Eriksmoen: 15-year-old conductor Fargo became film actor, director

Dave Schickele later became an established musician, composer and film actor, director and producer. After his death in 1999, award-winning director Rob Nilsson dedicated three films he produced in honor of Schickele.

David George Schickele was born on March 20, 1937 in Ames, Iowa, to Rainer and Elizabeth (Wilcox) Schickele. Rainer was a professor of agricultural economics at Iowa State College, now Iowa State University, in Ames, where David attended elementary school. In 1945, the family moved to Washington, DC, when Rainer became an instructor at George Washington University.

In 1946 Rainer accepted the post of chairman of the agricultural science department at North Dakota Agricultural College (now North Dakota State University) in Fargo. David’s brother Peter, who was two years older than him, was very close to his younger brother and nicknamed him Wald.

Shortly after moving to Fargo, the two brothers “built a theater in their basement, created shows, recorded their own musical performances and made films,” and they charged a penny entry for their performances. . At the age of 9, David started taking violin lessons and soon he joined Peter, who played the clarinet, in musical duets. Peter then formed a group called Jerky Jems and His Balmy Brothers, which included the two Schickele brothers and two other young musicians.

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While they were in their early teens looking to become members of the FM Orchestra, Peter switched from clarinet to bassoon and David from violin to viola. The brothers excelled in all of the musical programs at Fargo Central High School, and David was also heavily involved in the performing arts.

On August 30, 1953, they reunited with their good friend Ernest Lloyd and comically rearranged Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Coffee Cantata”, which they then performed and recorded. They named this parody composition the “Sanka Cantata” and attributed the music to PDQ Bach, a fictitious son of Johann Bach. Twelve years later, Peter used PDQ Bach as his alter ego and expanded his compositions.

David graduated from Fargo Central in 1954 and succeeded Peter who had enrolled at Swarthmore (Pa.) College in 1952. The two Schickele brothers were heavily involved in music at Swarthmore, but unlike his brother who majoring in music, David graduated. in English literature. He graduated in 1958, then traveled to Siena, Italy, after receiving a scholarship to study at the prestigious Chigiana Academy of Music, a school that had recently graduated renowned conductors like John Williams. and Zubin Mehta.

Besides the invaluable musical training he received at the academy, David also had the opportunity to spend time with his parents, since his father worked for the United Nations and was stationed in Rome, Italy. After completing his lessons, David returned to the United States and “worked as a freelance violinist in New York,” playing primarily at Radio City Music Hall. He also toured with the Robert Shaw Chorale and apprenticed with several filmmakers to learn how to produce and direct films.

On March 1, 1961, President John F. Kennedy issued Executive Order 10924, creating the Peace Corps. On September 21, Congress authorized the Peace Corps Act, and David was one of the first Americans to join this organization.

Later that year, after a brief period of training, David was sent to Africa to teach English at the University of Nigeria at Nsukka. Nigeria was an English colony, gaining independence in 1960, and the university was established later that year. When David arrived in 1961, many students at the school were suspicious of Peace Corps volunteers because they did not understand their motives. Because the school was new, it was seriously lacking in many areas, and David found it a challenge to teach literature without any books.

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At first he spent much of his free time traveling on his motorbike to visit other Peace Corps volunteers in Nigeria, and one of them was Rob Nilsson, who taught at the school in Okeagbe. . As it turned out, David and Nilsson shared a lot of things in common. Nilsson was also originally from the Upper Midwest, having been born and raised in Wisconsin. They were both interested in making movies and both also had roots in North Dakota. Nilsson’s maternal grandfather was Frithiof Holmboe, who had been the North Dakota state filmmaker, producing tourist films for the state Department of Immigration.

After completing his service with the Peace Corps, David returned to the United States with the intention of making a film about the Peace Corps experience, touting it as a recruiting tool. He convinced his good friend and fellow volunteer in Nigeria, Roger Landrum, to help him in the film. They returned to Nigeria and contacted four of their former students to appear in the film. David wrote, directed, and produced the movie and titled it “Give Me a Riddle”, and it came out in 1966. However, the Peace Corps “never really used it because the movie was possibly a Too honest portrayal of a (Peace Corps volunteer) living abroad and the agency could not handle it.

Having made his first film, David knew his friend Nilsson would be a great director and contacted him about a group called Cine Manifest that was preparing to produce films. Nilsson joined the group and David helped him produce his first commercial film, “The Country Mouse”, a short film released in 1968.

David’s next project was to be a “light comedy” about a whimsical Nigerian in the United States, played by Paul Okpokam. Halfway through the filming, Okpokam was arrested “for participating in a student protest and deported to Nigeria. Ingenious, David ended the film “by documenting what he considered to be an unfair action by the State Department.” The film was released under the name “Bushman” in 1971 and received the award for “Best First Feature at the Chicago International Film Festival”.

"Bushman." IMDb / Special at the Forum

“Bushman.” IMDb / Special at the Forum

In 1978, Nilsson, along with John Hanson, of McClusky, ND, decided to make a Non-Partisan League movie in North Dakota called “Northern Lights”. Ozzie Ahlers, along with David, composed the music, and this duo, along with two other musicians, performed the music on the soundtrack.

In 1984 and 1987, Nilsson convinced David to star in two of his films, and from 1988 to 1995 David became a character actor in a series of major television films. In 1992, he wrote and produced his last film, “Tuscarora”, which was released in 1992.

David Schickele died on October 31, 1999, after a four-year battle with cancer.

David may be gone, but he’s certainly not forgotten. In the film industry alone he has written, directed, produced and starred in numerous films and has also composed music and played the violin for others. He composed and recorded “about 90 songs from 1972 to 1998, which were organized into five volumes under the Waldsongs label”.

Rob Nilsson dedicated three films in honor of David and in 2006 he chose Nighttrain Schickele, David’s son, in his first film. Later this year, Nilsson will be releasing the movie “Arid Cut” which has Nighttrain in the lead role.

“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your comments, corrections or column suggestions to Eriksmoens at

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