Striking a Chord: “Pointing the Still-Misty Way to World Harmony” in a Program for Hollywood Bowl Summer Concerts, The Week of 21 August 1923

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

This coming week features a diverse menu of musical offerings at the Hollywood Bowl, one of the iconic entertainment venues in our region, with a Sound of Music sing-a-long; the thirty-second Mariachi USA program with fireworks; singer Carlos Vives with the Los Angeles Philharmonic; and two evenings of classical music by that orchestra, conducted by the dynamic Gustavo Dudamel, with works by Tchaikovsky, Piazolla, Villalobos and Arturo Márquez performed.

Nearly a century ago, there was nowhere near such a broad range of performers and composers at the venue with the music composed by white European and American men and listened to, if not entirely, then almost completely by Anglos. Today’s featured object from the Homestead’s collection is the program from the Bowl’s second season during the week of 21 August 1923.

Note the placement of the Bowl ad between one for the classic Harold Lloyd (who was a box holder at the venue) film “Safety Last,” and one for a Pacific Coast League baseball game between the Vernon Tigers and Los Angeles Angels!  Los Angeles Express, 22 August 1923.

It is notable to peruse the opening pages of the publication to see the names in the management committee; the Community Park and Art Association, which managed the venue until the following year, when the Bowl was deeded to Los Angeles County and the Hollywood Bowl Association formed to operate it; those who were contributors to a Guarantee Fund for the Symphony Under the Stars program; and the holders of boxes, and note that these were not just the ethnic majority, but, in most cases, the economic, political and social elite of the Angel City and environs.

The chair of the Bowl’s management committee was Frederick W. Blanchard, founder of the Fitzgerald and Blanchard Music Company, builder of Blanchard Hall, a well-known venue for serious music, and a founder of the Community Park and Art Association. That latter’s executive board was headed by Hollywood developer Charles E. Toberman, who also was pivotal in the creation of the El Capitan Theatre.

Los Angeles Record, 22 August 1923.

Directors included Blanchard; Allan C. Balch, a utility magnate with a deep interest in the arts; oil heir Aline Barnsdall of Barnsdall Park and her remarkable Hollyhock House; arts impresario of many years Lynden E. Behymer; Los Angeles Times publisher Harry Chandler; Los Angele developer extraordinaire William Mary Garland; Progressive reformer Dr. John Randolph Haynes; and Toberman.

Advisory Board members were specified by where they resided, so that the Los Angeles continent included oil producer and developer G. Allan Hancock, Dr. Norman Bridge; Pasadena’s included composer Arthur Farwell; Toberman was among the representatives for Hollywood; and there were one each from far-flung Van Nuys and Glendale!

Hollywood Citizen, 23 August 1923.

There were some women in positions of responsibility on these committees and boards, generaly referred to as linked to their husbands, such as Mrs. Chauncey Clarke (whose Santa Fe Springs estate is a historic site in that former oil town), Mrs. William C. de Mille (William was a screenwriter and brother of film director Cecil), or given the married appellation with their own names, as in Mrs. Marion Fairfax Marshall or Mrs. Eleanor Brodie Jones. In all, there were two dozen women’s names among nearly seventy overall.

The guarantors for that fund included Blanchard; Hancock; Toberman; Advisory board chair Frederick Kimball Stearns (a pharmaceutical company owner); Mrs. Clarke; actress Florence Roberts; venue manager William Edson Strobridge; and some organizations including the Hollywood Community Chorus, Hollywood Womans Club and the Christie Film Company.

The motion picture industry presence was also reflected in the list of box holders, with Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford and his namesake son; de Mille; the Christie Film Company; Warner Brothers; Sid Grauman; director Ernst Lubitsch; and actors Harold Lloyd, Mae Murray, Antonio Moreno, Alla Nazimova, Herbert Rawlinson, and Larry Semon on the roster. Other prominent Angelnos were composer Carrie Jacobs Bond; Behymer; Barnsdal; former Senator Cornelius Cole, an early settler of the Hollywood area; Edward L. Doheny, Jr.; Garland; Irving Hellman; Hancock; William G. Kerckhoff, another utility figure of note; Toberman; and musician Charles Modini Wood.

