Our Musical Heritage
A talk given by Ruth H. Barrus February 23, 1972 to the Ricks College - Upper Valley Music Teacher's Association
A man who had a cello with a single string used to bow on it for hours at a time, always holding his finger in the same place. His wife endured this for months. Finally in desperation she said, "I have observed that when others play that instrument there are four strings, and the players move their fingers about continuously."
"Of course the others have four strings and move their fingers about constantly," he explained patiently. "They are looking for the place. I've found it."
When I think of this community, this valley, and this people I repeatedly express joy that "this place" was found for me; and when I examine the tune I have played throughout my life, I find it to have been most repetitious but, I think, important.
This is a place for strong people with faith and courage who have to struggle with the elements - - snow, cold, wind and blizzard, and at times blistering heat. Labors for a living have to be swift and hard to cope with a short growing season. This is a people who have struggled against great odds for meaningful values - - economic, spiritual, intellectual and cultural values. If there was a church or school to be built for a people hungry for values, or a ditch to be dug in a soil hard and thirsty for water, each man picked up his own shovel and drove his own team and united with his neighbors to accomplish the work to be done. There has been little whimpering, but resolute action basically independent of government or outside aid. Such determination has brought a spirit into our immediate valleys that I would like to talk about tonight - - a spirit that I pray we will never lose.
A loud voice has risen today demanding of speech or studies relevancy. Sydney J. Harris, eminent editorialist, states: "Young people are right in demanding that their studies be 'relevant.' What they don't understand is relevant to 'what.' Nothing can be relevant to itself; the word needs a proper object." He continues, "The past has no perspective for them; only the present has meaning. While professing 'humanism,' they are practicing barbarism. The barbarian doesn't care about the past, and therefore he feels free to violate the present. He is interested in a world of brute fact, not of values, and concentration on brute facts is the surest way to brutalize ourselves." Harris emphasizes that "Unless we understand something of history, unless we have absorbed and analyzed the past, we cannot make rational judgments about the present." He concludes that "'Relevant' studies should mean relevant to the whole human condition, to man as a totality, in his work, his play, his love, his feelings, as much as his economic and social arrangements. Relevance partakes of the past as much as it projects into the future. 'What's past is prolog,' said Shakespeare in the truest line he ever wrote."
In my convalescence the past months I have spent many hours with the scriptures and this need for relevancy with the past that Sydney Harris talks about was clearly manifest to me. I dramatically saw many great civilizations rise to tremendous heights and then fall to total destruction simply because people ceased to remember, ceased to relate to and be thankful for the great truths and directions that they had inherited from the past. In the immediacy of their present, all vision, values, and sacrifice were swallowed up in a desire for the honor and glory of men, in pride, selfishness, contention, and finally destruction. The spirit was lost and darkness prevailed.
That we might keep alive the spirit which has shaped our valleys culturally, may I share a few stories with you from the past. To get a true picture of what I would like to tell you, will you please multiply the activities of the few individuals mentioned here to include many individuals throughout the Rocky Mountain West who have struggled to build for their communities a rich cultural heritage.
In late December, 1898, a young bride and her young school-teacher husband stepped off a train at Market Lake, Idaho (now called Roberts) into a blinding snow storm. They were met by his father with a covered sleigh with a heater in it, and they pressed through the deep snow toward Marysville - - the last outpost of civilization north in the Snake River Valley. The snow was coming so fast and the wind was so great that even the horses heads were out of vision to the driver, but the horses knew the way through the deep snow and were able to stay in the ruts of the road - - ruts that looked like deep ditches. They arriver in Parker that night and a fresh start the next morning took them to Marysville by early afternoon the next day. The bride's home was typical to the area - - a one-roomed log house containing a bed, a table, two chairs, a range which burned sage brush, boxes for cupboards, and a barrel for water which had to be hauled from the river. Snow was melted for washings. This young bride, Retta Hale Hammond from Cache Valley, Utah, unfamiliar with Idaho winds, left her first wash outside on the clothesline overnight. The clothes froze, were blown from the line and covered with drifting snow, and most of the clothes were not recovered until the next spring. Access to door and windows had to be frequently shoveled out, and one could walk from the deep snow on one side of the house onto the roof and over to the snow piled on the other side.
A lonely and dreary picture? Not necessarily, for this young woman was filled with song and music and it wasn't long until the log L.D.S. Chapel was filled with musical activity. Retta was soon busy teaching many young girls how to play the old treadle organ in the church. In her childhood in Grantsville and later in Cache Valley, she and her older sisters had learned to play on such an organ, which had been brought across the plains by ox-cart. Her two years at Brigham Young College in Logan had given her further development, especially in her fine soprano voice, and this voice now led singing groups in Marysville.
