I got acquainted with Emmet Beebe, the only string instrument repairman and violin maker in the Muskegon area when I took my cello to him to see if he could do anything about its occasional harsh tone that would pop out in the most unexpected places. He was a cellist and when he learned that I also played violin he suggested that we call Al Torgesen, the Norwegian viola player, whom I already knew, and Jack Rillema, an excellent violinist that I had heard about but didn’t know personally, and form a string quartet. I would play second violin. Emmet was separated from his wife and lived alone in his repair shop, a bare room full of the odd parts of violins and other instruments. That is where we practiced once a week. Both Emmet and Al had plenty of string quartet music, Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven… I don’t recall that we ever performed anywhere, we just practiced for the enjoyment of playing fine music.
When Emmet died unexpectedly not long after, Jack, Al and I wanted to continue playing quartets. We found a violinist by the name of Ralph Carlson who was willing to practice with us once a week and I switched to cello. Yvette and I were busy finishing the first of our concrete block houses then and we often met for practice in a bare, unfinished room in the new house. Alan and Yolande would be put to bed in another part of the house where the room had been plastered and furniture moved in. We seldom quit before eleven p.m.
The Muskegon Woman’s Club had a building of its own on Webster Street next to the Hackley Art Gallery. There was an auditorium seating two or three hundred people with a small stage where Sunday afternoon concerts were put on during the winter moths. I played there with a great many different music groups. The first time I think was with Etzel Wilhoit when we played the Bach double violin concerto. I played cello with Etzel on violin and Clayton Horne on piano when we played the Mendelssohn trio. I played string bass in the Schumann “Trout” quintet with Francis Martin violin, Alvin Martin cello, Alfred Togeson viola and Francis Hopper, organist at the Episcopal church on the piano. France Hopper was a very fine musician and he enjoyed playing music of such early composers as Vivaldi and Corelli as much as I did. When we played music of the Baroque period he had his harpsichord moved to where we were performing in order to obtain the authentic feeling of that time. Robert Hays, the organist to succeeded Horace Hollister at the Congregational Church asked me to play cello and work with Torgeson on viola and Mrs. Kathryn Tryon, violin on the Schumann piano quintet. It has a tricky middle section but we eventually mastered it and played it at the Woman’s Club. We rehearsed at Mrs. Tryon’s - she had a grand piano - and spent half the eventing discussing music and musicians.
The Hackley Art Gallery was another of lumber baron Hackley’s contributions to the cultural life of Muskegon. It was a classical building of white sandstone situated on Webster Street between the Hackley Library and the woman’s club building. Across the street to the east was Hackley School, a grade school which occupied part of the grounds of Hackley Park located only two blocks south of the main shopping street, Western Avenue. The curator of the art gallery when I first arrived in Muskegon was a woman of 65 or 70. When she retired she was replaced by a young man named [illegible] who was much more active in trying to build up the patronage of the gallery. One of his methods was to invite musical groups or soloists to perform in the main gallery on Sunday afternoons. He was a good pianist himself but I don’t know that he ever played except for his own amusement. I invited him once to give a lecture and demonstration to my high school orchestra to show the parallel development of painting and music in the history of art. He illustrated the change in styles by playing pieces on the pano by composers from Couperin to Bartok. He had heard that I attempted to compose music and asked if I had some composition that could be played at the gallery. I didn’t have anything specific but I put three compositions together that I had been working on and called it a string quartet. We presented it one Sunday, Eldred Martin playing first violin, Ralph Carlson second violin, Alfred Torgeson viola and I played cello. It wasn’t much of a composition but it was a novelty. There were few composers in the Muskegon area. I played with a number of different musical groups at the gallery as I did at the Woman’s Club.
Last modified on 16 April 2018 @ 23:31