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
I can remember at least five different teachers
giving me piano lessons. I'm sure the family must have
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.
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
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
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
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
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
stage. By accompanying her classes I attended numerous
functions I would never have been invited to, at the country
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
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
memories of that day, it is not in my memory bank. I do remember
her occasionally, very
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