I didn’t think anyone in Fargo knew what it was then yers later to hear him at the Tree Top occasionally on Jazz night will always be remenbered.

  17. Auburndale, FlEd and Mary Jo taught in Waubun, MN
    . Both were eaxcellent teachers my family and community learned from. Many fine musicians and educated people from that small commuity owe thanks to the Christiansons and hundreds like them who were didicated to all students who sat before them. It was always a joy to cross paths with Mary Jo or Ed Christianson in the FM area. I will be very sad when I return to the area knowing I will not have the chance to greet Mr. Christianson.

  18. When I Student Taught with Ed in early 80’s. Ed said this to me one day. “If you are truly a Public Shool music teacher you should do your best to teach any student that comes through that door, Thats your your job to teach music” I always tried to honor Ed and do my best to teach everyone music no matter their ability.

  19. Ed Christianson was one of the most influential people in my life. Mr. C was single-handedly responsible for my lifelong love of big band music and for encouraging me to pursue music in all forms and making it a part of my life. Mr. C sat me down and made me listen to Count Basie albums until I knew every hit by heart and could sing along with every solo. He showed me that “time” is not determined by a metronome, but it is something to be harnessed and manipulated to change the feel of a chart.

    Were it not for Ed, I never would have tried composing, nor would I have ever continued playing after high school. Though he may not know it, his work was my primary inspiration for helping to start up a community jazz ensemble where I live, a legacy I know he would appreciate. Thank you, Mr C, for everything you gave to me and to all of my fellow aspiring musicians.

  20. Fargo ND
    Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family. Ed was a great music teachers and the bands at North were outstanding. I always enjoyed the music when Ed was present, not only at North but at other venues where he played with many different groups. RIP Ed.

  21. West Fargo ND
    I was very fortunate to be in a band directed by Ed. His wit and humor, plus his extrodinary knowlege of music, made that time with the New Horizons Band a very memorable experiance. We all grew very fond of Ed and appreciated his patience with us. I’m sure Ed will start a band in heaven, and I hope I can join when I see him there!
    I love you Ed.

    Bob Bergman

  22. Waldwick NJMy sincere condolences to the entire Christianson family. Reading about Ed gave me insight into the musical talents of the Mike Christianson family. You will all be in my thoughts and prayers. Rest in Peace, Ed your legacy will live on.

  23. Glendale AZ
    I’m sorry to hear of Dr. Christianson’s passing. He was truly an inspirational band director and a valued person in my life. Pam Struble Joraanstad

  24. Glen Rock NJMy heart, prayers and thoughts are with you, Mike.
    Reading your dad’s obit was joyfully sad. He must have been a great influence on and inspiration to your life and the lives of your children. The apples don’t fall far from the tree! (Although, I can’t remember when one of your playing performances weren’t so “hot”. But, then, I hear you mostly in church where you have the benefit of the Holy Spirit”s musical gifts!)
    You will be missed at Good Shepherd on Christmas Eve not for the music, although that, too, but for your being part of our church family, grieving away from us.
    Please extend our concern and love to your mother and to all your family.
    May the Lord bless you and keep you.
    And remember, “God is with us all the time” and especially now with the promise of resurrection.
    Yours in Christ,

  25. Indianapolis INBeing an orchestra geek, I knew who Mr. C. was, but had little direct contact with him – at least until the day I was walking through the band room and he hollered at me, “Hey, you’re Geoff Peterson’s brother. Wanna learn to play trombone?”

    I spent the next year and a half under his patient tutelage, ranking without doubt among the worst players ever to grace the FNHS jazz band, but it was a hoot. My sympathies to Ed’s family, and my thanks to him for some great times and very fond memories.

  26. Fargo ND
    I am grateful Mr. Christianson played a part in molding my son into the fine man he has become. My son’s interest in music, specifically jazz, was nurtured by Mr. Christianson. He cared about his students deeply. His encouragement and guidance were motivating factors for my son, Al, to continue his musical studies. Al talked fondly of Mr. Christianson long after he graduated from high school.
    I am quite sure Mr. Christianson had the same effect on many students and their families. He will most definitely be missed.

  27. Ed was so supportive and such a great musical and philosophical role model. Playing with him was a joy and knowing that he was in my corner was heartening. I’m having trouble imagining an FM music scene without him. My life is much richer for having known him!

  28. North of Boston MAI am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of one of kindest and most dedicated educators that I was blessed to study under.

    It is difficult to put words to fully express the gratitude I will towards Dr. Christianson. As a my teacher he inspired, challenged, and encouraged my dreams. His lessons on music and life I will carry fondly with me always.

