MUSIC AND MUSICIANS IN DAYTON
Limited space exists for a very long story. For the beginnings of it we must go back considerably over a hundred years – to 1823. In the small, insignificant Dayton of that day we find the sproutings of community music in a group who met and sang under the leadership of the versatile John Van Cleve, organist and choirmaster of Christ Church. They called themselves the Pleyel Society, and rehearsals were held in the jury room of the older-than-old courthouse which stood on the site of the present “Old Court House.”
When Van Cleve passed away there seems to have been for a while no one to replace him. Toward the ‘forties we find Louis Huesman, pianist-organist and teacher of both, organizing choirs and giving concerts. In the ‘sixties and ‘seventies two names stand out – Charles Rex, a short, blond German and Adolphe Carpe, a tall blond German, who between them, divided the music pupils that the census of Dayton then afforded. Our musical efforts as pupils were mere amateurish gropings. Every house had a piano. Without it the parlor was not furnished. Every girl took music lessons. She had to. The polite role for a visitor was to ask the daughter of the house to play. He had to. After much urging and many apologies for being out of practice and many explanations that the piano needed tuning, she whirled the stool up and whirled it down, then, having gotten the audience into a highly expectant state, she obliged by a rendition of “The Mocking Bird, with Variations,” or The Monastery Bells,” This they called in those days “performing” on the piano. It was. Until we grew up into a more sensitive and sincere appreciation of music, what agonies the poor teachers must have endured!
My own very earliest musical memories go back to sometime in the ‘sixties when James Turpin, then our leading musician, directed a cantata entitled “The Haymakers.” The soloists were Ella James (Mrs. Kneisley), Ella Green, John Worman, and Will Lowe. This magnus opus was staged in the only place in Dayton where the rich and the great did congregate to see and hear whatever histrionic or musical art had to offer – Huston Hall. My memory represents it as a place of the utmost magnificence, beyond which no imagination could reach. It was in reality a barn-like structure with flat ceiling, white-washed walls, wooden floors and high windows looking out on Jefferson Street. Along the walls were niches for busts, marked “Weber,” “Lizst,” “Beethoven.” What did they mean? What have they meant since?
“The Haymakers” was a bucolic composition dealing with milkmaids, hayfields, farmers, and sunsets. Nobody (except a little seven-year-old girl on the front seat) noticed that in places where the hay was spread not thickly enough the rakes scratched through quite audibly the board floor beneath. But why be hypercritical where art is concerned? The accessories of this play might be found inadequate to our later standards, but the girls were not and the voices were not. Fresh faces and young clear throats need no apologies, and Mr. Turpin was a good conductor. The girls wore large hoops – “tilters” they were called, wide-brimmed beribboned hats, neat little heelless slippers with elastic crossed on the instep, and other things appropriate to the haying field. The funny man, supposed to be from the city, and the butt of ridicule, was named Snipkins. Every time he made a stage entrance he fell over the wheelbarrow, eliciting ecstatic applause. Snipkins had a solo, which, relating his trials with cows and bees and burrs, ended with the refrain, “Some Folks Like the Country – I don’t!”
When, following the flood of 1913, the flames devoured the walls of Huston Hall, many of the musical and dramatic memories of the older people of Dayton went up in smoke. For here was where Ole Bull played, where the abolitionists, led by Wendell Phillips, thundered against slavery, where the great temperance advocate, John B. Gough, lectured, where General Tom Thumb, Mrs. Thumb, Commodore Nutt, and Minnie Warren delighted young and old, where Bayard Taylor in “Views Afoot,” gave some people the first desire to see Europe, where we saw “Ten Nights in a Barroom,” Maggie Mitchell in “Fanchon the Cricket,” and Bill Cody’s “wild West,” Emerson spoke there, so did Horace Greeley (for whom the society folk prepared a complimentary banquet only to find he ate nothing but bread and milk). Lesser attractions also occupied Huston Hall. A painted canvas panorama, rolled at each end on wooden cylinders which revolved when worked by a handle behind the scenes, gave us our first impressions of the Arctic regions. Thus were displayed marvels of imposing icebergs, roseate aurora borealis and life-like polar bears. Meanwhile the lecturer out in front told his story.
When, during the Civil War, the Sanitary Commission (the ancient equivalent for the Red Cross) needed funds, Mr. Turpin and the singers again came to the rescue and put on another cantata, “Queen Esther, the Beautiful,” by Bradbury. Once more Ella James (by this time the recognized leading soprano) sang the title role. In royal purple velveteen with near-ermine bands, a golden crown and her long hair in braids, she was a vision. Will anyone who has ever known Mrs. Kneisley, deny that she was surpassingly beautiful or that she sang divinely? In that respect the years do not lie.
It was not until the fall of 1874 that the vocalists of Dayton found themselves, so to speak, in an organization known as the Philharmonic Society. On August 25thof that year a group of musically-minded men met in the directors’ room of the Dayton National Bank; among them H. V. Lytle, James A. Martin, John N. Burkitt, W. A. Phelps, Samuel Phelps, J. A. Brenneman, William Gebhart, Walter W. Smith, and W. C. Herron. From this nucleus grew the Philharmonic Society. They had at hand as director, a most remarkable musician – Leon Jasciewiescz, a Russian, whose company of charming singers went aground on the inhospitable soil of America because nobody appreciated them. To hear Mr. Jasciewiescz conduct was a revelation of the capacity and cultivation of the human ear. After quite a few minutes of singing and the chorus had dropped – as choruses will – a tap on the music rack, a pause in the voices, a hummed note from the leader, and we suddenly knew how far we had wandered from the correct pitch. No other director that I ever knew could hold the correct fragment of tone where it belonged against the united voices of the choir.
