by Paul R. Spitzzeri
In the first decades of the 20th century, greater Los Angeles was the scene of many conventions, fairs, expositions, festivals and other major events for local, state and national organizations and industries. Whether it was La Fiesta de Los Angeles (a.k.a, La Fiesta de las Flores); conventions for fraternal organizations like the Elks and others; the annual Tournament of Roses; the Los Angeles County Fair; and more, the region was a frequent locale for these large-scale gatherings.
Today’s post highlighting an artifact from the Homestead’s collection centers on a program for Los Angeles Music Week, held from 19-26 May 1923. An impressive array of musical performances of many types were held throughout the city and region during that week, as the program delineated.
The concept for the event came from the Playground Department of the City of Los Angeles “upon the signed request of fifteen musical leaders of the community..” A meeting was held on 4 December 1922 (the program says “1923” in error) at the Los Angeles Mens’ City Club, at which a committee of ten was chosen to plan the event.
An advisory committee included not just business, civic and musical leaders, including school superintendent Susan Dorsey, Marco Hellman, USC president Rufus von KleinSmid, Rabbi Edgar F. Magnin, and banker Henry M. Robinson, but film notables like Sid Grauman and Douglas Fairbanks.
There were, however, many other committees, including ones for publicity, speakers, a parade, community singing, church music, various school levels, music trades, composers, the “Colored Musical Organization,” industrial music, and “International Music Programs.”
That group held its first conclave at the end of February and had to plan quickly. Help from Community Service, Inc. and the Recreation Association of America led to the hiring of Alexander Stewart, who was the the Pacific Coast field representative in music for the two organizations. as the chief planner for the event. The result, it was stated was that hundreds pitched in to make Music Week happen.
The goal was “that through Music Week the social value of music may be expressed as never before in Los Angeles” and “that the power of music to make for better citizenship and patriotism and to stimulate people to be more willing to work for the good of the community.” A secondary aim was to raise awareness for the development of a “Temple of Music and Art” in the city, the motto of which would be “all for Music—Music for all,” which was adopted for Music Week.
Mayor George E. Cryer, who was chief executive for the city for almost all of the 1920s, issued a proclamation, in which he stated:
Men have died to music; nations have won wars with their song; great popular movements have rested their hopes on melody; no feature of America’s existence is so moving as its National airs. We love our flag, but our songs stir us to action.
Music Week, free from commercialization, is to be a great outpouring of the sentiment of the people, a happy recollection of youth . . .
Sing if you can, play if you can, but if inherent or developed talent be not yours, be a part of an audience which will thrill with rhythm as music floats upon the air.
A thousand concerts await you. Great artists and little children have prepared for these days. Splendid bands will play. Orchestras will present their symphonies. Choruses will carol their melodies. You cannot afford to turn a deaf ear to these opportunities.
An essay “Music in Los Angeles” was penned, but not by local musical impresario Lyndon E. Behymer or another professional in the industry, but by the vice-president of The First National Bank of Los Angeles, John F. Burke. Notably, he made a direct connection between his institution and musical ones by observing that the Research Department of his bank, which also included the Pacific-Southwest Trust and Savings Bank and First Securities Company, “shows that there is materially in excess of $5,000,000 spent on music in this city annually.”
Moreover, there were some 10,000 active musicians, 122 elementary school orchestras and 27 in high schools, and that 27,000 music books were to be found in stores and libraries. Burke proclaimed that Los Angeles was “the center of musical activities” in the western United States, was the opera center of the west coast, and “that this city is the largest per capita market for musical instruments” in the nation.
Burke broke down the financial expenditures at theaters, schools, the Hollywood Bowl, the Philharmonic (which celebrates its centennial in 2019), the opera and elsewhere. He added that “the Woman’s Symphony Orchestra of Los Angeles is the oldest women’s symphony orchestra in the United States” and had sixty-five active members. Choral groups abounded in clubs, schools, and societies.
He added that a new venue was approaching completion in the “Municipal Coliseum,” known simply by the latter now and that “a more central location for outdoor musical entertainment [opens] this summer.” He observed that “a great curtain will shut off one half of the coliseum and make it possible to give concerts of all kinds at popular prices.” He claimed that the acoustics were excellent “and enunciators will be installed so that listeners in every section of this great open-air theater will be able to hear every word spoken or sung from a central platform.”
Burke cited the authority of the “Columbia Graphophone Company” for the statement that “Los Angeles uses more Grafonolas and records than any other city in the world” when calculated per capita. The City of Angels was right up with New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago as a musical center of the U.S. In fact, it was the only municipality in the country to have a “Bureau of Industrial Music,” through the efforts of the ubiquitous Chamber of Commerce.
Three days of pre-Music Week programs included performances in Hollywood, Highland Park, Glendale, and Pasadena of opera, piano music, children’s performances, and “Modern Mexican and Spanish Music” by Ines Briceno, former head of music in government schools in Mexico City, and her pupils.
For the regular slate of programming during the week, there were, on the first day, Saturday the 19th, many initial performances by pupils at music schools, as well as a “Great Music, Floral and Electric Parade,” the latter two grafted (!) on from typical parades offered in the city during the era.
Sunday the 20th was filled with band concerts at the Plaza, Exposition Park, Lincoln Park, Hollenbeck Park, Westlake Park, and Sycamore Grove. At Brookside Park in Pasadena, composer Arthur Farwell oversaw a “Community Music Festival” with a chorus and orchestra. An extravaganza at the Hollywood Bowl, titled “America Singing,” included “American negroes, Indians and all foreign born groups.” Naturally, church music was heavily emphasized on the Sabbath.