    Thank you Dr. C!

    My deepest condolences to his family and Fargo Moorhead musical community.

  29. St. Paul MN
    I am deeply saddened to learn of Ed’s passing. I treasure the lessons I learned from him — about music, of course, but more important, about living with integrity, dedication and kindness.

    I played in wind ensemble and jazz band at Fargo North in the early ’80s. I have carried Ed’s inspiring example with me ever since. He was a profound influence on my life. I learned the 12-bar blues from him and learned to touch a part of my soul that I didn’t know was there.

    Ed had a profound influence on my life in other ways. Every time I go to one of my children’s concerts or hear a beautiful piece of music, I think of him.

    God bless you, Mr. C. May there be a tireless and talented rhythm section where you are.

    To Kate Christianson and the rest of the Christianson family: I offer my deepest condolences on your loss. I will keep you in my prayers.

  30. Mr. Christianson has been an inspiration in my life since I first met him in high school. He was always full of encouragement and his love for music showed every time he took the podium. I have thought of him often throughout the years and of the fun I had playing in the Pep Band at Fargo North. I’m sure he’s continuing his concerts with the angels. Rest in peace.

  31. Moorhead Ed was special to the Fargo-Moorhead music community and his influence was far reaching. He will be sorely missed.

  32. To the Christianson Family,

    For so many years Mike has been my other brother and his family mine. You were there for us in our time of sorrow, and I will be there for you if needed. Mr. C did many wonderful things for my brother and family. I am so sorry for your loss however, I can almost guarantee there is a new brass band forming in Heaven.

    My love to you all.

    Sandy Wagner

  33. Fargo ND
    It is Ed who allowed me the past 4 years of musical delight. His directing of the FM Golden Notes allowed me to return to music and play more or less regularly.
    Ed had a great natural charm that was lavished upon the audience. It was always the audience. “Remember, he said, This is show business.” His quick wit was an added bonus and was usually of a self-deprecating sort.
    I personally will be deeply saddened by his loss to all of us.

  34. A few fond memories, among many, about Mr. C, from a former high school jazz band student. Apologies for any possible inaccuracies I can only blame my rapidly advancing age.

    1. I don’t remember if it was an official class trip, or if attendance was merely highly encouraged, but we went to see a jazz show at the Reineke, possibly Maynard Ferguson’s band. The playing was highly virtuosic, with crazy feats of high octave technique. The next day, Mr. C went around and asked us all what we thought of the show. Everyone thought it was amazing. After a pause, he offered his opinion. It had merely been a display of showmanship. No music had been played. Music was about feeling, not about gymnastic instrumental technique demonstrations. (Or words to that effect). We were all chastened, and I for one have always since taken his view of the essential meaning of music to heart.

    2. If I recall, every Friday we would jam on a blues tune, with everyone getting a chance to improvise a solo. In how many other high school bands was improvisation even brought up as a topic, let alone made a recurrent imperative?

    One time he had me stay after class and try jamming with him, having perhaps spotted some faint flicker of nascent talent when I would periodically fool around on the piano (not my normal instrument in jazz band) after class. Unfortunately, I was too instrumentally inept on the key he was playing in, and furthermore really had no idea what I was doing, so it didn’t turn out, but I never forgot that Mr. C thought he saw something there, and I think that helped me keep at it and develop the ability to play by ear.

    3. I don’t remember what they were called, conferences or camps or something, but periodically we would travel to a gathering of other high school jazz bands, where we would perform, take master classes, goof off, etc. One of these was in Morris, Minnesota
    . The headline attraction of the event was Red Rodney, who years before had played with Charlie Parker. You can see him (as played by an actor, of course) in the movie “Bird”, touring the South with Parker’s band as a fake Black albino, in order to get around the nefarious segregation practices of the time. By the time it was our turn to get critiqued as a band, the by now much more rotund Red Rodney got up and announced time’s up, he was headed to dinner (or lunch or whatever). Mr. C would have none of it. We prepared and drove all this way to get critiqued by you, your food can wait! (Or, again, words to that effect). He wouldn’t let Red Rodney leave, and so we did get critiqued. If I recall, he began, “Well, obviously, you’re the best band here by far”… Some of the other bands there didn’t even know how to swing, as it turned out. Mr. C had taught us the real feel of jazz, not just the notes.

    Anyway, I guess what I’m trying to say is that Mr. C was a very rare type of person, who believed in the right things, who would stand up for his beliefs regardless of what fashions or authorities might be in opposition, and who could impart the essence of the art to those willing to listen.