The writer, being possessed of an ineffective near-soprano voice, able to read notes and pay her dues, was thereby elected to membership in the Philharmonics. Thin qualifications, to be sure, but to what glories did they not admit me! Rehearsals on the dusty upper room of the (then) “Journal” office (across the alley just north of the courthouse) where, with Mr. Herron, president, Mr. Jasciewiescz leading, were the faces and voices of the musical world of Dayton: Mrs. Kneisley, Agnes Stout, John Bell, John Burkitt, John Shauck, Fannie Favorite, Ella Butz, Charles Snyder, and the Dickson sisters. Or, when Otto Singer came up from Cincinnati to direct for our part in the Cincinnati May Musical Festival – ah! Those were the days! To see Mr. Singer with raised baton for what he called an “al-lay-gro-wee-wa-che” movement was to taste all the ecstasy that a cat may feel for a king.
The compositions given by the Philharmonic Society from its inception in 1874 until its abandonment some years since would include many of the great musical masterpieces – “The Messiah,” “Elijah,” “St. Paul,” “The Creation,” “Athalie,” “Stabat Mater,” “Judas Maccabeus,” “The Redemption,” Massenet’s “Eve,” and many more, a proud program to look back upon.
The mere mention of the Philharmonic Society inevitably brings to mind the name of W. L. Blumenschein, for so many years its patient and painstaking director. Organist and choirmaster of distinction, teacher by the love of it, composer of no mean capacity, Mr. Blumenschein deserves the everlasting memory of his fellow-citizens. He led not only the Dayton society but the Ohio Saengerfests (Dayton and Springfield), the Indianapolis Lyra Society and the Springfield Orpheus. He directed the Cincinnati May Music Festival in the spring of 1891. Fifty piano pieces, twenty songs, fourteen anthems and seven secular quartettes bear his signature.
Mr. James A. Robert’s influence on music in Dayton must not be forgotten. He played in the Baptist Church; he lectured on Palestrina and Bach. During his principalship of Cooper Seminary, in the ‘eighties and ‘nineties, he attracted to his orbit musicians of the piano and strings who played to appreciative people the best of the great composers’ works. He should have due credit for promoting musical taste in Dayton through three decades.
It was in 1888 that, stimulated by the enthusiasm of Mr. Robert and inspired by the example of musical clubs in the East, two friends and music lovers, Mrs. O. F. Davisson and Mrs. Harvey King, decided to put in motion the plan for a club in Dayton. Small informal recitals had been held from time to time in private homes, those most active being the pupils of Monsieur de Ricquiles, or later, Miss Idelette Andrews – Miss Fannie Hyers, Miss Jeanette Turpin, Mrs. W. F. Gebhart, Mrs. H. H. Bimm, Miss Lutie McKee, Miss Charlotte Bishop, Mrs. Thomas P. Gaddis, Miss Jeanette Freeman, Mrs. Charles F. Snyder, Miss Mary Van Ausdal, Miss Laura Thresher, Miss Susie Rike, Miss Ethel Parrott. Miss Jeanette Kratochwill, Mrs. Ella J. Kneisley, and others.
An organization meeting called on October 15, 1888, at the home of Mrs. E. Morgan Wood, resulted in the Mozart Club, with Mrs. Wood as president, and thirty-five active, thirty-five associate, and fifteen honorary members. All were serious musicians of varying talents. They decided on nothing less than the best, and the programs of their thirteen recitals each season proved it. Among the instrumental works given were a number of the preludes and fugues of Handel and Bach, including the Fantasie Chromatique; sonatas (classic and modern) many concertos (the second piano playing the orchestral part); among others the D Minor of Mozart, Beethoven’s C Minor and G Major, Chopin’s E Minor. Of ensemble work, Beethoven’s Sonata Opus No. 3; the Kreutzer Sonata and Gade’s Trio in F; also two-piano work from Chopin, Schumann, and Brahms.
The Mozart Club was not narrowly musical, since it extracted from its associate members the reading of essays on the lives of composers or subjects calculated to explain and clarify the musical parts of the program. In the ‘nineties a signal honor was conferred upon the club in the form of a bronze medal signed by Theodore Thomas and awarded by the World’s Fair Committee to the representative of Ohio in concert at the World’s Fair – Mrs. Ella J. Kneisley; already hailed as one of the finest interpreters of sacred music in the country, now, through her lovely talent came this honor to the organization she had helped to form. Mrs. Kneisley is our beloved dean of music in Dayton.* A student from her girlhood, for years the soprano in the Baptist Church, student at Berlin when she was over fifty, a pianist of distinction and now at eighty still giving pleasure with her playing at recitals – no one will deny her this claim.
So many of the voices and faces and fingers of those past decades are gone! Can it be that they carry a fictitious charm in our minds which the cold facts do not support? I, for one, cannot agree to it. No one who heard Mrs. Kneisley sing, “I Know That My
Redeemer Liveth,” will ever be satisfied with a weaker rendering. No one who saw Howard Peirce at the piano will forget how he looked – the human embodiment of the art of music, or how he played. No one who heard the lyrical sweetness of Agnes Stout’s voice will be surprised at the verdict by those who heard both, that her voice was like Jenny Lind’s. I count it something to remember, from the standpoint of tone quality, to have heard John Burkett’s basso profundo when he sang “Rocked in the Cradle of the Deep,” and shook the window sashes on the last descending phrase.
