Striking a Chord: “Official Bulletin, California Federation of Music Clubs,” December 1920

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

The stunningly rapid growth and industrialization of the American economy by the 1920s had so many ramifications, an important one being the dramatic increase in leisure time, particularly for the middle and upper classes of society. This allowed people to spend more of their time and money on entertainment of all kinds and, in some cases, to form and join clubs and organizations to support their interests and passions. Tonight’s highlighted artifact represents just one of many such examples, being the December 1920 issue of the Official Bulletin, California Federation of Music Clubs.

This organization was established in Los Angeles in 1918 and one of its guiding lights was Bessie Bartlett Frankel, whose father, Albert, was a cornet player and owner of the Bartlett Music Company, one of the mainstays of the industry in Los Angeles. Albert was a major supporter of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and, after he sold his business, he turned to real estate, with his most prominent venture being the 1921 purchase of the Union Oil Building, built a decade earlier, and which still stands at the northeast corner of Spring and Seventh streets. Bessie, who married insurance agent and cellist Cecil Frankel, became the head of the women’s committee of the Philharmonic and, in addition to being the founding president of the state music club federation, was the first vice-president of the national organization. Financial benefactor of the first string quartet concerts to be held in the Angel City, Bessie was also an amateur composer.

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Among the items in the publication is a discussion by Josephine Crew Aylwin, chair of the Course of Study Department, of what constituted a music study club, with the operational definition being that such an organization was “following a definite outline or course of study of educational value.” Moreover, the idea was to engage “not only the serious music student but the serious music lover who is seeking through our club to enlarge his musical vision.” Additionally, programs offered by clubs “must not be merely a display of the talent or technical achievements of any one of the participants, but as a whole have definite purpose, unity and educational value.” The rhetorical question was “is not its purpose, by united endeavor [of members], to stimulate and encourage each member and by so doing make the club as a whole a creditable, active organization and of inspirational value to the individual?” The outline of work varies based on locality with regard to proximity to “a musical center,” the size of the membership, and available material to bring a plan to fruition.

The goal of offering programs with “ensemble numbers which bring together members outside of club meeting” was desirable “as these develop closer friendship and stimulate a stronger club spirit.” They should also inspire members to conduct more research and generally put in more effort to understand the subjects raised at meetings. Aylwin noted that, “to further the advancement of worthy American music and our American artist,” there was a reminder that “the Keynote is ‘SERVICE’ and individual responsibility.”

The ubiquitous Lynden E. Behymer, the impresario who seemed to have his hand in virtually everything musical in Los Angeles for decades, wrote, upon becoming the director of the Department of Philanthropy for the federation, that, while he understood how important the work was, he was uncertain “where to begin when there are so many promising students” to reach and serve. He divided the work of the department into four areas: a Young Artists’ Contest, Community Music, American Music, and an Endowment Fund, and his article addressed the first of these. Specifically, Behymer noted that “all the prominent teachers of music, conservatories, music departments of clubs and colleges, public school and music school must be reached.” As the federation’s State Convention was coming in the spring and this preceded by contests at the local level, it was vital to cultivate talent and he asked “what better way is there in which to see our native genius than that of making state-wide opportunity for public hearing, with competent judges to vote upon the merits of each artist?”

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Each club in the federation should have a fund for prizes to contestants in the area served by the organization as well as money to send local winners to district and state competitions. On 12 November, the Los Angeles Music Teachers’ Association hosted an “Evening of Pleasure” from which “a snug sum” was secured to publish works from local composers and Behymer called for this to replicated throughout California for both composers and “young artist contestants as well.” He asked members to send reports of local activities and “additional suggestions that may help toward the furtherance and ultimate success of these ideals.”

C. Adelaide Trowbridge, president of the LAMTA, reported on “a year of steadily increasing interest, activity and membership” with programs that not only offered music performances by “discussions on topics of vital importance,” a successful member drive and, “perhaps best of all,” the event mentioned by Behymer. Held at the Gamut Club, a long-standing music association in Los Angeles founded by Behymer and others, where there was, at its location on Hope Street between 10th and 11th streets, the auditorium, as well as a ballroom, cardroom and a foyer “each giving out a delightful atmosphere of good fellowship, artistic taste and reminiscent of many a gathering of notable people.” A letter was sent with tickets to be sold at $1.10 apiece with a follow-up letter and phone calls to encourage sales and attendance. Despite the threat of rain, Trowbridge noted that “our party began with a most efficient reception committee extending cordial greeting” and “quaintly gowned maids” sold flowers.

A featured performer was Charles Wakefield Cadman (1881-1946), a recent arrival in Los Angeles who achieved renown for his compositions that reflected his avid interest in the music and culture of American Indians and who performed “a group of his own numbers.” Others who performed were dramatic soprano Carolyn Keller Carpenter and Norma Gould and her dancers, accompanied by a trio of musicians. After this program “all joined in the Grand March and a real ‘Jazz’ orchestra provided music for dancing.” While she could not say how much money was raised, Trowbridge wrote that the LAMTA “feels that it has justified its existence as an instrument of usefulness in instituting the work of the Federation in the interests of California Compositions” and hoped that other clubs would encourage composers and “in turn may reap the benefit of having a part in this splendid movement.”