The featured offerings for the “Request Night” on the 21st were Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, the “Pathetique”, and Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite, while Strauss’ Blue Danube waltz, a work by Percy Grainger, and a piece by well-known operetta composer Victor Herbert were also performed. Two days later, a movement from Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony; a piece by Carl Maria von Weber, and other works were played with the featured soloist being Ossip Gabrilowitsch, the renowed Russian pianist.

On the 24th, the soloist was baritone Lawrence Tibbet for “Newspaper Night” and an all-Wagner program with pieces from Loehngrin, Tannhauser, Siegfried, and the Valkyrie from the Ring Cycle. The closing concert for the week on the 25th was “Detroit Night” because the host was Stearns, who founded the Motor City’s symphony orchestra (and it was noted that “All Fords Park Free” thanks to local dealers of that make). Gabrilowitsch was the guest conductor and pieces included Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, Mussorgsky’s “Sunrise Over the Kremlin,” the “Caprice Espagnole” by Rimsky-Korsakov and an overture by Weber. Program notes were, of course, provided for all of the pieces performed.

A “Musicians’ Directory” provided opportunity for local professionals to advertise their instruction, including singer Constance Balfour, pianist Sadie Douglass, violinist Sol Cohen, flautist Jay Blowe, oboeist Henry de Busscher and others. A few musicians paid for their own individual ads, among these being baritone A. Herrold de Grosse, vocalist/composer Abbie Norton Jamison and local painist Olga Steeb, one of the Angel City’s first musicians to become renowned in Europe. The Fitzgerald Music Company (Blanchard sold his interest previously), the Platt Music Company, G. Schirmer Music Stores; The Starr Piano Company; the Birkel Company, and the Southern California Music Company also had prominent ads.

Other performances and series also advertised, with the religious pageant, The Wayfarer, and featuring 7,000 cast members, being presented “on the world’s largest stage in the Coliseum” from 8-15 September. The Philharmonic Auditorium promoted its “new concert course” for its first season in 1923-1924, featuring “The World’s Greatest Artists at Popular Prices” through nine events, including a Wagner concert, artists from Victor Records, and featuring the young violin star Jascha Heifetz (whose future wife, actor Florence Vidor, was a box holder).

Behymer’s series at the same venue was declared to be “the Greatest Galaxy of Stars in Twenty-Five Years” including soprano Amelita Galli-Curci; contralto Ernestine Schumann-Heink; Gabrilowitsch; Irish tenor John McCormack; violinist Efrem Zimbalist (whose namesake son was later a famous actor); the towering bass operatic sensation Feodor Chaliapin; and tenor Tito (spelled “Tita”) Schipa. The Los Angeles Chamber Music Society, presided over by Balch with Mrs. E.A. Bryant as vice-president and publisher Sam T. Clover as secretary-treasurer, announced their second season was to begin in late October with two quartets, a trio and accompanying musicians, while the program was to be announced later through its offices at the Gamut Club, a long-standing music organization in the Angel City.

Other advertisers included stores like the Vogue Company, Mullen & Bluett, Barker Brothers, and Harris & Frank; car dealers Paul G. Hoffman (Studebaker), Tom R. Johnson (Chevrolet) and Don Lee (Cadillac); film companies like Famous Players-Lasky Corporation and its Paramount Pictures, United Studios, home of First National, Joseph Schenck and other producers, and Christie Studios; real estate developers and tracts like the Taft companies, Melrose Park, and Hollywoodland in Hollywood; restaurants like the upscale Victor Hugo and the more prosaic Chicago Chop Suey on Highland just north of Hollywood Boulevard; the “Beer for Thirst”, Eastside, made by the Los Angeles Brewing Company.

There are also a couple of essays of interest, with the first being “The Art of Listening to Music” by Francis Kendig, a pianist and Los Angeles Times music critic, who opined that “vew few people who hear [serious?] music are able to follow it for any length of time and to really assimilate its inner meaning.” The initial key to this deeper understanding was to know the rhythm and the reader was encouraged to “start counting to the music,” though there was the stern warning that “certain ‘jazz’ tunes are almost uncountable” though allowances were made for the “worthier departure from the straight and narrow path, the compositions of the ultramodern.” For those who were lost on the first measure, they were told to tap out the rhythm with a finger, but not with the foot, so as to avoid disturbing others. He implored, though, “above all, feel the rhythm, or all is lost.”