Of the veteran choir singers who voices were often and gratefully heard were F. M. Tunison, Jesse Trimmer, Jesse Gilbert, Charles Holland, and Frank J. Kiefaber. All were members of city choirs, all devoted in the pursuit of good music and some of them singing yet. Of the teachers much should be said since they laid the foundations for not only good playing but good listening in Dayton: Hermann Marsteller on the violin, from whose hands came most of those who now belong to orchestras and do solo work. Miss Amy Kofler, with her talented faculty, Miss Parks and Miss Schwill, drew together in the ‘nineties in her studio recitals in the McIntire Building, frequent groups of appreciative listeners. Jefferson Walters, a violinist of remarkable power, who delighted audiences with his finished and sympathetic playing, is also a composer whose pieces were sometimes heard in concert. Charles Waldemar Sprague has been for many years and still is one of Dayton’s finest pianists and most inspiring teachers. Miss Idelette Andrews, with her flaming eyes, auburn hair and musical enthusiasm, gave much to Dayton while she lived; when she died – too soon, much too soon – she left to the Dayton Public Library her extremely varied and valuable musical library. Charles Holstein, a violinist of splendid talent, carried on for years, in addition to his teaching, a string quartette of undisputed artistic rank in which he played first violin, Jeanette Freeman Davis, second violin, Albert C. Fischman, viola and Ira Leslie Davis, double bass. Henry Ditzel is what might be called a self-made musician, having worked under such disadvantages to secure his position as organist and teacher. Bookkeeping in the daytime, lessons from Mr. Blumenschein and practicing at night, was the long road he triumphantly pursued to his goal. Germany called him and he went – worked, studied, came home – took the
First Lutheran organ and stands in the front ranks of Dayton musicians.
There are whole families who have – as units and collectively – ministered to our musical prestige. The Schencks, for instance – Joseph for years organist and choirmaster at Emmanuel Church; Nora, also a finished organist; Robert, a violinist, now with the New York Symphony Orchestra. The Funkhouser family is all delightfully musical, the grafted members as well as the original clan. Mrs. Charles Funkhouser is an accomplished organist and choir leader, and Mrs. Jessie Landis Funkhouser possesses a
*Mrs. Kneisley died in September, 1931.
sweet and true alto voice. Mrs. Ether Martin Funkhouser inherited from her father, James
Martin, her absorption in music, and from her mother accuracyand feeling in piano work. She ranks easily as the foremost accompanist in the city.
The Turpins were, as a family, leaders par excellence in musical Dayton. James Turpin was a teacher of private pupils in piano and voice all through the ‘sixties and ‘seventies and director of singing in the public schools. For years he played and conducted in the Third Street Presbyterian Church choir. His daughter, Jeanette, was a conscientious teacher and musician of taste. Harry Brown Turpin, after a lifetime of singing and teaching, discovered and developed two voices that have meant much to Dayton, Mrs. Clara Turpen Grimes, who for years ranked as our leading concert soprano, and Cecil Fanning, a baritone. Mr. Turpin discovered the latter, encouraged him,taught him, brought him out, took him on concert tours, ending with a levee and dinner at Buckingham Palace in London, where he sang before the king and queen.
We are in debt to the Lytles for good music. Sixty years ago both John S. and his wife, Mary Voorhees Lytle, were lovers of music and sang in the old Third Street Presbyterian choir. Harry V. Lytle was first a pupil of Dennewitz and then of Marstellar on the violin. He played the ‘cello in the old Central High School Orchestra and while there Mr. Turpin prompted him to sing. For sixty years he has kept busy singing and organizing. The first vested choir in the city (Christ Church) was due to him when he was choirmaster; the Philharmonic Society hails him as charter member and the Dutch Club as father. For forty years he has given continual service as singer in the Masonic Temple and is still at it. Mrs. Lizzie Lytle King sends out each season new piano players trained by her, while John Lytle is known to every Dayton from his place as an organizer and leader of the Lytle Band.
The Beckers as a family should not be forgotten, the first one being Louis B., a German-Swiss, who came from Lorraine to Dayton in 1842. Pianist and director at sixteen, he was known here chiefly for his manuscript transcriptions at a time when there few printing presses for music. His death, in 1914, left a musical progeny: Louis C. Becker, violinist, teacher and leader; Henry C. Becker, director of the Municipal Concert Band; Christian M. Becker, cornetist; John W. Becker, artist of reed instruments (now on the Pacific Coast); Alice Becker Miller, pianist, successful teacher and director of the Alice Becker School of Music. Her daughter, Florence Miller Underwood, inherits the family tradition and uses it with her dramatic soprano voice. The Beckers are proud of the fact that one of their ancestors, a friend and collaborateur of Schumann, made possible the publication of the works of Sebastian Bach.
Dayton has many German citizens who brought their music from the fatherland with them, as Germans always do. In a new environment they hardly wait to unpack their belongings before they begin to sing. The Lord made them that way and they can’t help it. The outstanding Liederkranz in Dayton is the Harmonia Society under the leadership of Mr. Carl A. Schlaefflin. Formed by a consolidation of the Saengerbund and the Frohsinn societies, it entertained the National Saengerbund most successfully, as recorded in a Detroit paper dated 1853. It would be interesting to know where four hundred singers could assemble in the Dayton of that day and include an audience. Certainly Huston Hall would not have accommodated them. Our Harmonia is a member of the Nord Amerikanerische Saenger-Bund which once in three years gathers in a certain city and gives forth its five thousand voice chorus. For precision, shading, tone volume, and beauty of rendition these German societies are preeminent.
