Just why did I decide to study music at college? Was it the road of least resistance? Since Mom felt that Grandpa's and Dad's music filtered down to me, she always said I should study music. She felt that I was a "natural" for a music teacher.
To me farming was a great life full of interesting things to do. I had thoughts about studying agriculture in college so I could help Dad really make a success of the farm. However, Mom and Dad had convinced me that the farm wasn't for me. A farmer's life was hard and didn't pay enough. Besides, Dad joined Mom in insisting that I had great musical talents. Hadn't Aunt Myrtle, my piano teacher, told my Mom years before that I had something "special" in my fingers? Mom reminded me of that all those years as she sat with me while I practiced my lessons.
Yes, the decision to major in music was the road of least resistance. Moreover, after meeting Willis Rich from Bethel College, I knew that road was the only way I could get a scholarship. I really wanted to go to college, any college, and I really needed a scholarship to be able to go.
I have to admit that there were times I thought about a career in business,
biology or chemistry. Nevertheless, as I look back over my life, I'm still
glad that I majored in music education, and I'm grateful for the opportunity
I was given to attend Bethel College.
Professor Hohmann, My Piano Teacher
My piano teacher at Bethel was a man, Professor Hohmann. I had never known a man who was a piano teacher. Since all my teachers had been women, I assumed that teaching piano was a woman's job. In fact, in my mind, a grown man's fingers weren't really designed for playing the piano. Hammering, sawing, milking cows and such were fine, but not playing the piano. Perhaps I could accept playing the piano for fun, but I could not imagine doing it for a business or profession.
Professor Hohmann's hair was thick, black and curly. He was constantly running his fingers through it. At first, I thought he had a scalp problem or something. Later I learned that it was his way of expressing himself, either when I made a mistake or when he was pleased with what I was doing.
Outside the classroom we students would always refer to Professor Hohmann as "Hohmann." "Hohmann said that, Hohmann did that!" However, we really had great respect for him. He was Professor, Mister or even Dr. Walter H. Hohmann, head of the Music Department at Bethel College, when we spoke about him to others.
Professor Hohmann's studio was in what was known as the "Music Hall."
The Music Hall was about one hundred feet north of the Ad building. It
was a wooden frame building with two floors and a basement. The main floor
was divided into three rooms. The music theory classroom was on the left,
in the center was Professor Hohmann's studio, and on the right was the
studio of Professor Suderman, the vocal instructor. The three upper rooms
were used for various music education classes. As I recall, all the classrooms,
upper and lower, had some kind of piano in them.
The basement was divided into piano practice rooms. Many of the music students were locals around Newton and could practice at home. Of course, I had to rent a piano by the semester. Where they got those old pianos, no one knows! I believe most of them were donated to the college by people breaking up housekeeping or were purchased from an estate sale. Just hand-me-downs, that's what they were, and really not good instruments. Many times the keys would stick and that was aggravating. If I were lucky, I could practice on one I liked. Too often, however, the rightful renter of my choice piano would ask me to leave so he or she could practice.
Since there was no sound treatment anywhere in the building, during an average day or evening, I could hear piano students practicing all kinds of music--everything from "ditties to Beethoven."
I could also hear the vocal students. Why in the world didn't they do something to deaden those sounds of the "ah, ah, ah, ah, ah," up, and the "ah, ah, ah, ah," down, over and over; and then, move the exercise up a half step and do it again? Whether the voices were screeching or pleasant, male or female, freshmen or seniors, they all sounded like a mess to me in the Music Hall! I didn't think I could stand all that racket, but like eating, "when you get hungry enough, you eat!" If I didn't practice, I wouldn't be ready for the next scheduled lesson with Professor Hohmann.
Oh, yes, I mustn't forget the restrooms. These were to the left and
right of Professor Hohmann's studio. As you might gather, they were noisy
spots and it didn't make much difference which toilet was flushed, the
entire company of students and teachers knew about it.
Steinway Pianos, a Pair
Hohmann's study was something different. He had two Steinway pianos side by side. Imagine! Steinway pianos! They weren't upright instruments either, they were "grand" pianos--two black ebony Steinway pianos. What a thrill to play one of them! He always sat at the one on my left. For some reason, his piano seemed nicer than mine.
Week after week, semester after semester, year after year, I took piano
lessons from Hohmann sitting right there at one of those Steinway pianos.
