There was music in the air in the 1890s.
New concert halls were opening and musical groups were forming.Although its 3,317 people made Greensboro only a small town, it had a musical base on which to build, a foundation laid over the preceding eight decades.
Folk songs in the fields and hymns in the churches marked the early years. The town's new educational institutions brought European musicians to town. They performed and taught, and soon their students began to make music.
The Greensboro Female School, forerunner of Greensboro College, opened in 1838. Edgeworth Female Seminary opened in 1840, stressing the liberal arts, and soon boasting faculty members from Europe. One of them, Heinrich Schneider from Germany, came in 1848 to teach piano and organ.
A year later, the First Presbyterian Church installed the community's first organ. Schneider played it and trained the church choir. For many years, churches played a leading role in the city's musical life. Church music remains highly important today, involving many citizens. Students and music graduates of area school and colleges provide many of the soloists, directors, choir members and instrumentalists.
The cultural collaboration between town and gown in Greensboro has persisted over the years. Because of it, Greensboro has acquired a cultural character far different from what it would have been if education had not been one of its leading early influences.
Campuses and culture
While the churches were the leaders in early musical life, the campuses were not far behind.
Minna Raven, another native of Germany, became vocal instructor at Edgeworth in 1852. A noted teacher and singer, she later married a local merchant and resigned from the seminary, but continued to teach here until 1901.
When Edgeworth closed during the post-Civil War hard times, many of its teachers moved west on Market Street to the next hill, where Greensboro College welcomed them.
This interest in music fostered by the women's schools created a broad community interest in music. In 1889, the Euterpe Club was founded. Anna Maloney, director of music at Greensboro College, was joined by Laura Doub and others in establishing the city's most enduring musical organization.
Euterpe celebrated its centennial last year. It continues to support performance and scholarship in music. Active in forming the city's symphony and in promoting opera, Euterpe has rivaled the colleges in its contributions to the community's musical life.
In 1890, the city's public schools got their first music program. Margaret Gannon was named supervisor, to be followed over succeeding years by well-remembered instructors such as Grady H. Miller in the '20s and '30s and Herbert Hazelman, Crystal Bachtell and J. Kimball Harriman in succeeding years.
Miller's shows at Greensboro High drew crowds from all over. His assistant, Joe Johnson, remembers Miller with affection, and recalls the staging of musicals and other shows with such local performers as Adelaide Fortune Holderness, R. Dick Douglas and Charles T. Hagan.
In later years, Hazelman's bands and Harriman's instrumentalists won many honors for the city's music program, also preparing future audiences for Greensboro's musical expansion from the 1960s onward. The two also trained some of the musicians who perform in groups such as the symphony and the Philharmonia of Greensboro.
From school to college
In the first years of this century, many Greensboro musicians studied at the Brockman School of Music on West Market Street. It featured an orchestra composed of its faculty, among them Laura Brockman, who taught piano, and Charles Brockman, who taught violin.
The Brockmans were the niece and nephew of Minna Raven, the early 19th-century vocalist. And when they closed their school in 1899, they moved only a short distance west to begin the music department at what is now the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. For 13 years, Charles Brockman headed the department.
In 1912, Wade R. Brown began a long career as director of music on the campus.
``Dr. Brown had a vision of music education for every child in North Carolina,' Hermene Warlick Eichhorn, a leader in community music for many years, wrote in 1968. Brown began the High School Music Contest-Festival May 7, 1920, with 13 contestants. The program grew to involve hundreds of students every spring.
Brown also directed Christmas and Easter concerts. In them, community singers joined his women's chorus from the college. In 1921, he organized the Greensboro Spring Music Festivals, with soloists coming from the Metropolitan Opera and other centers. Choirs of more than 200 were recruited locally. The festivals did not do well financially, however, and ceased in 1923.
Four years later, Brown was active in a cooperative effort by the college, the Euterpe Club and the city, which set up the Greensboro Civic Music Association in 1927.
It presented five concerts annually by such performers as pianist and composer Sergei Rachmaninoff, singers Kirsten Flagstad and Helen Traubel, violinist Jascha Heifetz and the St. Louis Symphony.
The '20s also saw the beginning of the Lessie Lindsay Wharton Concert Series, Joseph R. Morton recalled in a talk to the Greensboro Women's Club in 1975. Begun in the old Opera House, the series moved to the new National Theatre in 1926, bringing performers such as Amelita Galli-Curci, Anna Pavlova and Fritz Kreisler.
In 1927, the Greensboro Civic Music Association formed to stage a series of events in the new Aycock Auditorium.
Almost as soon as it opened, Aycock became the concert hall for the city as well as the college. Between the '20s and 1952, Civic Music brought in major orchestras from Philadelphia and Minneapolis, pianists such as Percy Grainger, Artur Rubenstein, Rudolf Serkin and Gina Bachauer. Notable singers such as Kirsten Flagstad, Ezio Pinza and Marian Anderson also appeared, and the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo made several appearances.
