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Albert Maywood Courtright II

Reminiscences of Maywood Courtright

We Move Back to the Heights

By the time Yolande started first grade Yvette had found a one storey house on Reynolds Street in the Heights. It was the last house on the street and was next to the Grand Trunk RR tracks which separated the Heights from Muskegon and had a large, ugly front porch in front, the lower part of which was covered with stucco like the rest of the house. Our neighbors to the rear were the Jacobson’s with a boy whom they called “Sonny” who was Alan’s age and a girl a few years older than Yolande. Her name was Dorothy and she was one of my violin students at Lindberg School where Yolande attended first grade. I was also giving lessons to Dorothy’s cousin, Gerald Jacobson, who lived across the street from us.

The depression had begun to affect Europe as well as the United States by 1934 and I was able to get some violins from Germany at a very low price. I ordered several full size and at least four three-quarter size. Many of the children in the fifth grade were too small for a full sized instrument. Yolande had been exposed to music from the time she was born and I knew she had a good sense of rhythm and could carry a tune so I started her off on one of the small violins while she was still five. She took to it like a duck to water. Correct intonation and bowing seemed to come naturally. We had the use of another piano too, an old player piano operated by compressed air pumped by your feet. They had been popular around 1910 and 1920. The music was recorded on perforated paper rolls which were placed in an opening behind the music rack. Alan must have been four when I started teaching him to play the piano. I remember inviting all of my students in our end of town to our house for a recital. Yvette invited their mothers and served a lunch afterwards. Yolande and Alan both performed. Alan had to scratch his ear while he was playing his piece but he didn’t miss a note or lose the rhythm.

The reason that we moved back to the Heights from Muskegon was that the school board resumed paying us in cash instead of script and at the same time made it a rule that all Heights teachers had to live in the Heights. The idea, as I noted before, was to help Heights property owners pay their taxes which in turn allowed the school board to pay the teachers.

Until the depression hit, my salary had been going up a couple of hundred dollars each year but after the school board began paying us in cash again my salary dropped to around $1400 a year. We were glad to get that, however, as many people were living with no income at all. What enabled us to live, and fairly well too, was that prices had hit rock bottom. Yvette made all of her own and the children’s clothes besides my shirts, pyjamas etc. We never wasted any money foolishly except to drive to Peoria or to Ft. Wayne, where Raymond lived, at Christmas. With gasoline at 8 cents a gallon it was not an expensive trip. Sometimes the family would meet at Evalyn’s in Columbus, Ohio, or at Brooks’ in Sheldon, Ill., where he was high school principal, taught physics and chemistry, coached all of the sports and I don’t remember what else besides.

I scratched around to find any after school jobs I could that paid a little cash. One job I remember was putting in the graduate’s name on his diploma for several of the small high schools in the vicinity. I used old English lettering and black india ink. I believe I charged 35¢ a name which the school board paid, not the student. I had a half dozen private violin students who came to our house on Saturdays for lessons; one dollar for an hour of my time. String bass players who could read music were scarce, those who played in dance bands usually played by ear and plucked the strings instead of using the bow so I was often asked to play the bass for musical shows such as Oklahoma or Annie Get Your gun. I didn’t join the musicians union but there wasn’t much they could do about it. Getting a player from out of town would have cost a lot more than hiring me. We were paid both for the rehearsal time and for the show. I could have earned more by joining the union and playing with a dance band but I found dance music too monotonous and didn’t want to be out so late on weekends. I did fill in on the base once or twice when an orchestra could not get a bass player or the bass player was sick. I didn’t feel comfortable in a nightclub.

At Christmas time and Easter some of the larger Protestant churches had a tradition of performing Handel’s Messiah and other oratories with full orchestra and the church choir. The Dutch Reformed churches - there were many of them in Muskegon, Grand Haven, Holland and other towns along Lake Michigan - all put their choirs together for the Messiah a week or two before Christmas. Well known singers were hired as soloists and the orchestra members were paid for one rehearsal and the performance. The choir members learned the music during their regular choir rehearsal in their own church. I played cello, viola, bass and once I played oboe at a performance in Grand Haven. The pay varied from $5 to $10.

Another paying job that came around every year was the memorial service at the Elks Club on Western Avenue. Charley Sutton, a trumpet player, who worked for Beerman’s music store, was an Elk and got a small orchestra together, two or three violins, viola, cello, bass, drums, clarinet, flute, cornet, trombone and piano. We would have one Sunday afternoon rehearsal. The memorial service was also on Sunday afternoon. We got regular union wages, the only other non-union player in the orchestra was the flute player, Helen Bloom.

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The May Festival
Camping at Interlochen in Northern Michigan

Last modified on 15 April 2021 17:59