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V. Sunday, February 2, 1947

Choral Music Flourished in Santa Barbara

One of the first new undertakings of the Music Branch of the Community Arts Association, after the String Orchestra under Roger Clerbois had become established “on its own,” was to engage a man to direct choral singing. Through this activity, as well as its scholarships, the Branch became closely knit with the schools.

The man engaged was Lyle R. Ring of Harvard, who arrived in October, 1923, and during a period of a year, conducted community singing in the public schools and at St. Vincent’s Orphanage.

Once a month between 200 and 300 children were herded into the gymnasium at Recreation Center, where as soon as Mr. Ring raised his baton they quieted down to convert their voices into united chorus work. Not only were they always ready for children’s programs, but the Spring festivals and other community celebrations could count on a trained group.

Choral Groups Formed
Mr. Ring also founded two choral societies, one of which was of Negro singers, among whom, according to old reports, he found excellent voices. He started a class in “music grammar” for the children whose instruction was paid for by the Music Branch scholarships. Mrs. Ralph Hoffmann (now in motion pictures as Gertrude Wesselhoeft Hoffmann) and Miss Mary Overman, now Mrs. John Kittrell, in connection with the choral work, were paid special tribute in Branch reports for their “whole-hearted cooperation.”

In the Summer of 1924 the Branch engaged Donald Francis Tovey of the University of Edinburgh for a series of concerts, a course of lectures and an interpretation class. Gradually, the program was deepening and becoming richer, building toward the halcyon days of the late ‘20s.

From 1923 to 1929, according to reports, more than 100 scholarships were granted. These were not confined to students of rare musical gifts. As the reports to the Carnegie Foundation explained (the Foundation was the “angel” paying the Association $25,000 annually to help carry on its interesting work):

“The majority of the people accepted as scholarship students are not expected to become important musicians, but through their ardent desire to study, the Music Branch wishes to give them means of making possible the happiness and solace that self-expression in music brings in the lives of those it touches.”

One of the scholarships granted was to the music supervisor in the Public Schools, who was sent to the Surrette Music School Summer session.

Arthur Bliss Engaged
In August, 1924, Arthur Bliss of London arrived from across the Atlantic to become Director of Music for the Community Arts Association of this little city on the edge of the Pacific. One of the distinguished contemporary composers, Mr. Bliss, a pupil of Vaughan Williams, has been especially commended for his independence in combining instruments and voices. “Morning Heroes,” a choral-orchestral work, is an example.

At the time of his coming, Mr. Bliss was professor of conducting and composition at the Royal College of Music in London. After his arrival, seven of the City Schools voted to have children’s choruses. Mr. Bliss conducted each chorus once every two weeks. Principals reported at once that school morale had improved; the intangible results of building fine music into the every-day life of the community through its children were less easily computed. An adult choral group founded by Mr. Bliss later became the Choral Union with Harold Gregson as director. Mr. Bliss also lectured in preparation for the Philharmonic concerts.

Mrs. Eichheim Active
It was in 1926 that the Music Branch expanded into its finest flowering. A newcomer, the late Ethel Roe Eichheim, wife of the late Henry Eichheim, violinist-composer, and long a musical benefactor in Santa Barbara, had taken over the chairmanship.
“She had,” Branch members recall, “a lovely quality of getting along with people, and brought the community together.”

She inspired the undertaking of a program far more ambitious than had hither to be essayed. The Branch now assumed the work of the Civic Music Committee, which for six years previous to that time had presented orchestral symphony concerts of the first rank, as well as recitals by the leading quartets and soloists. It scheduled three concerts by the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the Granada Theater, seating 1600 persons.

The Branch further assumed the functions of the Artists Series Committee and that year contracted with Gabrilowitsch, Ponselle, Kindler, Schipa and Zimbalist.

Quartet Invited
It raised $50,000 and dispatched an invitation to the Persinger String Quartet of San Francisco to make Santa Barbara its residence for two years.

Almost to its astonishment the quartet came, and the Branch booked the four noted musicians out of here for tours and engagements in the East during the months it was not “in residence.” Under Community Arts management what was said to be the only transcontinental tour by a quartet ever to make money was booked. Santa Barbara leaped into national musical prominence.

To cope with this program, the Branch reported to the Carnegie Foundation, the Community Arts Association secured the services of a manager, George W. MacLellan. A guarantee fund was subscribed to cover any possible deficit in maintaining the ambitious program.

The quartet members were: Louis Persinger, Louis Ford, Nathan Firestone and Walter Ferner. An average of 600 persons attended their concerts; sometimes only standing room was left at Lobero Theater.

Daily Events
To scan the old Community Arts Calendars, issued regularly, is to find evidence that something was doing every day. The calendar for January, 1928, for instance, lists a Planting Committee exhibition of flower paintings by Edna Ellis Baylor; four concerts by the Persinger String Quartet; an exhibition at the School of the Arts of students’ work; a concert by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, George Scheevoigt [sic: Schnéevoigt] directing; a play, “The Last of Mrs. Cheney” presented by the Drama Branch, for four performances; a concert by Walter Gieseking.

It would be impossible to speak of every individual who contributed to the success of the Community Arts Association. Among Music Branch directors who served from the beginning and still are active are Mrs. Carrie S. Price, Miss Florence Fernald, Mrs. Henry J. Profant and Miss Mabel C. Washburn. Mrs. John A. Jameson was an early director. Robert Easton and Mrs. August Magnus have been board members for many years.

When George MacLellan left the organization in 1933, Mrs. John A. Berger took over the management of the Branch and is still its secretary.

Branches Separate
At the expiration of the Carnegie Grant in 1930, the Association found itself in financial difficulty and it was necessary for the Drama Branch to withdraw in order to save its property. The School of the Arts disintegrated. This left the Music and Plans and Planting Branches as the only departments under the organization of the Association. The Music Branch separated itself in order that Miss Pearl Chase and the Plans and Planting Branch could keep the name and carry on as much of the activities of the old Community Arts as she wished to.

The Music Branch reincorporated as the Community Arts Music Association, Inc. Today its only activity is to bring the annual Winter concerts of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra here. It has hopes, however, of one day adding the San Francisco Orchestra and the San Francisco Opera to its musical offerings.