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A report from Ben Field, the Federation’s secretary, the Gamut Club noted that “its musical and Bohemian life is sweet in the memory of many famous artists and numerous debutantes” since the organization was established in 1904. It was claimed that the organization, though founded exclusively for the promotion of music was one of just “two great cosmopolitan art clubs in the west” and that it was “revered wherever men and women love art, the world around” and “upholds all art, poetry, letters, painting, sculpture, the cinema, interpretive dancing, what you will.” This universal approach was underscored by the principle that “it is Bohemian, intellectually Bohemian.” Its approach to pageants and outdoor performances “gave inspiration to the popular current Mission and pilgrim productions which are recipients of such well deserved appreciation” and this, presumably, included John Steven McGroarty’s Mission Play, held at San Gabriel from the early 1910s through the early 1930s and which was avidly supported, financially and otherwise, by Walter P. Temple.

Field noted that the Club was looking to expand its library, including books, music and manuscripts and “at Yuletide the Gamut Club is wont to relax and indulge in its annual Christmas Jinks.” With this holiday event “the spirit of Christmas cheer and love dominates these occasions,” especially for actors, musicians, writers and artists, who were away from their homes, as well as relatives and friends of members who “are brought to our halls and made joyous and happy.” He observed that there were many “great world artists, prima-donnas, [and] statesmen, who have carried from its halls the insignia of fellowship” and he closed by stating that “in the Gamut Club the hand of welcome is eager and instant; appreciation, good cheer and love are characteristics not only of the holiday season, bit of all the year.”

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Another organization issuing a report was the “Wa-Wan Club,” formerly the Schubert Club and which took its new name, of course, from Cadman, who was inspired by Arthur Farwell, another well-known composer with a long-standing interest in American Indians and who wrote of the “Impressions of the Wa-Wan Ceremony of the Omahas” and established a Wa-Wan Press to publish so-called “Indianist” works. President Grace Widney Mabee, prominent in civic, social and musical circles in Los Angeles after her migration from Illinois several years prior, wrote that “the whole future of American music, art and drama is beginning to shape itself upon the requirements of the civic and national ideals of the community, of whose institutions it must be a necessary and valuable part.” To achieve this, “the Archaic Indian music is a treasure-house” as it was “beautiful in poetic imagery, exalted in thought and emotion, and a perfect medium for the expression of the people and the pledge of inter-tribal goodwill, helpfulness and peace among races that desired peace above all benefits.” The selection of the new name was reflective of this spirit (though, presumably, no native peoples were members of the club?)

In any case, there were five membership categories, including a limit of 100 Active members, 200 Affiliate members, a Student department of those between the ages of 14 and 24 that had nearly 70 in its ranks, Associate members who were patrons and supporters in philanthropic endeavors and of whom there were 270 persons, and an Honorary contingent. Mabee wrote that an “Altruistic Department” set up weekly offerings at the county hospital, juvenile hall, the Hollenbeck Home for seniors and the McKinley Home for Boys, which worked with boys directed there from the juvenile courts. There were also programs offered the second and fourth Wednesdays at the Alexandria Hotel ballroom, while there were occasional one-act plays, an Easter sacred music event and performances by dance schools presented during the year.

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Also highlighted was Virginia Calhoun, an actor and playwright, whose 1905 dramatic interpretation of Helen Hunt Jackson’s Ramona was praised as a fine example “to perpetuate the beauties of Ramona’s romance” and who was named “permanent chairman of our annual Helen Hunt Jackson Memorial Festival” held in March. While Calhoun was said to be “filled with a great love of California and its traditions” and her work lionized for “featuring the American Indian with his romance, religion and development to the Spanish Colonial period and through the pioneer day to the less romantic present commercial day,” the play was a paternalistic and sentimentalized presentation that, like the Mission Play, is light-years from our modern sensibilities. Finally, Mabee noted that the club had a benefit, called the “Masque of the Seasons,” for Serbs and the French still suffering from the privations of the world war concluded two years previously. She ended by noting that “the watchword of our club is ‘Service'” and that “with our talents we give pleasure and happiness to others and by so doing bring joy into our own lives.”

There were other reports of federation news and notes from individual clubs, as well as a directory of music teachers, including a few members of the Philharmonic Orchestra; one who offered a “nature music course” for mothers and teachers to pass on their children; and a professor at the University of Southern California’s College of Music; and music artists, including Cadman; Sylvain Noack, who was the concertmaster for the Philharmonic Orchestra, then in its second season; Trowbridge; soprano Ruth Hutchinson, who won the National Federation of Music Clubs nationwide contest in 1919; and the Trio Intime, comprising a flutist, cellist and harpist who were all soloists in the Philharmonic. Several of the teachers and quite a few of the artists were women, who were slowly making progress in the professional world, though gender and pay inequality were still issues of concern.

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This seventh issue of the first run of the bulletin is a fascinating look at the state of “serious music” in Los Angeles at the dawn of the 1920s and reflects how far Los Angeles and its support of music had come over the years.

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