106. Annals of Ann Arbor

In looking back on the story of my professional life, the Second Act was played out on the stage of the University of Michigan, where I arrived in August, 1955, transported from Oklahoma by my parents. After the long drive, the first thing I wanted to do was to practice, to get in shape for auditions, so my parents literally dropped me and my horn case off on a corner in the middle of the old campus town and left to return to Oklahoma.

Picture me standing on the corner, looking around trying to decide what to do next, when who should be the very first person who came walking down the sidewalk but another horn player, an upper classman, H. Robert Reynolds! Luckily for me, he immediately took me under his wing, showed me around, filled me in on faculty and classes, and arranged for me to move into an old rooming house which was filled with some of the best wind players on campus, including Howard T. Howard, who became principal horn in the Metropolitan Opera and Karl Glenn, who became the national president of MENC. This old rooming house was adjacent to Hill Auditorium, the main concert hall, and Burton Bell Tower, which at that time housed the music department library. For the next 20 years Bob and I remained very close friends.

Photo of Hill Auditorium by Andrew Horne | public domain

The University of Michigan at this time was a state school, but one which identified itself with the great private universities, such as Harvard and Yale. The student body was accordingly one with a much higher background than I had. Nevertheless, having been offered a scholarship in advance, I walked in the door with no initial exams of any kind and the cost, at that time, for tuition, room and board was about $1,000 per year!

My program was a Bachelor of Music in Music Education, a course of study which, looking back, I consider to have been of little value. Most classes were very outdated, as for example those requiring us to create vast card catalogs of materials, all of which would be out of print by the time we graduated! There was one required class, in elementary dance, which was so ridiculous that I refused to take it and demanded the dean substitute a different course or I would transfer out. Another course, in youth orchestra techniques, consisted of our sitting day after day watching an inefficient old man rehearse a youth orchestra, followed by no comments or discussion with us whatsoever. His “great skill” was to have been our model. The only exceptional class was in elementary conducting techniques with Elizabeth Green. I became close to her and she shared with me many stories of her youth, as for instance once when her family home burned to the ground. My name can be found in the foreword pages of the first edition of her book on conducting. There were some great professors in the music department, but undergraduates were not allowed to enroll in their classes. Even Revelli’s classes on band conducting were therefore off-limits to those of us undergraduates aiming to be band conductors and I have often wondered what he talked about in these classes.

But there were some great other benefits, including the fact that this was really a performance school. Performance, of course, is an important form of education but it was so demanding at Michigan that there was no time to take non-major courses. Thus when I left I would describe myself as having been an excellent horn player but an uneducated person. I spent the rest of my life in reading the Classics of literature to overcome this.

Hill Auditorium was on the international tour circuit for great European orchestras and several came each year with famous conductors. The first I heard was the London Philharmonic with von Karajan conducting. He was humble and very friendly, having just been released from his travel restrictions which had been placed on him by the Allies due to his Nazi background (this was only 10 years after the end of WWII) and he was very easy to talk with and open to questions. And then there came each year six concerts by the Philadelphia Orchestra!

The most significant part of my music education in Ann Arbor occurred in Hill Auditorium, not in the classrooms, for, after all, Music is for the ears!

Another benefit was the university orchestra, conducted by Josef Blatt, an older European conductor who had also worked at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. He rehearsed and conducted concerts all without a score and while he, himself, was a limited conductor, he was very musical! As a member of this orchestra I had the opportunity to conduct, in rehearsal, complete symphonies by Tchaikovsky and Brahms!

Another great benefit was living next door to the music department library. Whenever I had a free hour I would often go next door and get a score and recording and return to my room to practice conducting. One day I wanted to practice with one of the great Strauss Tone Poems but when I went to the shelf to get the score it was missing. Next to this blank space was a score by Strauss entitled Symphony for Winds!

I was astonished and when I visited with Revelli to enquire about this work I was more astonished to find he knew nothing about it – a major original large wind ensemble work by a major composer during his lifetime! This, of course, raised the question – what other compositions can be found on these shelves. So, for the next three years I spent much free time looking through this collection and this was the beginning of my lifelong search for early original band works.

