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Reminiscences of Maywood Courtright

Our Trip West in 1934 (1935?)

I don’t know whether it was Yvette or I who first got the idea of a trip west; I am not even sure of the year. It seems to me Yolande was six and Alan 4 but they may have been a year older. I had completed the work required to obtain my masters degree in music at Columbia University and also obtained my life teachers certificate from Western State Teacher’s College in Kalamazoo, that is, I took the required courses there. The certificate was issued by the state of Michigan. A doctor’s degree was the logical next step but my interests were so scattered I couldn’t decide what field it should be in. I wrote to the U. of Michigan twice at about six month intervals, the first time inquiring about getting a doctorate in musicology, the second time about a doctorate in school administration tho I had no desire to work in administration. That was where the money was, not a very good reason to want to be a school administrator. I had a vague idea of teaching in college and enrolled in a teacher’s placement bureau in Chicago. They sent me notice of a job opening in a small college just north of the city, near Evanston, and I drove there for an interview. They wanted a band director so it came to nothing. I was still directing the Heights band but wanted to get rid of the job.

Having gone east in the summers of 1932 and ‘33 we began thinking about a trip west for 1934. My only trip west had been ten years before when I went to Seattle and down the west coast by train. Yvette had never been west at all. We got maps from the oil companies and literature about the national parks and began mapping out itineraries. To salve my conscience somewhat I inquired about music courses at the U. of Colorado in Boulder and found their eight week summer school was divided into two halves so one could enroll for four weeks instead of the full eight. I wasn’t interested in the academic credit and enrolled in the first half, giving us the rest of the summer to explore the national parks. We decided on our route then sent to the headquarters of the Conoco (Continental) Oil Company in Denver for their route maps, a series of maps put together in book form with your route marked in yellow. Napa maps were all free in those days. The maps were a wonderful service for tourists. They were in loose-leaf notebook form and the backs of the maps had much useful information about the region you were passing thru. Standard Oil and other oil companies later followed Conoco’s lead in putting out these maps.

In order to help pay the expenses of our trip I put a notice on the bulletin board at school indicating we would have room for two students for a trip to the west and what the summer would cost them. We were not sure anyone would be interested but a few days later Marjory Risk came to me to ask about going. She played French horn in my high school orchestra nd we had known the Risk family since before Yolande was born. She and her cousin, “Midge,” Malpuss, a student in Muskegon High, the same age as Marj wanted to take the trip. Both girls would be seniors the following school year. With four adults in the car and two children I was afraid there would not be enough room in the car trunk for all of our baggage. I got some strap-iron and build a rack to fasten to the rear of the car next to the bumper. I used the high school machine shop to drill holes to fasten the thing together. It didn’t survive the whole trip.

When school was out in the spring we headed south around the end of Lake Michigan then went west thru Davenport, Des Moines and Omaha. From Omaha we followed the North Platte River then turned south to Denver when we came in sight of the snow-covered Rocky Mountains. Alan couldn’t believe he was seeing snow in June. The road ran parallel to the mountains for fifty or sixty miles at perhaps 50 miles distance before it turned west again. We stopped at the Conoco headquarters in Denver to get more maps as we had changed our itinerary by then, deciding to go on to Los Angeles after my 4 weeks at college were over. We got into Boulder in the afternoon and went immediately to the college to find a place to stay.

We had considerable trouble to find a place to stay as classes had begun and suitable places were all taken. On the second day we found a place on the first floor of a house owned by a Mrs. Green. There were several other apartments in the same house which was fairly close to downtown. Our living room opened onto a porch only a step or two above the sidewalk.

I enrolled for classes, then went with Marj to the high school to see if she could be enrolled in the summer band program. The band director, a man in his late twenties or early thirties, was glad to have her and there was a French horn available for her to use. Marjorie had developed into a very good horn player. Rehearsals at the high school were every day and Midge usually went along tho she didn’t play.

I took a course in orchestration, enrolled in the college orchestra dn a course in which we discussed and played thru music for school orchestras. A day or two after classes started a notice was sent around that a class in composition would be offered, to be taught by one of the piano teachers. I enrolled in that then, too. The music school was full of pianists that summer as Percy Grainger, the British [sic] pianist and composer, was in residence and offering master classes in piano. I remember one girl, about 25, I think, who was in my class in composition, who was studying under Grainger. She was also a whizz at composition. I had heard Percy Grainger play in both Fort Wayne and Muskegon but I never got a glimpse of him while he was at Boulder. We left Boulder in the middle of the summer session, of course.

Except for the class in composition my three other classes were taught by the same man, a very excellent violinist but the poorest teacher I have ever had. I wasn’t interested in credit but I felt sorry for the rest of the students in the class who were working for a degree. Besides teaching at the university he had many engagements to play and wouldn’t show up for class at all. When he was there he would get to ramblining off on a side track and would hardly touch on the assignment at all. Just the same he expected his students to pass a rigid final examination.

The only instrument we had brought along on the trip was Yolande’s violin and I used it in the class school orchestra literature but in the college orchestra, which rehearsed on the stage in the auditorium, I played string bass. I was the only bass player except for the final rehearsal and concert when a student joined me. There are two types of bass bows, the German and the French, the latter similar to a cello bow so it was easy for me to use. All of the bows, however, were German type and I had to adapt myself to using them. It felt awkward but the teacher - the violinist - evidently thought I was quite a good bass player and suggested to my composition teacher - the pianist, who was also excellent, that we do one of Bach’s Brandenburg concertos, one with piano, violin, viola, cello, flute and bass, as one of the numbers of the concert at the end of the session. The bass part was contrapunal and independent and required some fast scrambling around on the fingerboard but it wasn’t too difficult. I was glad to have the chance to play with some real artists.

The representative of one of the New York music publishing companies visited our orchestra literature class one day and I recognized his name as the man I had corresponded with when I had sent in some compositions for beginning orchestra with the idea of having them published. When I spoke to him after class he remembered having received the manuscripts but apologized for having done nothing about them. We sat in his car and discussed terms but that was the last I ever heard of my compositions. I had written them, about a dozen short pieces, with the idea of making it easier to combine string and wind instruments in a beginning orchestra, the strings being built so they are easier to play in the sharp keys, the winds, on the contrary, finding the flat keys simpler. At the time I was teaching all of the instrumental music in the grades, I used them with my beginning orchestra, writing out the individual parts by hand.

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Alan's Hearing Loss
Recreation and Exploration

Last modified on 16 April 2018 @ 23:24