In the ‘eighties and ‘nineties the Mendelssohn Quartette gave us beautiful music and was much in demand at public functions. The personnel included the leading men’s voices of that day – H. V. Lytle, first bass; John N. Burkitt, second bass; Samuel F. Phelps, first tenor; and John N. Bell, second tenor. So long and so faithfully did the Mendelsohn Quartette work together that its singing attained the precision of a single instrument, its shading made listening a delight and added greatly to the solemnity of church or memorial services.
The Dutch Club of our present Dayton is in a way a descendant of the old Mendelsohn Quartette. It made its appearance in 1902 as a male chorus, S. B. Hurlburt was the accompanist, afterwards Henry Ditzel, H. V. Lytle, the organizer. The first names on its roll were the familiar ones – Hyers, Bell, Loy, Kumler, Kiefaber, Bollinger, Trimmer, Emrick, Holland, Bimm, Gilbert, Gebhart, Legler, Kester, Crebs, and Lytle. It was named the Dutch Club because after each rehearsal every member paid for his own treat. There were no rules except that every membershould sing from his heart out, which they always do. The Dutch Club is very mush in demand, both in Dayton and elsewhere, for concerts on certain occasions.
It was in 1902 that a group of young women, pupils of Mr. Ditzel, Mr. Blumenschein, Mr. Sprague, and Letitia Schaeffer organized themselves into a study club for the better pursuit of their musical education. Miss Alpharetta Brookins (now Mrs. Hoffman) was the chief mover in the enterprise which proved of benefit to all concerned. Mrs. George B. Malone was president for several years. They met and played and studied and during the twelve years of its existence the Chaminade Club did really fine work. Its recitals were held in the old Winters’ homestead on West Third Street, then occupied by the Women’s Christian Association.
As time went on, quite a number of the members went into the Mozart Club and then, finding a certain overlapping it was decided to merge the two organizations, whereupon the Women’s Music Club of Dayton came into existence – later reorganized to take in men and rechristened the Dayton Music Club. Its object was to stimulate musical culture but to do it on a wider and more impressive scale. The membership at the present time of writing numbers close to five hundred, including thirty-seven pianists, twelve string artists, one clarinet, one harp, nine organists, fifty-three voice and three hundred and fifty “associate members” – lovers of music, men and women, who support the organization with their presence at concerts and their money. Among those chiefly active in its early organization were Mrs. Ralph Herbruck, president at different times for seven years; Mrs. F. A. Z. Kumler, who has done yeoman work in its behalf and in behalf of music at large in Dayton; Mrs. Walter D. Crebs, Mrs. Katherine H. Tizzard, Mrs. Ella J. Kneisley, Mrs. H. E. Talbott, Miss Alverda Sinks, Mrs. Alice Becker Miller, Mrs. Charles Funkhouser, Mrs. Robert Funkhouser, Miss Mary Goode Royal, Mrs. Mary Blue Morris, and Miss Ann Charch. If more names were mentioned there would be no space left to record the actual accomplishments of the Dayton Music Club, which are many and remarkable. One, and perhaps the best of its activities, is to maintain a community music school where children who show talent are given lessons in piano, violin, or voice, at a merely nominal fee or none at all, and by the best teachers. In case special aptitude is shown for a certain instrument it is purchased. Two thousand such lessons were given in one year of the club’s existence, and recruits from this school are constantly entering the school orchestras and from there to the Civic Orchestra, and into the real musical life of Dayton.
Another novel enterprise was inaugurated by Mrs. Edythe Drake Zuercher in the harmonica orchestra, in which two thousand children are regularly instructed and play on this humble and rather discredited instrument. It is not trivial and frivolous music either, that is produced, but sweet harmonized cadences. In Philadelphia Mr. Albert N. Hoxie has made a special study of the possibilities of the harmonica and instructs large classes all the time. To this teacher and leader were lately sent from Dayton six boys to study. Mrs. E. A. Deeds paid the expenses of four, the Music Club of one, and Mr. Robert Patterson one. Coming home full of enthusiasm, the boys brought with them George Werner, a Philadelphia pupil who is now teaching the harmonica in the Dayton schools.
The Dayton Music Club chorus gives its services wherever in Dayton the people are not likely to get it in any other way – at social centers and community welfare clubs, at the Dayton State Hospital, City Rescue Mission, Children’s Home, Stillwater Sanitarium, Barney Community Center. Three pianos presented to the Valley Pike Community Church, two to the wards of the hospital at the Soldiers’ Home, and two to the Children’s Home are a part of the generosity of the Music Club; all a part of the activities of the above described Community School of Music.
The Mothers Singers Chorus was developed in 1928 and under the untiring musical enthusiasm of Mrs. Charles Funkhouser who recruits, directs, inspires, it is one of the outcomes of the Parent-Teacher’s Association and as such began by singing for the various functions of that body. Now it gives public concerts and its membership of one hundred and eight is constantly being added to.