The great power base at Michigan was William D. Revelli, who had the individual authority to hire and fire full-time wind faculty, seemingly with no administrative or committee involvement. And he, like Punjab in the old Orphan Annie stories, could make people disappear! I recall a rehearsal when an older bass clarinet player was a few minutes late to rehearsal and while organizing his folder and music, after some angry comment by Revelli for his being late, the student said “Just a minute Chief and I will be with you!” The following day in rehearsal we noticed his chair was empty. No one had seen him anywhere else during the day in the music department. He had disappeared!

Off the podium Revelli could be a simple and friendly man. I recall one day, during my first year, he walked up to me in the hall and offered to give me private conducting lessons. I avoided this offer, as I had not yet even taken the basic conducting course, and I offer this anecdote only for the purpose of suggesting there was a side of the man none of us knew.

On the podium he was notorious throughout the nation for his cruel behavior toward individual players in rehearsal. As mentioned in a letter to me from Frederick Fennell in 1992, “You have been kind to WDR [Revelli]; wait until you read some sort of memoir by one of those kids he really crucified!”

I did not understand, nor could I explain, this insecure behavior until the period of 1967–1968 when I studied with Eugene Ormandy and found he had the same problem. Both men had been fine violinists in their youth, both had studied in a “conservatory,” Ormandy in Budapest and Revelli in Chicago. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the word “conservatory” referred to a place which offered individual lessons, with very little, if any, time spent on theory and virtually none on earlier performance practice. Thus, while I would call both Ormandy and Revelli exceptional musicians, both of them were very uncomfortable in talking about music to the point of suggesting a certain insecurity. In the case of Ormandy I recall once looking at a score with him and asking, “How did you decide to make a crescendo in this place?” Ormandy abruptly said, “That is what the Master wanted,” and stormed out of the room! I learned I could not ask this kind of technical question of him but he freely gave me all his scores to study, scores filled with his pencil markings which allowed me to understand his musical thinking which he could not express in words. In rehearsal he never made any sort of personal criticism as was characteristic with Revelli. But when his assistant informed some player that the Maestro wished to speak with him in his private office after rehearsal, the act of knocking on his door reduced most men to utter fear.

Ormandy’s rehearsal technique was contained in just playing nonstop through a composition. As an example, I recall when I was there, for the first rehearsal of the season (at that time there was no Summer schedule) the first work in rehearsal was the Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony. After welcoming everyone back, Ormandy began at the beginning of the first movement and they played; without a stop. After about 15 minutes Ormandy stopped due to a minor bowing question in the first violins. I was sitting out in the hall with the assistant conductor, who at the moment they stopped turned to me and said, “Oh, it sure does ruin a good rehearsal to have to stop!”

In the case of Revelli, his insecurity in talking about technical details of the music was displayed against the common knowledge shared among the players that one never asked any question in rehearsal. If one dared asked, “what chord is on the third beat?” it was met with an angry stare and silence. Revelli, in my opinion, avoided questions in rehearsal by leaving no space in time for this to happen. When he stopped, he immediately began speaking, often at length and sometimes off the subject entirely, right up to the next downbeat. I might add an additional illustration of a time when I asked him if he could listen for an hour to a rehearsal by a woodwind quintet I played in and give us suggestions. I gave him the scores in advance, he came and sat in a chair looking at the score while we played and never uttered a single word.

The explanation in the case of both men was that they understood music by ear and not by what they saw on paper, which was a result of their own education. But Music is for the ear, not for the eye, isn’t it? By non-verbal conducting they could communicate the music, which they could not express in words. This resulted in a certain element of insecurity which they could not help but express in frustration, as characterized in the examples I have given above. I wish I could today go back and tell them both, “You are right! There is no Music on the page! You don’t have to talk about Music in public!” The solution I give my own conducting students is:

Don’t concentrate on the notation of the composer; concentrate on the feeling the composer was trying to communicate.

