September 1992

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Harpending's Corners


Edwin N. Harris

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About 1949 Esther and I joined Hope Lutheran Church, my first serious involvement with church since boyhood in Dundee. In 1950 I joined the newly formed choir and became a regular for the next ten years.

Still eager to hear more music, I solicited the help of my talented neighbor, Marty Hussman, to acquire the components for a sound system then referred to as "Hi-Fi." I became a devotee of classical music and borrowed records and books from libraries to study the life and works of the great composers, past and contemporary. The baroque period of music became my favorite: Bach, Purcell, Vivaldi, Telemann and others. Leaping across the romantic period, I investigated the moderns: Aaron Copland, Benjamin Britten, Charles Ives, Leonard Bernstein and their peers. In 1958 I took the family to Tanglewood to see and hear Copland who was conducting workshops there. It was the path that Harold Wansborough had encouraged me to follow, a natural path, as my interest in music always played some part in my life.

In July of 1957 I had joined an operetta production program known as "Opera under the Stars," sponsored by the City of Rochester in conjunction with the Eastman School of Music. The time available for this came when a statewide labor strike of the cement-producing mills forced the closing of concrete plants for several weeks. Curious about the music, staging, and the behind-the-scenes action, I responded to a newspaper notice requesting candidates for the chorus of Johann Strauss's "Die Fledermaus." It was the first of two operettas to be performed that year.

Leonard Treash, assistant director, trained us two nights a week for several weeks, then the famed Dr. Herman Genhardt, director, took over to dress us off, and rehearsals increased to three nights a week. Dr. Genhardt, a tough taskmaster of the old German school, informed us in his heavy accent, "You can't hide behind some preacher's pulpit here—you are going to perform before thousands, correctly or not at all!"

He sometimes walked the rows of anxious chorusters, stopping to listen to each voice. Off key voices were summarily excused. He was tougher yet with the four professional soloists. "I accept no excuses from you—You are getting paid for this." More frightening to me, a non-dancer, were the ballroom dance scenes. I was relieved when the sympathetic choreographer got me to a passing shape, even without the forbidden eyeglasses. I guess people didn't wear eyeglasses in the ballrooms of Johnny Strauss's day.

I enjoyed the experience and began rehearsing for the second operetta, "The Merry Wives of Windsor," when the cement mill's strike ended and sent me back to the mundane subject of concrete production. Reluctantly, I left my new world of lively art to direct my chorus of roaring trucks, dusty batch plants, and profane truck drivers. I speculated about the reaction of the drivers if they had seen me dressed in ties and tails with stage make-up in those heady performance nights at Highland Bowl, and avoided discussing my arty inclinations with them.

Earlier in this period I had dabbled in charcoal drawing and oil painting. I bought a Jon Gnagy "Learn To Draw" kit, followed that with a set of Grumbacher oils. I was drawn to peek into the world of arts that circumstances had denied me. Determined to learn at least a smattering, I joined an adult class in gouache painting for a few weeks. With aptitude and time limited, I reluctantly dropped the effort, settling for at least gaining a better understanding of real art. I did produce a few oils—all but one have been discarded.

In 1959 Esther and I traveled to Lehigh University at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, for the Annual Bach Festival with its instrumentalists from the Philadelphia Philharmonic Orchestra. I bought the scores for the music and soaked in the glorious sounds for two days. In the same year I served on the promotion committee for the Rochester Bach Festival Society, and there met the festival's long-time director, Ted Hollenbeck.

Still eclectic, in 1961, we spent two days at Ottawa where I was enthralled with the sound of the bagpiper's music for the changing of the guards. It was well that I did these things then, for I was about to be absorbed with a career change that would demand much of my time for years.

© 1992, Edwin N. Harris
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