Mention must not be omitted of the Dayton Choirmasters Club, a recent but potent enterprise which grew out of a conversation sometime during 1927 between Rev. Don Copeland, former choirmaster of Christ Episcopal Church, and Scott W. Westerman of Grace Methodist Episcopal Church. Both regretted that the directors of Dayton were not sufficiently acquainted with each other and that so many difficulties existed in placing organists and singers. The wish was father to the act and now we have a permanent association of choir directors and organists, the purpose of which is to promote hearty cooperation among them, to further the highest interests of church music in Dayton. The club has forty members, meets twice a month, and contributes in every way to the improvement of religious musical worship. Its most practical accomplishment is to maintain a free registration bureau for church musicians through which singers and organists may secure positions, and church leaders they desire. One result of the activities of this organization was a notable musical service in Christ Church where two hundred vested choristers, the united choirs of the city, moved down the aisle to the rhythm of the processional hymn. It was a lesson not only in music but in church fellowship, since the singers were of the Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish faiths, all with one voice praising the Lord.
If emphasis has seemed to be placed on vocalization, it is not at all because there have been no instrumentalists in Dayton. For nearly forty years we have been moving toward the Civic Orchestra that is our present pride. It had small but potent beginnings and large and potent fulfillment. In 1886 an orchestra of Young Men’s Christian Association members was organized by the leading violinist in Dayton, Herman G. Marstellar. He was succeeded by John S. Lytle and he by J. C. Eberhardt. In the early ‘nineties a few schools had orchestras among the pupils. In the membership of the Young Women’s League were eighteen women who played every week under the direction of Dr. J. Charles Reeve. Later, boys were admitted and concerts given at the league social functions – all on a purely amateur basis. When Dr. Reeve gave it up he was succeeded by Dr. Firth, and then by A. E. Fischman, and for thirty-three years this modest group of music lovers continued their work. In 1904 a small number of amateur musicians formed an orchestra to meet once a week at the homes of its members. It was then known as the “Morningstar Orchestra”; not, as they explained, on account of its brilliancy but because the leader possessed that name. Tiring at last of their own amateurishness, they engaged the services of Mr. A. E. Fischman, a professional violinist and conductor, who gave his services gratuitously for a number of years. Then the organization was known as the Fischman Orchestra, and held weekly rehearsals at the Young Women’s league. After a while they rose to the dignity of giving concerts. First in the Young Women’s League parlors, then as a benefit for the Young Women’s League building fund with Anny Loy May as reader, in Jean Ingelow’s “Songs of Seven”; then in the Young Men’s Christian Association with the following soloists: Mrs. F. K. Rigby, contralto; Mrs. Grace T. Allen, soprano; Robert Schenck, violin; and Don Bassett, clarinet. Other public appearances included both vocalists and instrumental soloists, and their advance may be appreciated by a glance at a program given May 11, 1916, when Alverda Sinks, one of Dayton’s most accomplished pianists, played Mendelssohn’s G Minor concerto with the orchestra accompanying, and included such composers as Schubert, Wagner, Nevin, Tschaikowsky. It was the first time in the history of music in Dayton that a local pianist played to the accompaniment of a local orchestra. Another musical milestone was January 25, 1917, when in a concert for the government’s war savings campaign, a local orchestra first played a complete symphony, and when Mrs. Clara Turpen Grimes was the vocalist. In 1920 the Fischman Orchestra was reorganized and the name changed to the Dayton Orchestral Club, which continued until it was absorbed into the present Dayton Civic Orchestra. It is wisely held to be an educational institution, and when a member is called to another city to play in orchestras, it is held to be, what it indeed is, more of a credit then a loss. The Cleveland Orchestra, the Damrosch Symphony Orchestra, New York, the Cincinnati Symphony Association, all contain musicians who began practice in this little organization in Dayton.
From the before described small beginnings and the gradual and natural rise, the Dayton Civic Orchestra is one of the institutions of Dayton. Since 1920 its upholder and moving spirit has been Mr. B. B. Thresher. A musician himself – passionate but not professional – he has made it one of his dearest pursuits. Together with Don Bassett, the director, Mr. Thresher has gathered musicians from far and wide. If scores were needed, he got them. If a place to rehearse was wanted he, through his influence, arranged for it. In the thirty Dayton school orchestras made up of nine hundred children who play some kind of instrument, there is a background for constant emerging of players for the Civic Orchestra. The present membership of seventy-two contains the best amateurs, professionals and semi-professionals. Under Mr. Bassett’s able leadership the standards of the orchestra have greatly augmented. All the choirs are represented in the organization. From the twenty-five taken over in 1920, the membership now stands at seventy-two, thus divided: First violins, fourteen; second violins, fourteen; violas, eight; ‘cellos, eight; string bass, four; flutes, two; oboes, two; clarinets, three; bassoons, two; French horns, two; trumpets, two; trombones, two; tuba, one; percussion, one; harp, one. In some cases in wood-winds and rarer instruments, musicians have been found, out of employment, for whom positions have been found so they could play in the orchestra. One great point constantly emphasized is to give opportunity to young musicians, both vocal and instrumental, to appear as soloists. Among these have been Christine Colley, violinist; Harry Rich, violinist; Stanley Lesher, violinist; Elizabeth Love, harp; Martha Smith Greene, pianist; Lorean Hodapp soprano; June Buriff, soprano; Aletha Faust, soprano; Bess Cecil, contralto; Marie Stayne Marks, soprano; Ruth Law, piano; Gladys Moser Knee, piano; and the lamented Verne Rothair. From a student group that was half play and half work the Civic Orchestra reached the dignity of accompanying the celebrated Westminster Choir when they gave Gaul’s “Holy City,” the “Messiah,” and Edgar Stillman Kelley’s “Alice in Wonderland.” Their programs exhibit the names of such composers as Tschaikowsky, Anton Dvorak, Rachmaninoff, Saint-Saens, Sibelius, Bizet; and although they have kept to the general play of the “POP” concerts in Boston, it is whispered that they entertain symphonic ambitions.