At Michigan, I thought the rehearsals of Revelli were very unpleasant, aside from all the personal attacks on individual players. His Symphony Band rehearsals were held two hours per day, every day of the week. Some years later I asked how he got away with having those daily two-hour rehearsals. He answered that the rehearsals were listed in the class schedule as only being from 4:00 to 5:00, but he reasoned that the students would not eat dinner until 6:00 and therefore they had an hour with nothing to do before supper, “So I just filled that hour with music!”

The music with which he filled those 10 hours per week was in large part the same music played by High School bands. In 1955 no university band performed the Hindemith Symphony, nor any new works in manuscript, not to mention any contemporary music using serial or aleatoric notation. The great earlier masterpieces for band, such as the Berlioz Symphony, were unknown. It was a repertoire of entertainment music centering on marches, trumpet trios, transcriptions of Broadway music and even comedy works.

Yet, sitting in the rehearsal room was a group of 100 of the finest young musicians in the nation, people with the technique to play any of this repertoire at sight. So how did Revelli fill those 10 hours of rehearsal per week? The basic philosophy was not to make music in rehearsal, but rather to work and slave away on fundamentals so you could make music later at the concert. The fundamentals began with intonation. Revelli would begin each rehearsal by individually tuning every member of the band, a process that would take 30 or more minutes interrupted by occasional lectures (personal attacks) on the association of pitch and character. One by one each player was asked to play the tuning note, while Revelli turned his back to look at the electronic machine with spinning dials identifying the correct pitch. One of the really great horn students, Vince Schneider, who later became first horn at Radio City in New York City, had mastered the technique of cyclic breathing by which he could sustain a note indefinitely. There was one memorable occasion when it was Vince’s turn to play the tuning note when just after he began to play the pitch Revelli thought of some story which he proceeded to tell while Vince sat there holding the tuning note for about 15 minutes. Revelli, of course, was unaware of this sustained sound but the rest of us were in utter pain trying not to laugh!

After this, lectures on Tone followed, “You call that a tone?!!!!” Then very slow methodical rehearsal of the music, which as I mentioned could have been played at sight. I recall an occasion when one hour was spent on the first 5 measures of a march! During my time at Michigan the concerts were enjoyable, but not the rehearsals.

However, I must give him credit for the fact as the university band repertoire in general improved during the twentieth century he did grow and in fact commissioned the Husa Apotheosis of this Earth. But, given my experience with him in the 1950s I cannot imagine what his rehearsals would have been like working on the Apotheosis.

The “Master Plan” for the music education students was to obtain the Bachelor’s Degree, then go out and be a band director in some small town somewhere for several years and then to return, older and wiser, to obtain the Master’s Degree in music education. I could not do this. By my Senior year I was very conscious of the lack of education we had received in theory and music history and I could not imagine going out to become Mister Music in some small town and having some student come up and ask a question I could not answer!

The obvious alternative was to immediately begin a Master’s Degree, not in more music education but centered in the areas in which I felt deficient. But how would I do this? I was rescued by the announcement of an opening for associate first horn in the Air Force Band and Orchestra in Washington, DC. I applied for this position and since by this time I was first horn in both the band and orchestra at Michigan, the Air Force agreed to audition me. The audition took place in Chicago during the Mid-West Conference with the Assistant Conductor, Capt. Harry Meuser, coming to my hotel room for the audition. He placed on my music stand a copy of the first horn part for the American Overture for Band by Joseph Wilcox Jenkins, a work with an exciting and lyrical horn part. I was pleased to see this as I had performed this work many times with the Michigan band on tour. Before playing I carefully looked over the page, as one should always do before “sightreading” the music and then, putting horn in place, I proceeded to rip the notes off the page in a broad, big tone! After 30 measures Capt. Meuser stopped me and said he was pleased to offer me the position on the spot. And I was pleased to accept it on the spot. Thus in a single moment I went from a dark period of doubt about my future, worry about the draft, finding income, etc., to suddenly having a guaranteed contract for a professional playing position which would allow me to obtain a Master’s Degree at the same time. This moment was one of the most exhilarating moments of my life.