He gave me all kinds of music. Some I liked and some I didn't. It didn't
matter whether I liked his selection of music or not. I was expected to
learn to play what he "dished up!"
My Piano Recital
My graduation recital requirement for getting out of Bethel was constantly with me. How could I ever memorize enough music to fill a complete program? Being a music education major, with piano as my instrument, such a recital was naturally a requirement for graduation and a degree.
When I would think about that final recital, at times my remembrance
of my Excelsior school experience with the piano contest would get the
best of me. The day came and I "psyched" myself so I could get through
the entire program. I only got a grade of "B," though, and I was sure I
should have had an "A." My professor, Walter H. Hohmann, and I played a
two-piano version of Grieg's A minor Concerto. He had selected the parts
we were to omit, but to this day I think he forgot to properly play those
passages which contained the to-be-omitted phrases. Yes, I still believe
that I should have had that "A," but unfortunately he was the one person
grading, not me! I got the "B!" I suppose that an "A" would have made me
as good as he and that would have been unacceptable. Incidentally, I never
again had an opportunity to play the two-piano version of that concerto.
Department of Music
Glenn D. McMurry
Tuesday May 23, 1939 8:15 p.m.
BETHEL COLLEGE CHAPEL
Pathetique Sonata--No. 13 Beethoven
Grave--Allegro di moto e conbrio
Beethoven was born in Bonn, Prussia, in 1770. The
This composition represents a type of program music
Pastorale - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Scarlotti
Scarlotti wrote exclusively for the Clavier
A Legend of the Plains - - - - - - - - - - - C. Cadman
Charles Wakefield Cadman is an American
And though long she has slept.
Valsik - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - J. Mojkres
Edvard Greig was born in Norway in 1843 and
Professor W. H. Hohmann at the second piano.
The A Cappella Choir
I'm 4th from the left in the back row
In addition to teaching piano, Professor Hohmann was the A Cappella Choir director. It was my great desire to be in that choir. I just hoped he would decide I could really sing.
Most people can sing. God took care of that! Some musicologists insist that right from the start, all human beings, male or female, can sing. They believe that, with early training, even those considered to be monotones can be taught to sing. Mom always said she couldn't "carry a tune in a milk bucket." But she could sing. Everything is a matter of degree, and she had her degree. Because she became hard-of-hearing at an early age, she couldn't really differentiate perfectly between various pitches. However, one could recognize the tune she was singing. Mom loved to sing and hear others sing, especially her favorite hymns.
I didn't have a hearing problem at all! I have always had a good set of ears and the nervous system that went with them. I don't have what is known as "perfect" pitch, but I have good "relative" pitch. When Jean, my daughter, was very young, perhaps five or six years old, her mother started to give her piano lessons. In fact, we always said she learned her "ABC's" at the piano. Soon I discovered she had that uncanny ability to recognize musical tones. I would say to her, "Jeannie, sing an "A" for me." Immediately, she would sing that note without hesitation. Then, I would go to the piano and sound an "A," and by darn, she was right. As well, if I would strike a note on the piano, within a reasonable range, of course, she could tell me what note it was. What a talent! Having perfect pitch, however, does have its drawbacks. For example, the person with perfect pitch will suffer when singing with a group that lets the pitch "slip" down or up, ever so slightly. Such a situation becomes very discordant to that person's ears. Also, if the music is being transposed from what is on the written page, the perfect-pitch person has great difficulty.
Professor Hohmann always hoped to get at least one person with perfect pitch in his choir. In that way, he didn't have to sound a note on the piano to get everyone ready to sing. He would give strict warning that we were to listen for that tone and be prepared to start.
For those who wanted to be in the A Cappella Choir, "try-outs" were a "must" at the beginning of the year.
"Be in my studio between the hours of two and four for tryouts," he would say. The notice was posted on the bulletin board as well.
"Sing a song, any song," Hohmann would instruct the student.
He'd determine whether the student could produce steady tones or had a continual waver in his or her voice. He'd determine how low and how high the singer could go. One's speaking voice was also important to him so he would always engage the student in conversation. I can't begin to elaborate the things that "rang bells" in his head. He made lots of notes as he spent considerable time with each student who was a candidate for the choir.