For some time the orchestra rehearsed every Monday night at Steele High School. Then Mrs. Talbott generously offered the Runnymede Play House. Now the permanent home of the players is to be the Dayton Art Institute. At the end of each month of rehearsals a concert is given of purely local talent and of unpaid players.
In 1925 the happy thought struck some one to hold in Dayton a May musical festival, as has so often been done in Cincinnati. The first augury of success was when Nikolai Sokoloff, conductor of the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra, agreed to conduct. Practically all the musicians of Dayton rallied to the undertaking – six choirs, and the Dayton Civic Orchestra – in Memorial Hall. It was an occasion to make the older music lovers of Dayton think happy things when they remembered the arid days of the long ago past. The choirs were those of Christ Church under Rev. Don Copeland, St. Paul’s Methodist Episcopal, Grace Storey Simmonds; the Westminster Choir; Central Reformed Church, Thomas Warner, Chare Ridgeway, accompanist; John Finley Williamson; Grace Methodist Episcopal Church, Harlan Haines; First United Brethren, George Kester; First Baptist Church, Gordon S. Battelle; the Choral Art Society of St. Mary’s Church, J. C. Fehring. Also the voice pupils of the Alice Becker Miller School of Music; the Treble Clef Society, O. E. Gerhardt; and the chorus of the Women’s Music Club, led by Mrs. Charles Funkhouser. The choirs were all vested, and the Dayton Civic Orchestra under the leadership of A. E. Fischman opened the program. A mere mention of the standard of music given on these occasions (for they were repeated for three seasons) will assure their excellence. Stravinsky’s Suite from “The Fire Bird”; Elgar’s “Challenge of Thor”; Verdi’s March from “Aida”; Brahms’ D Major Symphony, Opus 73; Coleridge Taylor’s “Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast”; Schubert’s Symphony B Minor; Thomas’ Overture to “Mignon”; Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.”
With the advent of the new century Dayton passed suddenly from the condition of being music-starved and not knowing it, to one of plenty. And the explanation of that transition lies in the fact that we had a real impresario in Mr. A. F. Thiele. It is within the easy memory of the oldest of us how many times the Mozart Club brought a great orchestra or great musicians to Dayton only to have them greeted by an almost empty house and to make up the difference out of their own pockets. But the seed was sprouting. In 1900 Mr. Thiele began importing celebrities, and although it was an uphill road (his first venture netted him $400, on the wrong side of the ledger), he did at last succeed in putting it on a business basis. Besides managing many local musical affairs he brought to Dayton more than three hundred and fifty fine concerts, of which we may not here even mention all the names. Fifty-two symphony orchestra concerts, eleven grand opera performances, thirty-five chamber concerts, five militia band concerts, twelve plays with musical settings, one hundred and sixty-three famous artists, make up a part of his successful impressarioship. He also introduced the Russian Imperial Ballet, the Ben Greet Players, and such world-known artists as Sembrich, Bispham, Gadski, McCormack, Galli-Curci, Kreisler, Kubelik, Schumann-Heink, Homer, Gabrilowitsch, Bloomfield-Zeisler. In fact, for fifteen years Mr. Thiele fed Dayton with good music and slowly but steadily our appreciation grew.
In the meantime, as has been elsewhere told, Dayton was progressing politically as well as musically. From the old Federal plan of government with its insufficiencies and limitations, Dayton had arrived at the modern plan of commission manager form, with Henry M. Waite at the head. His was the principle, belonging to the modern theories of community management, that things like music should be open to all and not reserved alone for people who had money. The Thiele offerings were fine but they cost money and only those who could pay large prices might enjoy them. This Mr. Waite thought was wrong in principle, and if European cities managed the best music for all, then an American city might. It was in a conversation with Mrs. J. B. Thresher that his idea found instant support. He acknowledged that his ambition was to have a civic music league which should present to the people the best artists at a low price. Her reply was that she knew two hundred women who would see it through - the Mozart Club, and it did. Six hundred invitations were sent out for a meeting in the Young Women’s Christian Association which, after an address by Mr. Waite on the advantages of community music, effected an organization calling itself the Dayton Civic music League, with the slogan, “The world’s best music at cost.” The first president was Mr. B. B. Thresher, with Mrs. E. M. Wood and Mrs. Walter D. Crebs as vice-presidents. After three years of devotion to the cause, Mr. Thresher resigned and Mr. William G. Frizell was elected in his place.
The difficult thing the Civic League tried to do, it has most acceptably done. It brings to Dayton the finest artists, the finest concerts. Season seats sell from $3.50 to $10. Now not only the rich go to these concerts, but anybody who can rake up $3.50. Once they presented an extra concert with Fritz Kreisler at half a dollar a single seat. They Paid McCormack $4,500, but sold tickets at the same low price. The secret is that Dayton has grown up musically. Singers face no more empty seats; guarantors no longer put their hands into their pockets. Two thousand and five hundred to 3,000 tickets are sold and it is numbers that turn the truck. The Civic Music League requires no guarantor and asks no favors. If there is a deficit it is carried along and made up next time. If a generously-minded person wants to buy a number of tickets and give them away he is permitted to do so. A partial payment plan enables those who are unable to pay for a course ticket at once to do it later – music on the installment plan, so to speak. Knowing that Dayton is not only one of the first cities to have a Civic Music League and that others have borrowed the idea and the plan from us, we, the citizens salute the organization and welcome its seventeenth season!