From the 1930s into the 1960s, noted performers also made their bows on the Aycock stage as part of the Marvin MacDonald series, organized by an Atlanta entrepreneur. The programs, some under auspices of the Junior League, brought pianists such as Jose Iturbi and Oscar Levant, vocalists Lily Pons and Grace Moore, and orchestras such as the Royal Philharmonic under the baton of Dimitri Mitropoulous.
In the 1960s, the School of Music at UNCG had a growth spurt. Dean Lawrence Hart presided over expansions in size, faculty and areas of instruction. Opera had its beginnings on the campus in the '60s.
Greensboro College's music program was another community musical influence. And first at Bennett College, then since 1972 at Guilford College, Ed Lowe has developed a strong choral and general music program.
N.C. A&T State University boasted a strong band program. The band was a notable feature in civic events and campus games and programs. Its appearances in the downtown Christmas parades became seasonal highlights by the 1930s. Bold and brassy and able to play all styles of music, the band furnished a talented pool of graduates whose teaching and performing made an impact far beyond Greensboro.
During the Depression, about 75 musicians found jobs in a Works Progress Administration band led by Tal Henry. ``They made fine music,' said Otis Brown Jr., whose father and Harvey West used some of the bandsmen to instruct youngsters in a Veterans of Foreign Wars Boys Band.
``It was a time when many parents couldn't afford music lessons, and this gave the boys a chance to learn,' Brown said.
In the 1920s, West had formed the Firemen's Band, a popular performing organization of the period. Later he began the Harvey West Music Co., which became a gathering place for musicians, including jazz guitarist Tal Farlow and band leaders Dick Jones and Paul Bell, who also played jazz.
Such foundations encouraged the building of other community musical organizations, including the city's symphony.
Forming a symphony
Greensboro's symphony had its beginnings in 1923-25 when Helen Mayer, a violinist on the faculty of what was then the N.C. College for Women, formed an ensemble. Some funding came from the New Deal's Works Progress Administration in the 1930s. H. Hugh Altvater, who was by then dean of music on campus, took over the ensemble in 1939.
In the early years, students of Herbert Hazelman and J. Kimball Harriman, directors of instrumental and orchestral music in the city schools, joined in many concerts.
After Altvater's death, George Dickieson led the orchestra. In the 1958-59 season, the Greensboro Symphony Society was created under the leadership of Miles Wolff. The present Greensboro Symphony dates from those beginings. Its conductors have included Norman Cousins and Sheldon Morgenstern, founder of the Eastern Music Festival.
Morgenstern led the ensemble from 1967 until the arrival of Dr. Peter Paul Fuchs, who conducted for twelve seasons. Major soloists appeared with the orchestra and season subscriptions increased. Upon his retirement at the close of the 1986-87 season, Fuchs was succeeded by Paul Anthony McRae, who is now beginning his fourth season.
Eastern Music begins
Greensboro's musical directions for the rest of the century were being shaped in the early 1960s.
The off-campus, community-supported symphony had begun. Next, in 1962, came the Eastern Music Festival. Earlier efforts to begin opera programs were renewed, although it would be 20 more years before the Greensboro Opera launched its first season.
EMF began as the Guilford Musical Arts Camp, but the name was soon changed. Founder Sheldon Morgenstern was intent on focusing on the students and their instruction. To accomplish this, he created a faculty of performers who taught and then played in an orchestra.
Maintaining that philosophy, the festival has endured and expanded. It has brought outstanding artists such as the late Leonard Rose, a regular visitor, Yo Yo Ma, Franco Gulli, festival alumnus Wynton Marsalis and more.
The festival has meant a summer of chamber music and symphonic performances which have supplemented programs by the Greensboro Symphony, those performed on the community's college campuses and arts series such as the University Concert and Lecture Series at UNCG.
EMF plays concerts in High Point and Winston-Salem, as well as in Greensboro. It sees itself as a pioneer in Triad cooperation, said Walter W. Heid, executive director. It's a role the summer festival can fill without raising alarms in any of the three cities.
``We'd be very interested' in a Triad arts park, a central, shared place to bring together the area's music, drama and other programs, Heid said.
While Triad cooperation is one thing, a symphony merger is another.
Greensboro and Winston-Salem symphonies confer on their performance dates, avoiding conflicts for players who perform with both ensembles. But talk of closer ties has twice raised a storm in Greensboro. Proposals from Winston-Salem about merging the symphonies - or even studying the idea - have been rejected.
Informally, some spokesmen in both cities say merger may be inevitable, given growth patterns and pressures from corporate donors who think they get more for their money by giving once. Both orchestras rely on strong community support.
But until residents of the two cities look upon themselves as citizens of a new Triad community, a merger might lessen rather than increase support, some Greensboro Symphony supporters say. Until then, the Greensboro Symphony's attitude is that both symphonies have room for growth in their own, separate areas, said James Hopkins, the new Greensboro Symphony executive.
