My Musical Life

Because Mother was a musician she saw to it that by the time I was five or six I had started piano lessons. From as far back as I can remember Mother played and sang for us. When I was quite young she taught me to sing parts with her, so we sang duets as well as played duets on the piano.

I can remember at least five different teachers giving me piano lessons. I'm sure the family must have gone without to pay for them. My first teacher was a man, Raymond Austin, and he came to the house, but when I changed to Miss James I walked to her house. (In the 1950's I stopped in Missoula to visit a friend, Irma Johnson, and when I walked into her house I immediately recognized it as Miss James' and that I was in the room where formerly I had played recitals. Miss James always served refreshments after.) My next teacher was Eva Coffee. Mother was of the old school and thought some of the compositions were too modern, so I changed again.

The teacher I liked best was Prof. Gustav Fischer who came from Germany after World War I to head the music department at the University of Montana. He was a real musician, having played in Kaiser Wilhelm's band in Berlin, but he was accustomed to the rigid and strict manner of teaching in Germany. This was not accepted by the students or staff at the university so he gave private music lessons.

Prof. Fischer was strict but kind and I thought a lot of him. He tried to get me to play with more emotion. One day at the end of my lesson he kissed me. I just ran out of the apartment and nothing was ever said about it. The kiss did not help my playing so he did not try again. Needless to say I didn't report this to my parents, for that would have been the end of my lessons.

Sometimes he played records for me to listen to. Dad once in a while came to walk home with me and Prof. Fischer would play the 1812 Overture, which was Dad's favorite.

While I was his student he choose a picture bride from Germany through ads, and married her. She insisted on doing her exercises each morning, nude, in front of an open window with no curtains in their apartment in downtown Missoula. She went back to Germany.

Both his son and daughter were musicians. His daughter played the piano accompanying movies at one of the theaters. Once I substituted for her at the Bijou theater. She wanted to go out with a boyfriend whom her father forbade her seeing. She left the music for me: slow, soulful music for romantic scenes, fast music for galloping horses, etc.

I remember eating black bread his son had sent him from New York City.

I was in high school when I took lessons with Prof. Fischer so arranged to receive credit for it. This meant practicing two hours every day. Every morning I practiced from 6-7 am. I'm surprised the neighbors never complained. My brother did! I got off a little early at noon and practiced the other hour then.

Being a musician gives one an entrance to an entirely diffent world. I hope that at least one of my great-grandchildren will do some thing along this line.

From the time I was in grade school I played in public. During my high school years I played piano solos for various clubs and lodges, and at banquets. I also played for a Miss Corbett's dancing classes. She was a former dancer from New York City who had injured herself and had to give up the stage. By accompanying her classes I attended numerous functions I would never have been invited to, at the country club, big dinners and celebrations. As I mentioned elsewhere, I played the piano for gym class excercises.

At church I was one of the pianists for the Epworth League and later on for the movies on Saturday evening. Another pianist was Herbert Inch who later composed music as well.

One thing always bothered me when I played piano solos: my back was to the audience, and someone always talked.

When one of my friends at the Metropolitan Business College told me about her vocal teacher and suggested I take lessons I didn't need any urging. I sarted vocal lessons with Maurice Dubin, a former opera singer. He was an excellent teacher, but oh, I wished he would not eat so much garlic. When he demonstrated how to sing "ah" the garlic odor almost over-powered me. I so enjoyed my lessons and loved singing solos. No one talked!

Soon after I began my vocal lessons Maurice Dubin started The Northwest Civic Opera Company and most of his students were members. We sang several operas and parts of others at the Orpheum and the Coliseum.

Samson and Delilah was one we sang at the old Civic Auditorium.

When we sang parts of Il Tavatore at the Orpheum I had to dash from teaching my night school class (I probably dismissed the class a little early) to the theatre, put on my make-up as fast as I could, put on my costume and be ready to go on stage in time.

I wasn't good enough to sing solo, so Maurice Dubin sang with me on a radio program. We were on Third Avenue, but I can't remember what station it was. He and I sang the same duet from the Tales of Hoffman at a concert in Volunteer Park one summer.

When I was pregnant with Viola I discontinued my lessons. I did sing solos twice more: once at Grace's wedding (Grace was Wilbur's sister) and again at a tea in the Gold Room at the Meany. I was still nursing Viola for I remember some milk leaked out. End of my musical career!

Viola Allan comment, 2007: I guess my mother's singing a solo at Aunt Dolly's wedding did not impress me. While I have other vivid memories of that day, it is not in my memory bank. I do remember her occasionally, very occasionally, playing and singing as we went to sleep at night. It was so comforting. Maybe that's why I like to go to sleep to music. And rue the day that KMZT sold out to a Western Music interest this last year.

Dedicated to Peter and Rickey