The artist’s concerts brought by the league were not enough for those of scientific music knowledge to whom the symphony is the highest form of art. Therefore, and because of which, the Dayton Symphony Association was organized, the only one in a city of Dayton’s size which maintains a strictly symphonic course of concerts. Those responsible for the venture in the beginning were Mrs. H. E. Talbott, who remains its enthusiastic president and promoter; Mrs. N. M. Stanley, Mrs. E. A. Deeds, Mr. W. A. Keyes, Mr. F. J. McCormick, Mr. Ferdinand Ach, Mrs. H. G. Carnell, Mrs. Charles F. Kettering, Judge B. F. McCann, Mrs. J. A. McMillan, Mrs. William B. Werthner, Mrs. Harvey King, and Mr. S. H. Carr. These and more and more, as time went on, were organizers, officers and guarantors. What glorious concerts we have heard through the association! They have brought all the big orchestras in the country, not once but several times, and how cheerfully they have supplied the deficit, if any. Moreover they have kept the Dayton Civic Orchestra on its musical feet where it might not have succeeded in staying if left to itself. Music like beefsteak takes money, and those who have it and are willing to give it, act as angels of mercy to a new kind of starving multitude.
During the three years that Walter Damrosch gave his famous young people’s symphony concerts, Dayton heard them all and it was largely private generosity that did it.
In time Patricia O’Brien succeeded Mr. Thiele as impresario and business manager of the Dayton Symphony Orchestra, carrying on always his well-founded procedure. The milestones of her symphony concerts are the Philadelphia Symphony with Stokowski; the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Serge Koussevitzky conducting, and the return, after ten years’ absence, of the New York Philharmonic. She also is responsible for the presentation of Mary Garden, Will Rogers, Paderewski, San Carlo Opera, Pavlova, and Galli-Curci. She managed the Ohio Music Teachers’ Chorus in 1929.
We now come to a musical enterprise that has put Dayton on the map of the world almost as much as the invention of the airplane, and although it does not belong to us any more, it will always be a source of pride that the Westminster Choir had its origin in our midst. It was in 1920 that John Finley Williamson assumed the leadership of the choir of Westminster Church and took up his work. He was a man of broad vision, the leading element in which was the conviction that church music needed to be improved. He abhorred the trumpery trash that went by the name of church music, the trivial singsong hymns, the paltry theology. He realized that worship, which is as much the function of music as of prayer, should be adequately framed in music that was high in form and purpose. So he selected only the best compositions for his chorus, and admitted to its ranks only singers who had consecrated their lives to the service of the church through the ministry of music.
In all these aims, in all these standards and ideals, Mr. Williamson found an immediate ally in Mrs. H. E. Talbott, for years the promoter, supporter and inspirer of all things musical in Dayton. Without her sympathetic aid and financial support the story of the Westminster Choir would have been a short one. It was she who fanned the flame Mr. Williamson kindled. Herself a musician of no small accomplishment, she saw in this enterprise a means of educating the public in more elevated standards of devotional music and an outlet for her own supreme vitality of purpose. Her home on the crest of the hill south of the city is a gathering place for musicians both professional and amateur. Her “Runymede Playhouse” holds delighted audiences for operas, dances, and concerts. Either on her wide lawn on summer afternoons or in the Playhouse are large and frequent audiences in her debt for lovely programs. In the augmented homestead where George W. and Eliza P. Houk made hospitality in the ‘sixties and ‘seventies, Katherine Houk Talbott carries on their example in the new century. The sixty feet long music room, with its pipe organ and Mrs. Talbott on the console, holds frequent delighted audiences. It was a foregone conclusion that the Westminster Choir would appeal to her. She accompanied them on their American tours, she arranged for the European triumphs, if funds fell low she supplied them, if publicity languished she promoted it – in fact has been the good angel of the organization since its inception. She approved unqualifiedly of the standards set by its leader.
The choir was not only a choir, it was a school with the most rigid discipline. Four hours a day of practice for three whole years was the order of the day for their training. This bore fruit, as scientific devotion to an art always will. The Westminster Choir began to be known outside of Dayton and to be called upon for concerts. These fifty singers went to New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Buffalo, and twice to Pittsburgh. Perhaps, for a Dayton scribe, it would be wiser to let the critics tell the story of the standing and accomplishments of the choir. Walter Damrosch, not given to empty flattery, said: “The choir shows fine musicianship and work of an understanding character. It is second to none in this country or elsewhere, doing the most constructive work done in the last twenty years.” Nine thousand people heard the Westminster Choir in the New Coliseum in St. Louis; six thousand in Convention Hall, Kansas City. In 1929 (we are epitomizing for the sake of brevity), the Westminster Choir went on a grand tour to Europe. Just before they sailed on the “Leviathan” they gave a farewell concert at Carnegie Hall when the New York critics – such a difficult coterie – gave them the highest praise. An official send-off was led by Mayor Walker and the police commissioner, who, if they knew little about music, knew a successful leader when they saw her, Mrs. H. E. Talbott. Leader, that is, for the details of the trip, Mr. Williamson keeping tight hold of his function, which was to wield the baton. Down the bay they went accompanied by the enthusiasm of the greatest city in the world, and off for European triumphs.