On Monday the 21st, there was quite a mixture of offerings, including military performers, modern music, religious music, community singing, children’s performances, and more band concerts at Pershing Square and Westlake Park. Then, there was the “Industrial Music” component, with performances by choruses from the Union Tool Company of Torrance, Southern California Edison, and the Pacific Electric Railway, the latter also presenting its company band.
The extensive offerings on Tuesday the 22nd included school orchestras, including two “foreign” ones on both sides of the Los Angeles River in the “Flats” of Boyle Heights and in an industrial corridor where Amelia School once educated black, Japanese, and Latino students. Performances were given by music and public schools, theater orchestras, choruses, small ensembles and others, including professionals and amateurs. More industrial music was presented by department and clothing store groups, the Southern Pacific railroad band, and the Los Angeles Herald newspaper delivery boys band.
On Wednesday the 23rd there were more music school recitals, performances by public schools, community singing, chorales, opera, piano recitals, and an interesting performance by the “American Women’s Overseas Service League” in an “ex-service women’s program.” Band concerts at Pershing Square, the Plaza, and Exposition Park were given by orchestras from theaters, schools, and the Salvation Army.
The 24th included some programs broadcast over the radio, including KFI and KHJ, the radio station of the Los Angeles Times, as well as some lectures and a diverse offering by Charles Farwell Edson of Chinese songs, poetic epigrams, war songs, pieces to Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology and others. There were more band concerts, industrial music and other offerings of the kind found on other days.
Friday the 25th had a great many amateur, music school and private and public school performances, including one from St. Mary’s Academy, a Catholic girls school near Inglewood, with instrumental and vocal performances. Agnes Temple was then a sophomore at the Academy and an excellent pianist, so perhaps she performed as part of the entertainment. More band concerts and industrial music presentations were given, as well, including a “Letter Carriers’ Band,” performing at Station C downtown.
Finally, the last day included performances by the Los Angeles Music Teachers Association, the Junior Community Chorus of Elysian Park, and pupils of music teachers. A band concert at Exposition Park included the Woman’s Symphony Orchestra along with singers, Russian ballet dancers, the Los Angeles Scottish [Bag]Pipe Band, and “America’s Bird Whistling Chorus.” There was a post-Music Week band concert at the same venue that included a 60-member band and “international music including folk dancing and music by the various national groups of Los Angeles.”
Additional listed presentations at the rear of the program included a daily “Children’s Hour;” more international offerings; the “Hollywood Californians Jazz Orchestra;” a quartet from the B’nai B’rith Temple; the “Ideals of Catholic Music;” more “Mexican-Spanish Music;” additional band and industrial music shows; oratorios; concerts on city playgrounds; music from settlement houses for immigrants; radio programs; events at public libraries; and a large number of events “received too late to classify in daily announcements.” Programs were also listed for events in Long Beach, Inglewood, South Pasadena and Eagle Rock.
Despite Mayor Cryer’s claim that Music Week was free from commercialism, this was hardly the case. Not only was there Burke’s economic analysis of music in the region, but the program was filled with advertisements from all manner of local businesses, music-related and not. This was also found in the detailed coverage of the week by the Times, including advertisements from businesses who hastened to offer Music Week deals.
The paper also ran many articles about the week’s programming, being a major promoter of the events and sponsor through its radio station. For example, the edition of 20 May covered the two-mile long parade in downtown with its “dazzling pageant of flower-bedecked floats, groups of marching choristers, bands and bagpipes, and almost every other method for the production of melody known to mankind.”
The route included Broadway from First to Twelfth streets and then back up Spring Street and was “lined with thousands of persons” to see over forty floats and those marching and performing in the parade. California Governor Friend Richardson joined Mayor Cryer and the City Council, whose president was Boyle Workman, cousin of Homestead owner Walter P. Temple, in a review at the parade’s end.
On the 21st, the Times covered a Hollywood Bowl concert and stated, “songs vibrant with the love of country, humanity and humanity’s God echoed voluminously through the Hollywood hills” in a performance before 10,000 spectators. The paper was sure to mention that:
One of the most popular numbers of the program was the rendition of “Old Black Joe” and other old favorites by the colored choirs of Los Angeles. Another feature was the singing of melodies that were chanted before ever the white man came, sung by Indian braves and their squaws.
This attempt at expressing diversity seems more than forced, given that the songs sung by black performers were almost certainly aimed at the tastes of the white audience and the songs of “Indian braves and their squaws” were probably seen as little more than a novelty and probably, if authentic, were from tribes far from Los Angeles.
At the week’s end, the Times returned to efforts to show diversity in the programming of the festival after praising a concert that “typified the American spirit” as “the main source of interest.” Specifically, the paper reported that, “of colorful attractiveness were the folk dances of the various nations,” including “the click of the castanets mingled with the weird tones of the Russian instruments used to accompany the Slavic dances.” Additionally, even French, Italian and “Czecho-Slovakian” music and dances “were introduced to the public for the most part unacquainted with their beauty and individuality.”
This program provides much detailed information about an event that was perhaps one of the most intricate and complicated mass public events of the era in greater Los Angeles and this at a time when week-long conventions, festivals and fairs were not at all uncommon.