The final list of who was going to be in the A Cappella Choir, that terrific choir, would be posted several days later. The suspense was hard to bear, but finally, there it was! Hohmann always hoped to find about 12 people for each voice range, soprano, alto, tenor and bass. He also looked for potential solo voices. Beautiful solo voices added color to his choir, and he knew how to use them in the best way.
There it was, "Glenn McMurry," in the tenor section. I made it! For some reason I was always classed as a first tenor. It was hard to sing those high notes. I would rather have been singing second tenor.
"Stretch up your voice. Get up there, you can do it. Listen, listen with both ears. The human voice can always go a mite higher or lower," Hohmann said. "If you can't hear the persons on either side of you, you are singing too loud."
All A Cappella Choir rehearsals were held in the chapel. Hohmann always had all the music for a specific rehearsal laid out on the stage floor. He had us seated in front of him in the four front rows of the center section of the chapel: first row, high sopranos on his left and first altos on his right; second row, second sopranos on his left and second altos on his right; third row, high tenors on his left and baritones on his right; fourth row, second tenors on his left and basses on his right. I always stood between the same men in the high tenor section. This arrangement never changed. I'm mentioning all this to point out how well organized we all were. Hohmann had method in his madness. He never deviated from his routines.
Roll was taken every day. If you were not at rehearsal, he wanted to know why! Too many skips and you were out, and that was just the way it was! Professor Hohmann set certain standards for us. Although he was not a man to show anger, we all knew when he didn't approve of our actions, and he had our respect.
Yes, we had to follow several regulations. It is one thing to sing beautifully, and it is another thing to look nice as well. As we always wore black robes with white collars, it wasn't too hard to look nice. The ladies weren't to wear gaudy jewelry, preferably none at all. Nothing worn was to detract from the over-all effect. All hairdos were to be conventional, no army cuts or wild-like arrangements. We were to be "nice looking young people."
Hohmann had a number of warm-up exercises he used at almost every rehearsal. First came "Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah", up and down the scales, and then down and up the same way. He taught us to say "ah" together. He also taught us how to use short "ah's" and cut them off together.
Singing as a group was very, very important. No voice was to "stick-out" from the others. Hohmann's hands controlled every nuance. Each phrase began and ended correctly, sometimes sharply and sometimes delicately. We were well trained!
Sometimes, Hohmann would divide us into quartets and listen to us. Most of our music was performed by memory. If you had to sing your part alone, everyone knew, in a hurry, whether you knew the music. That was tough! With someone singing on both sides, one could cheat a little. We all did that at times, but knowing that we might be put on the spot by being asked to sing alone, certainly encouraged us to try harder to really know our part.
As the name "A Cappella Choir" implies, we usually sang without piano or organ accompaniment. Of course, for performances of works, such as "The Messiah" or "The Seven Last Words of Christ," both the piano and organ were used. Also, part of the time a small string ensemble was used for "The Messiah" performance.
As soon as the A Cappella Choir was formed each semester, we began to work on numbers for performance. It seems that every Mennonite Church in the area wanted us to sing for them. It was fun.
To me, the Mennonite audiences were a bit stiff, compared with the Methodists I had been used to all my life. Their church services were more solemn in a way, but, when it came to their music, they could out-sing any Methodist congregations I had known. The Mennonites loved to sing in those days, and I assume they still do. They also wanted to be "sung to." Bethel College and its A Cappella Choir were theirs, and they were proud of both.
Willis Rich, as public relations director for Bethel, also knew he had a ready-made audience whenever he wanted to take advantage of the opportunity. Whether he was just "drumming-up" an audience where we could perform, or he was raising money for the college, he was always successful when he went to the Mennonite communities.
There were two oratories that were favorites for our A Cappella Choir to perform. The first one was Dubois' "The Seven Last Words of Christ" and the other was Handel's "The Messiah." Two numbers I never forgot: "God So Loved the World," and the "Hallelujah" chorus. When those two numbers were rendered by the Bethel College A Cappella Choir, we sang as if God were speaking to the whole world. Over the years, I have sung them many times, and have directed school and church choirs as they sang them. I always loved to do both, and would love to have the opportunity again before I move on to that higher plane called Heaven. Then I'm planning to spend lots of time listening to and singing with the "Heavenly Hosts." (That's the way I want it to be, and if you want to sit-out eternity in another place and in another way, that's your privilege.)