Right behind in importance, continued Kendig, was melody and the advice was to “let your mind follow the melodic outline,” though this might require “keen ears, for often the melody is lost in a sea of harmony.” Important, as well, was the value of repetition which constituted “following with the mind’s eye contrast and similarity of tonal design” with musical “rhyme” more perfect than in poetry. Because composition was in phrases with four measures being a “sentence,” attentive listeners were to “listen to the balance of phrases which occur in four measure lots.”

The best approach to enjoy a concert was to get the program as soon as possible and read and absorb the material discussing the music, such as the program notes (or, perhaps, essays like Kendig’s!) Listening to the type of music presented in advance, knowing terms, and perceiving “the relative importance in the world of music of the numbers to be given” were also touted. If symphonic music was deemed “deep,” “hear some of the numbers on the phonograph record” and play the recording over and over to follow the melody during one listening and the rhythm in another, while paying attention to the instruments and the four-measure phrases, as well. Those who could play were asked to get the sheet music and learn what they could.

When hearing the violin, Kendig recommended, follow the melody, while for the piano focus on rhythm and those listening to vocal music should “note the quality of the voice” and, if possible, the lyrics. It wasn’t the hearing that mattered, so much as the comprehension, because “to bask in the loveliness of beautiful music becomes only tiresome unless one can grasp through it all definite patterns in tone.” Reading about music was also suggested, but this only worked “if one selects good books and hears music between the chapters.”

Kendig’s essay concluded,

Do not be disappointed in not being able to understand all the music. Nobody does. One of the chief reasons that music is so hypnotic for its devotees is because it is constantly revealing new depths and beauties. Be happy to understand part of the music . . . and above all, keep listening.

Marion Bowen, assistant the Bowl secretary Mrs. J.J. [Artie Mason] Carter, contributed “The Spirit of the Bowl” waved very poetically in her essay, beginning with the proclamation that “we are a part of a new consciousness” in that those who attend the summer symphonic concerts “are the advance army for a new democracy,—we have stumbled upon a new ideal” for music. The claim was this was “apart from wealth, jewels, or glamor” and instead was for the concept that “our wealth is friendliness, tlerance and love; our jewels the stars in the open sky; our glamor the breath of the hills in night-time.

The music wasn’t just that performed by people on stage, but was in harmony with breezes, “sighing grasses,” crickets, “and those infinite little night-sounds which palpitate the air about us, whispering a thousand mysterious tales.” In just two seasons, the Bowl and those associated with it “have freed Art from all those absurd and distressing conventions which Man had erected” and presented it to everyone.

Then, it was time to raise to the pedestal her boss, who “like Joan [of Arc], first heard the Voices, annd we followed, amazed at her strength, thrilled and upheld by her inspiration.” From there, inscribed on this shrine were the name of Alfred Hertz, who conducted the first season, and Emil Oberhoffer, the “Poet of the Symphony,” who led the orchestra during the current one. Music critic Bruno David Ussher was quoted as writing that “perhaps it is a sign of a new age to see thousands and thousands worship simply yet not less devoutly in the shrines of Orpheus as they do at the Bowl” and linking a “new dignity” and “new democracy” to the First World War as these “freed people, made them happy, able to find their higher selves.”

Taking the baton from Ussher, Bowen concluded in the clouds:

We are a part of a new consciousness. We came for Summer Symphonies, and found the Spirit of the Bowl, that waiting Spirit, who, hovering over silent multitudes, whispered mightly to us of the eternal truth of simplicity. We have lived that American democracy, not of “I am as good as he,” but “He is as good as I.” May not this Bowl-Spirit be pointing the still-misty way to World Harmony.

The Spirit of the Bowl in 1923 was musically imbued, we can safely assume, entirely, or nearly so, in white souls, but, just about a century later, there is inclusive programming for a more diverse audience at the venue with upcoming programming including a live version of DJ, rapper and producer D-Nice’s Club Quarantine brought to a live setting and an evening of performances, led by African American conductor Thomas Wilkins, and highlighting Black composers like Ulysses Key, William Grant Still and Margaret Bonds.

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