Opera in Greensboro was a community affair early in the 20th century. Occasional performances like the Greensboro Dramatic Club's staging of ``The Mikado' in 1907 showed an interest which blossomed slowly.
Visiting opera singers in the '20s, and a week of opera staged in Aycock by the San Carlo Opera Company, suggested more. But the Great Depression and World War II blighted hopes for regular seasons. Productions by Euterpe's Opera Group kept the idea alive, however, and in 1948, the Greensboro Opera Association was formed.
``Hansel and Gretel' and ``Amahl and the Night Visitors' were presented in the early 1950s. Amelia Cardwell, general manger from 1950 to 1954, was succeeded by Donald Trexler, whose Greensboro Oratorio Society became a widely-traveled ensemble in the 1950s and 1960s. He continues to conduct community concerts by the ensemble today.
In 1980, the Greensboro Opera Company was formed. Finding in Peter Paul Fuchs an experienced European-born conductor of opera, the company has been increasingly successful. Its annual productions have ranged from ``Rigoletto' to ``Don Giovanni.' Spring presentations have included recitals by opera stars Kathleen Battle and Thomas Allen. In November, the company will present two performances of ``Faust.'
The city also has the Young Artists Opera Theatre. Designed to showcase young, award-winning singers, it stages annual galas and productions under the direction of its founder, Peggy Russell.
As the community's musical interests developed, it became home to a number of composers, some on the faculties of local colleges.
One of the first was R. Nathaniel Dett, whose use of black musical themes in settings for classical oratorios and motets marked him as a musical pioneer. He was music director at Bennett College from 1937 to 1942.
Edward Cone, of Greensboro's distinguished Cone family, is a composer, teacher and author. Other composers working in Greensboro today are Eddie Bass, Frederick H. Beyer, Rose Marie Cooper, Peter Paul Fuchs, Ronald Follas, Frank McCarty, Russell Peck and Steven Karidoyanes. Composers who worked here earlier included Hermene W. Eichhorn and Bob Waddell.
Training both performers and listeners, the public schools have played a major role in the city's musical development. After cuts in the past two decades, the schools are looking toward more musical instruction in the state's new basic education program.
Adult music education also is expanding. Colleges are offering community music programs and the Music Center and members of the Greensboro Music Teachers Association offer a wide range of instruction.
The Greensboro Music Academy, founded in 1982, has moved three times in eight years in search of more space for its growing student body. Under Director Ivan Battle, the academy has begun a series of young artists concerts with the UNCG School of Music, in addition to its own frequent recitals by students from preschool to adult.
The city's Music Center, organized under the direction of Barry Auman, sponsors a number of volunteer ensembles. These include the Greensboro Philharmonia, a concert band and the Greensboro Choral Society, which has performed in England and Spain. The Music Center, a part of the Greensboro Parks and Recreation Department, also sponsors the Music for a Sunday Evening in the Park series.
There is about these Sunday programs a reminder of the kind of community gathering at which Col. Joe Reece's band used to play a century ago, although in experience, programming and sound, the programs differ widely.
All in all, Greensboro is hearing more live music than at any other time in its history, even in the age of music video and compact disc.
The changes the next century may be unpredictable, but the city's music history suggests variations on themes already stated. In the 1890s, the 1920s and the 1960s, the community expanded from an existing musical base.
At EMF, Morgenstern sums up his philosophy about the future: ``The story of the Eastern Music Festival is a simple one - the concept of status quo is unacceptable.' That idea, he believes, allows ``EMF to grow better, not just older, every year.' To that end, the festival board is working on a second five-year plan, aimed at moving the festival toward the new century.
Noting the city's musical accomplishments, Dean Arthur Tollefson of the UNCG School of Music looks at the future as a chance to expand on strengths.
He pictured the scene in an address to the Euterpe Club, which is charting its second century in support of musical innovation.
``It is difficult to identify many other cities of less than 200,000 population which support a nationally renowned summer music festival, a nationally ranked Top 20 School of Music, a professional symphony orchestra, a professional opera company, a slew of excellent semi-professional and amateur ensembles, several first-rate community music programs and an ongoing host of outstanding concerts and recitals.'
Even so, Tollefson said, ``Greensboro remains essentially a conservative music community - conservative in its tastes and in many of its views about music.'
Conservation of a musical heritage is fine, provided there's room to sample other types of music, including today's, he said.
Hearing new music can ``produce that healthy tension normally required to maintain forward momentum.' Audiences should hear ``eminently worthwhile musics of many cultures and idioms,' illustrating the rich cultural diversity of the nation.
Some Greensboro concert-goers still seem to feel local ensembles or performers are less worthy than those from elsewhere, a brake on local progress, and Tollefson's disturbed that some patrons buy tickets as a gesture of support, but don't attend the concerts. They aren't getting what they've paid for, and their empty seats discourage performers and audiences.