The "Hallelujah" chorus in "The Messiah" is fun to sing, but it is difficult. Every member of the choir must pay strict attention to the music and to the director. It is such a beautiful number that I believe even the angels of Heaven must halt their praises to listen when it is performed well. Most of the time, we sang it with the gusto that it required.
"Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, (pause) Hallelujah!" But one time I didn't pause! There I was all alone, singing "Hallelu.." all by my lonesome! Boy, did I shut up in a hurry! And, no one flinched! Even the audience didn't flinch. I really messed up. I never forgot that incident. Even when I directed the Hallelujah chorus in later years, I was always afraid that I would direct an extra Hallelujah that didn't belong there.
The first scheduled tour for the choir was to Oklahoma. We made the trip in an old bus the college had acquired to haul the football and basketball teams. The bus wasn't big enough for the A Cappella Choir so two or three cars were commandeered to finish the job. Fortunately, it was fall and the weather wasn't too hot. Still, the old bus was uncomfortable compared with today's modern air-conditioned ones.
I still remember the little Oklahoma towns where we sang. They were Clinton, Canton, Pond Creek, Deer Creek, Geary and Goltry. Each had a Mennonite church somewhere nearby. I say "somewhere" because the Mennonite churches were usually located a few miles out of town in the farming area. If the town had grown enough over the years, the church might then be surrounded by the city.
The people in each Mennonite church where we sang fed and housed us. We also had opportunity to have picnics on the way. It was lots of fun! Willis Rich took silent, 16mm motion pictures of the trip, and, as soon as I saw them, I knew I had to get my hands on that camera. Those opportunities came to me later in that first year at Bethel.
Pictures from the Oklahoma choir trip:
Loading the bus under the watchful eye of Professor Hohmann
On the way we picnicked. When we found this donkey,
Martha Penner took a ride.
Rehearsing at a stop on the road. Robed and ready to sing.
A typical Mennonite Church where we sang.
Getting ready for the trip back to school.
My Music Job
During my second year at Bethel College, Professor Hohmann offered me a new job, as his music department assistant. How much it paid, I don't remember. What I do remember is that job was in addition to the job with Bennie in the mailing bureau. I didn't care. I felt that I could do anything that I really wanted to do.
Getting that job was a great help to me. I knew I wouldn't have enough money from my work in the mailing department to pay my bills. The job consisted of helping Hohmann with odd jobs, such as keeping his books in order, scoring tests and answering his telephone. The other thing I did was arrange his sheet music for the choir rehearsal each day. I also called the choir to order and started the vocal exercises when he was detained for some reason or other.
Conducting the A Cappella Choir was one of my great ambitions at Bethel. I knew that learning to conduct just like Hohmann was the key to getting to do it. I carefully observed just how he did it. For instance, Hohmann directed with his right hand, middle finger. Well, he directed with more than that, but to follow him, "watch that finger!"
Hohmann's conducting class was fun. He gave each of his students the opportunity to direct.
"It is not enough to 'beat time.' The conductor must direct with his entire body," he would explain to the class. To exemplify that, each student had to learn to direct without the use of his hands. Now that is quite a trick. That meant the job had to be done with head movements, especially the eyes and face. It is amazing what can be done with upper body cues in directing a musical group.
"Stop waving your hands around," he would say.
Hohmann practiced that, too. He didn't wave both hands like he was paddling in a pool of water. Only when he was directing a very large group, like the congregation at chapel services or during a performance of the Messiah, would he use more sweeping motions. He kept his arms close to his body. Everyone watched those directing cues that he used: head, eyes, face, fingers, breathing, and especially the emotions that he displayed during conducting. What an experience it was to watch him and to be one of that "special" group.
Then came that great day when Hohmann had a conflict in his schedule and I got to direct the choir during a concert. It was a concert at one of the Mennonite churches close to Newton. It was not a really important production, like "The Messiah," or "The Seven Last Words of Christ," but let me tell you, it was important to me!
They gave me their complete attention. If I changed things slightly, different from Hohmann, for instance, the choir would go right along with what I wanted them to do. I was really directing the Bethel College A Cappella Choir!!
The greatest compliment I ever got through my four years at Bethel was when Willis Rich announced after that concert, "Never did the choir do better and never did a student director do better." Did I ever get a boost from that? Man, I had "made" it. I knew that I was cut out to be a choir director.