  35. Bottineau ND
    I was so lucky to have Mr. C. as a part of my life. He taught me that anything is possible, even a silly French Horn in a jazz band. Thank you for the confidence, the love of Basie, sharing your family, and the appreciation of music for life. You will be missed by many.

  36. Fargo ND
    Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Dr. Ed Christianson. Dr. C. was a fabulous teacher who influnced many North High student’s lives. He will be remembered for his love of music and students. He will be missed. North High School.

  37. Coon Rapids MN
    Ed was a wonderful man and teacher. Our loss is heaven’s gain. Imagine all the angels tapping their toes to jazz and dixieland today!

  38. State College PennsylvaniaHeaven has gained a great player, conductor, teacher, and friend. I will be praying for the Christianson family, because I know just how special a man you’ve had to say goodbye to today.

    I played in Mr. C’s bands when I was in high school, and pretty much took up residence in his room, along with many of my lifelong friends. (I seriously considered bringing in a pillow and blanket and keeping it in my locker.) He always made us feel welcome and valued, and gave us a great foundation in the value of good music, hard work, and human relationships.

    As a band director myself, I hope that my classroom is as welcoming a place for the next generation of Band Kids. I will never forget the smile on his face, and the happy “Oh ho!” he would shout when he heard something new and exciting coming from the musicians in his care.

    Rest in peace, Ed, and enjoy that new axe. I’m pretty sure you’ve got a sweet one, now.

  39. State College PennsylvaniaHeaven has gained a great player, conductor, teacher, and friend. I will be praying for the Christianson family, because I know just how special a man you’ve had to say goodbye to today.

    I played in Mr. C’s bands when I was in high school, and pretty much took up residence in his room, along with many of my lifelong friends. (I seriously considered bringing in a pillow and blanket and keeping it in my locker.) He always made us feel welcome and valued, and gave us a great foundation in the value of good music, hard work, and human relationships.

    As a band director myself, I hope that my classroom is as welcoming a place for the next generation of Band Kids. I will never forget the smile on his face, and the happy “Oh ho!” he would shout when he heard something new and exciting coming from the musicians in his care.

    Rest in peace, Ed, and enjoy that new axe. I’m pretty sure you’ve got a sweet one, now.

  40. Sun Lakes ArizonaThe music world lost a great leader and teacher. Ed chose a path that many followed but very few led. May God Bless You Ed Christianson!


    R. Tracy and Dianne M. Myers

  41. Spicer Minnesota
    It is always hard when one we love dies. We offer prayers for Ed’s family and all those who loved him, and for Ed during this time of sorrow. Jim and Carol

  42. Moorhead MN
    The greater Fargo-Moorhead region has lost a music educator, conductor, promoter of great music, and a jazz musician who inspired many students to pursue their own life’s musical improvisations. Without Ed’s encouragement of Ellington’s “C Jam Blues” some would never have experienced what they could do musically. He inspired church choirs to sing more freely when he accompanied them with his valve trombone. He will be missed, but stories will be told of how excellence in music will out-weigh the cheapness of bad music. He was a great collegue, musician and friend. I’m sure he’s playing jazz right now!

  43. Coon Rapids MN
    My deepest sympathy to the Christianson family. Ed was a great man and it was my honor to have played in his band and learned from him.
    Barb Carlson

  44. Fargo ND

    I came across this article of what inspires musicians to do what they do!! I thought after you sent me the email about not being able to play “The Olivet Jazz Services” on Nov. 13 of “what a wonderful musical inspiration you have been to me”, and don’t know if I adequately told you what our friendship of close to 30 years from the International Music Camp, to calling me and asking me to be the director of bands @ Ben Franklin, and had to turn you down, as I was lined up for completion of my MM in Music @ UND. Then two years later, getting into the Fargo Public schools and first thing you did, was to call me to teach trumpet after school at North High and to guest solo in my first fall year here!!

    Your friendship and strict adherence to “good jazz & musicality” have been a big force in my life…….2nd only to Fran Colby, who took me under his wing and taught me to be a trumpet player. Your leadership in various groups and events and giving me a “chance” when I moved to Fargo was immensely and heartfelty appreciated!!!

    Hope you enjoyed this article as much as I did!! Thanks for your friendship, support and musicianship!!!

    I could ALWAYS call you my FRIEND!!!

    Rest and Play “Ellington” EVERYDAY!!!!
    John Pederson

  45. Rest in peace Mr. C. I am grateful to have had you in my life, if only for a brief time. Your enthusiasm for music, and your example in truly appreciating it has been a beacon for me every day since I first stepped into your classroom all those years ago. I only wish I’d been able to tell you how much that has meant to me. Thank you.

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