Their first concert was at Royal Albert Hall in London, then to Manchester, Liverpool, and Leeds, all of them centers of choir music, and giving our singers a most hearty and appreciative welcome. Back for a second concert at Albert Hall. Then to Paris where they sang first at the Grand Opera House and later at the Trocadero and the Salle Pleyel. At Vienna there was a grand reception held at the town hall with seven hundred guests, planned by the Austrian Government and Mr. Washburn, the American Ambassador. At Berlin seven thousand pairs of rapturous hands brought out twelve encores. The mayor at Hamburg welcomed them in a fine address. The “Budapesti Hirlap” said editorially: :Dayton is a relatively small town in the United States, but its choir is of outstanding artistic development and it is no wonder than it proceeds from one great success to another on its first European tour.”
The sad sequel for Dayton is that for many and cogent reasons the choir is no longer a part of us. Mr. Williamson was called to be the musical director of Ithaca College, Ithaca, New York, and the choir followed him. Just before the move was made, a concert was given at the White House where the welcome and appreciation were no less great than across the water. Dayton’s send-off was a municipal banquet at the Miami Hotel where, on February 22, 1929, five hundred guests were present to express their appreciation, gratitude, and regret.
The present sponsors of the choir are Mrs. Herbert Hoover, Sir Esme Howard, British Ambassador; Father Finn of the Paulist Choristers; Dr. Walter Damrosch, Dr. S. Parkes Cadman, Ex-Ambassador to England, and Madame Louden of France, Marguerite de Talleyrand, Frau Wilhemn Miklas, wife of the president of the Austrian Republic; Mrs. Charles Dana Gibson, New York; Baroness Von Klenner, president American Opera Association, New York; Serge Koussevitsky, conductor of Boston Symphony Orchestra; Countess Johanna Hartnaue, Austria.
Fifteen years before he died, Mr. John Patterson, moved by the idea that music whether it did or not, ought to have an influence in industry, called to his aid Mr. G. B. McClelland, whose particular function in the N. C. R. business was to make men sing. At sales conventions he made them sing whether they had voices or not, and singing together is said to be a preamble to selling together. With his whoop-em-up methods of conducting it is said that Mr. McClelland could bring music out of an audience of tortoises. The idea, like most of Mr. Patterson’s ideas, was a sound one and bore fruit. The N. C. R. chorus of eighty-five voices as it was later organized under the leadership of Albert Hartzell, did good work for six years and took part in the May Musical festivals at Cincinnati. Of late years the Welfare Department of the National Cash Register Company in its big schoolhouse, holding 3,5000 people, is filled every Sunday afternoon with listeners to some of the greatest artists in the music world or to good local vocal and instrumental talent. Saturday mornings are given up to the children who are entertained by the company and who, led by Mr. McClelland, learn to sing together, and in neither of these activities is there any charge to the public.
If the foregoing chapter has conveyed the impression that in the century since the Pleyel Society, all musical things in Dayton have advanced and improved, it is misleading. In one respect, and in the opinion of the writer, we have lost what we had and gone steadily backward. I will explain.
Sunday morning in the old Dayton days I used to go out under the trees in the yard (on the corner of Fourth and Ludlow) to listen to the bells. Sixty years ago Dayton was hailed in an encyclopedia as having more churches than any other town of its size in the country. (Doubtful, even if emanating from an encyclopedia.). If it had said “bells” it would be believable. For every church had a bell or a peal of bells or a chime. It was every sexton’s duty to set them going at ten and again at ten-fifteen, and they were, to my distant memory, fine bells: some deep-toned and vibrant, singing in an ever-increasing slow crescendo, “COME – TO – CHURCH! COME – TO CHURCH! COME -TO-CHURCH!” Others, in a higher pitch had a more staccato measure said, “Cometochurch, cometochurch, cometochurch.” It was a peal of three from Emmanuel Church on Franklin Street that first made its appeal, followed by the First Presbyterian bell on Third and Ludlow, and the Reformed, farther up the street. Then the Lutheran chimes joined in from the brick tower on Main Street – the beautiful tower ruthlessly destroyed! These were a peal of three, swung by a rope, also a chromatic scale of bells struck with a hammer and upon which they sometimes played a hymn. It was entrancing if all were correctly turned. If not, it was decidedly otherwise. The German Lutheran on Wayne and Marshall, and St. John’s on East Third always came in with a sort of duet (the Lutherans like the Catholics being infatuated with bells). St. Joseph’s on Second and Madison, had good bells, as did the Park Presbyterian Church on Cooper Park. We amused ourselves trying to identify them. Sometimes, when the wind was right, we thought we caught the faint tone from the far western edge of town – the Presbyterian bell on Summit Street, but this, like St. Mary’s out on Xenia Avenue, was part imagination. Then, having heard from all points of the compass, the harmonies would die away, leaving the world to the silence of a summer morning – bees, chickadees, buttercups and the soft June sunshine – on the corner of Fourth and Ludlow!
Where are all those bells now? Rusting in their steeples instead of telling people when it is time to get out their missionary money and put on their hats. It may be that the clocks and our individual consciences are enough for practical purposes, but how about the call to prayer? And if the bells should be resurrected, what chance would they have against the street noises of today? Then, the low buildings and wide open spaces permitted the dispersion of this really great ensemble; now, instead of lovely inspiring harmonies we get the shrieks of newsboys with the Sunday edition, the grinding of street car wheels, the honk of automobile horns and the overhead roar of a soaring airplane. Too bad!
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