My experiences in the A Cappella Choir have served me well through my entire life. I used what I learned while teaching school, during the war, and at several churches where I have directed choirs. Even today, I still believe I could do a good job directing a choir. Whether I'm physically able is a debatable question, but the aura around such thoughts is comforting.
There was one job I did for Hohmann that wasn't so pleasant. One day he said, "Glenn, I want you to prepare a test for my class covering every possible question regarding music notation."
Well, I went overboard on that job. I wasn't too careful in checking my questions. When I learned that the class wasn't a beginning class, but contained some of the most advanced music students, I was embarrassed.
"Who prepared that test? Did you know that many of the questions were
simply impossible to answer correctly?" they said. Frankly, taking their
criticism was difficult. I couldn't get out of that situation quick enough.
As you might guess, Hohmann didn't ask me to prepare any more tests for
The Mennonite Hymnal
The Mennonite community decided they needed a revised version of the "Mennonite Hymnal," and Professor Walter Hohmann was selected to do the job. Fortunately for me, I was allowed to work with him on that new hymnal. The most memorable moment was when he said, "Glenn, go through all the hymnals you can find and select the most popular gospel songs for inclusion in the new hymnal!"
Wow! What a responsibility! I did the very best I could to help him.
I really don't know how many of the gospel songs I suggested actually got
into that edition of the hymnal. It didn't really matter to me. The fact
I was asked to help was the important thing to me.
Judging Musical Talent
"Glenn, there is to be a music festival next week and I would like you to be a judge," Professor Hohmann said, one day. "There will be at least five judges and you can all go in one car."
That Hohmann request was almost a demand. It meant that all of us judges were "volunteers" and, of course, that meant unpaid.
"The experience will be great for all of you," he assured us.
Naturally, we couldn't refuse.
Contests and festivals weren't new to me. I had participated in many of them through the years. For some reason, I hated to sing or play the piano in one of them. My first experience was in grade school. I have already related how I blew my great opportunity to get first place playing "Apple Blossoms."
Another experience that I remember well was in high school when I was in a vocal contest. I was to sing "Past Three O'clock." While waiting for my turn, a wild idea entered my mind. I would step forward on the stage, look every person in the eye and say, "What a stupid thing to do. Just go jump in the lake all you guys! I have no intention of singing this atrocious song." Then I would jam my thumbs into my ears, wag my fingers at the audience, and end up with a real neat thumb on the end of my nose. How about that for getting even?
Miss Thomas was my high school music teacher, and I liked her very much. She would sing numbers that I enjoyed before having me practice my own numbers. One of my favorites was "Song of Songs." a really liked how she played the piano and sang that song. As I was contemplating my evil deed, I thought of her. I couldn't humiliate Miss Thomas! Therefore, I performed as expected. I cannot even remember what kind of rating I received.
Later on most schools held festivals instead of contests. In a contest the judges had to give a first, second, third, and so on, for each event. Too many kids would have to be hurt. Some smart group decided that such experiences really didn't benefit the contestants. In festivals there could be many performers in each class, such as excellent, very good, good, etc. In a way this also let the judges off the hook.
Back to the festival at Bethel I was to help judge. That festival was an all-day affair and before the day was half over, I was ready to go home. At first I thought it would be a great experience, but now I hated it. How do you tell a kid he played out of tune, he sang too loud or too soft, or that he really was a flop?
Well, I lied more than a little trying not to admit my real feelings
about some of those kids. Some of the performers were fine, even excellent.
I didn't have any trouble writing nice things about them. It was the "no-good"
ones who were a problem. We heard a rumor later that some thought the judges
at the festival were a bunch of bums. After hearing that, we felt sure
Professor Hohmann wouldn't ask any of us again, and so far as I know he
didn't. At least he didn't ask me, and I was glad.
Mrs. Fuller, the Organ and Chapel
Because of the tremendous dexterity required of both hands and feet, I never did become much of an organist. I had good hands with agile fingers, but I didn't have the nervous system that was quick enough to operate the multiple keyboards of the organ. Making my feet do what they were supposed to do was a problem. Slow me down a little and I got along pretty well, but there was a limit to what I could do. I was more interested in playing music based on chords, not intricate runs and arpeggios. Although my brain seemed to function O.K., getting my motor system to operate fast enough was a problem.
Mrs. Glenn Fuller, my teacher, thought I had lots of talent for the organ. I didn't think so, and I suppose that was the main reason that I didn't make a good organist. I didn't really want to play the organ, and I didn't have enough patience to practice properly. In addition, my piano practice, choir, my other studies and my work took nearly all my waking hours. Although I dropped my organ lessons after one year, I, by no means, dropped my love of organ music.
The first thing Mrs. Fuller taught me was that the organ has no "sostenuto" petal like the piano. With the piano, I could "cheat" by connecting the tones together using the foot pedal. To prevent "choppy" notes on the organ, I had to learn an entirely different way of playing. Although I learned to move smoothly from one note to another with the hands, I never did accomplish that technique with both hands and feet. I just gave up on that one! My audiences, as a rule, seemed to enjoy my playing, but, frankly, I just got by and that's all.
Thinking about Mrs. Fuller and her organ playing reminds me of our chapel services. Morning chapel was a daily requirement at Bethel. It was just like having church every day. I didn't mind it. In fact I learned many things from the chapel services. The chaplain, president, various teachers, and staff members took their turns at giving lectures and sermons. Sometimes we had outside speakers, arranged for by Willis Rich. One highlight for me was when Edwin Markham came. During his talk he quoted his poem, "The Man with the Hoe." He died at the age of 88 not too long after he was at Bethel. I'm sorry I can't remember by name more of our special guest chapel speakers. However, I'm sure some of the inspiration I received from the chapel services has stuck with me to this day.
Although I didn't become a real organist, I have always loved to listen to good organ music. I somehow have felt that the organ was an instrument ordained by God for enrichment of the human race. Also, the various mechanisms used to produce organ sounds have always fascinated me. The first semester at college when I was introduced to the Bethel College organ, I immediately had to learn all about how it worked.
The chapel organ had been installed many years before I arrived on the scene. In fact, it had been there since 1902. It was a "tracker" organ and was entirely mechanical in its operation. My dictionary defines a "tracker" as a wooden strip in pipe organs, serving to connect levers. Each key was connected directly to one or more organ pipes. There was a limited number of ranks, controlled entirely by rods and wires. The only electrical part of the mechanism was the motor that operated the bellows. The bellows, of course, produced the flow of air necessary to produce sound. The hand and pedal stops were entirely mechanical. The combinations of ranks of pipes were controlled by valves, which determined the direction the air moved. There were many little leather floppers that either closed or opened holes.
On either side of the organ were three or four rather large metal pedals, which could produce various combinations of stops. It was quite a task for the organist to manipulate these pedals. Also they didn't operate quietly. Spectators sitting anywhere near the organ always knew when they were changed. All in all I considered that organ a marvelous instrument and decided that the inventor must have been a genius.
A new organ, completely controlled by electricity, was installed when I was a sophomore. The entire front of the chapel had to be renovated to accommodate the new pipes. The old organ with all its pipes fit in the front right corner of the auditorium, but the new pipes were placed directly in the middle of the stage. The manual containing all the keyboards and pistons was supposedly movable. It was connected to the rest of the organ by a zillion little wires enclosed in a cable about three inches in diameter. The idea was that the console could be moved upon the stage for concerts, but it was such a heavy contraption that it stayed on the floor near the stage all the while I was there. The idea was fine, but it wasn't very practical.
I remember how Professor Hohmann often had to open the console lid and adjust the many little wires. They could easily get bent or even twisted, causing a pipe either not to play at all or to play a wrong tone. When Mrs. Fuller or one of the students would complain about the sounds coming from the organ, poor Professor Hohmann had the difficult and time consuming job of discovering which key was causing the trouble and which wire needed adjusting. It was a job he definitely did not enjoy.
Mrs. Fuller was a very accomplished organist. It was a thrill to hear and see her play. I had never experienced such organ music, and it was a mystery to me how she could make her hands and feet work together so perfectly. She was the chapel organist and one of the things I liked best about going to chapel each morning was listening to her play.
One day, for some reason, Mrs. Fuller didn't get to chapel. Dr. Kaufman, the president, had guests and they wanted to hear the organ.
"Who can play the organ?" he queried. No response! "Glenn, can't you play the organ for us?" He apparently knew I was taking lessons, or maybe he had heard me practice.
I hesitated, but I knew I had to respond to his request or else, so I did. I shook a little, but I got along just fine, I think. At least that is what the president and his guests said, and that is what mattered.
Dr. Edmund Kaufman,
our College President during my years at Bethel
Incidentally, I have a soft spot in my heart for President Kaufman, both because he allowed me to play the organ for his guests and because he gave me permission to start showing movies at Bethel.
During the war, I was able to make use of my organ-playing ability,
such as it was. The little pump organs the chaplains used were great for
me. Overseas, wherever a chaplain went, he had one of those little organs.
It folded into a small box, and when unfolded the two-foot pedals for pumping
air were exposed. I played for the worship services each chance I got.
As I knew practically every hymn in the hymnbook, and could play many of
them by ear, playing for the chaplains was an easy job for me.
Voice Class and Professor Suderman
My private voice lessons under Professor David Suderman were less interesting than those I had with piano under Hohmann. As a music education major I had to take practically all the music courses in the catalog. Doing vocal exercises was the name of the game, and I was expected to practice them daily. Suderman was a very nice man and was a very good teacher as well, so I really shouldn't complain about my lessons with him. He introduced me to a variety of vocal numbers selected from the classics, which were suitable for tenors.
Bethel had other vocal teachers. The top teacher was Mrs. Haury. The really top students were assigned to her. Mrs. Haury taught private voice part-time at Bethel. She had a studio in Newton where she gave most of the lessons. I wasn't considered a top vocal student; indeed, average was a better way to describe me. However, Mrs. Haury selected me as the student accompanist for Herbert Baer, her promising tenor student, and I was always happy for that. She praised me for my playing, and said Herby and I made a great team.
I was able to be my own accompanist. Since that way I was completely in charge, I liked that. Those vocal students who couldn't play the piano were at a disadvantage. Obtaining the services of another student to accompany your practice time and your performances was not easy. Serious piano students didn't specialize in accompanying. Again, the top singers got top accompanists. Although there were other men taking piano, when it came to the accompanying jobs, they were usually given to the better lady piano players.
Although piano was my major study at college, I got more praise for
my singing than for my piano playing. When I went home, I would always
sing solos at church, funerals and weddings. Perhaps, during my Bethel
A Cappella Choir experience, I should have taken Suderman's voice lessons
more seriously. Maybe I could have qualified for solo work. On second thought,
I doubt it. With singers like Herby around, why would the director choose
My Harmony Class
Professor Russell E. Anderson was my teacher for harmony and music composition. Although he knew his theory well, I found he was a little hard to understand at times. He taught all about chord progression, passing tones, and the many rules of music composition used by scholars for generations. Since writing music notation was so time consuming, and there were so many technical rules to follow, I generally found the classes rather boring. There seemed to be more rules about what to avoid than what to use. On the other hand, the classes afforded me opportunities to create new tunes, and I enjoyed that part. I felt that composing was something for which I had quite a bit of talent. Sometimes, as I sat at the piano, it seemed things just popped out from my fingers. Although most of my composing was done at the piano, "Way out in Western Kansas" was composed while I was on the tractor pulling the one-way plow in the wheat field. I recall that remembering the tune and words until I got an opportunity to write them down proved harder than composing them. My memory wasn't as good as my creativity, I guess.
While I was in high school, I had written a short hymn. When Professor Anderson's assignment was to write a hymn, I decided I had it made. I would just use the one I had composed earlier. Writing music on demand wasn't something I found easy to do. When called upon to present my composition, I went to the piano, and played and sang it. Professor Anderson agreed that it was a fine composition, but then he hit me with a stunning question. "You copied that song, didn't you?"
In other words, he accused me of cheating. Not only was I stunned, I was devastated. It was a terrible experience! Imagine his saying that to me right in front of my classmates! All I could say was, "No, I didn't copy it. That was my own song. I wrote it. I didn't copy it, really!"
What's really new about a hymn of praise to our God and Jesus Christ anyway? There is bound to be something that reminds us of other hymns. By the time I went to Bethel, I had not only played many, many hymns, but I also knew lots of them by memory.
I was really hurt by his accusation that I was cheating by copying someone else's hymn. I wanted to ask him how many hymns he had written, but, of course, I didn't. It took me a long time to forgive him for my humiliation. As I write this, I have to wonder if I really have completely done that job yet.
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