In 1890, her husband, Milton James Hammond, accepted a position teaching school in Teton, Idaho, just northeast of Rexburg. Retta's musical activity continued there, but now a treadle organ had been added to their home and many young people came there for their first musical training.
An opportunity to become Superintendent of Schools in Rigby came two years later to Milton and he moved his small family there. The fourteen years the family spent there gave Retta opportunity to really help develop musical talent in that vicinity. One of the first pianos to come into the area came to their home - - a big 1000 pound Adam Schaff piano. This piano had to serve the whole community. For a dance in the church or school, it was loaded onto wagon or sleigh and taken there where Retta on the piano and her oldest sons, Ronald and Glen, on their violins, would perform the music for the dance. My earliest memory as a very young child is being wrapped in a blanket and lying on a bench behind this piano listening to this square dance music.
Not content with the help she could give to young musicians in Rigby, Retta traveled by horse and buggy into outlying rural areas and went from house to house giving music lessons. Hundreds of people received musical development during those fourteen years Retta served this area.
World War I found the family in Blackfoot. Retta was now left to rear her family alone. She had buried four of her ten children. She was determined her remaining six children were to receive every musical advantage possible. I was the 8th child, and by the time I was seven, mother had ceased giving music lessons, saying: "I am a pioneer musician. There are much finer trained musicians than I who can do a better job."
There were no county or church welfare programs to aid impoverished families then, so if we had any advantage the whole family had to join efforts to obtain that advantage. A family session resulted in a decision that I must study with Miss Lorraine Tavey, a young graduate of the Boston Conservatory of Music who had returned home to teach piano and become one of the first conservatory trained teachers in the valley. How to pay for these lessons was the problem, but mother soon solved that. She took me by the hand and we walked the several blocks to the Tavey home where she told Miss Tavey that she had a talented child for her to teach but that she had no money to pay for her lessons. "If you will teach her I will clean your house once each week." It looked like a bargain to Miss Tavey, and I soon commenced my studies. After two years I was ready to give my first recital, but there was another problem to be solved. My only shoes were scuffed and worn and I was unhappy to play a recital in them. There was no money for new ones, but something had to be done. Again mother solved it by taking me down to a shoe shine parlor where, after helping me into the high chair, she promised the shoe shine boy an extra dime if he could make those old shoes really shine. He did the best "spit and polish" job ever done on an old pair of shoes. The recital went well after that critical problem was solved.
When I was twelve, there came to Blackfoot for a summer, two great musicians who had been teachers in the London Conservator of Music - - the Rodowns. Ethel Terry Rodown was the pianist and pupils old and young came to her from throughout the valley. Her price was high, but the family decided I must study with her. The money came from the joint effort of my older brothers who agreed to play with their violin and cello for a series of ballet recitals given by Idaho State College in Pocatello. The money they earned paid for my lessons. How I loved those tall brothers of mine. Ronald was twelve years older than I, and Glen, ten, but they made me feel like a queen as together we went before many civic and church groups to perform with our string trio. Many Sunday afternoons were spent at the mental hospital playing for the patients there. I was frightened at first but felt joy at seeing light come to dulled eyes as the music progressed. As we left them, the patients would frequently reach out to pat me and others would search in their pockets for a small treasure to give me - - it might be a prize morsel from the dinner table or a piece of ribbon, but my brothers encouraged me to receive the gift for it brought joy to the giver.
When I was fourteen, the family moved to Dubois where my brother managed a garage and my mother boarded school teachers. A Miss Jones, daughter of the local doctor and a graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music, was the faithful music teacher for the community. Children of sheepmen and farmers were her students, but she had faith in them and their talents blossomed. One of the most interesting musicians I have ever met I met in Dubois. He was a southern, in a tall slender way, as Colonel Sanders, with string tie, southern hat and goatee. "Old Prof' Strong," because of marital problems, had come from the University of Virginia, where he had taught music and literature, to be Superintendent of Schools in isolated desert Dubois. He found solace in his large library and in his music. His front room was filled with rows of books with only enough room in the corner for a small reed organ. As I went there weekly for a course he called "Songcraft", I usually came home with several books in my arms which were exchanged for new ones the next week. The world of poetry suddenly opened up to me and literature became as important to me as music. I shall never forget him and his gentle refined ways.
By the time I was sixteen, the marriage of my two older brothers and the moving of my third brother to Pocatello for work, broke up our tight family group. We all left Dubois and mother took her three younger children to Rexburg to gain the advantage of special education obtainable at Ricks College. She rented a home and boarded students to support us. Ricks College still admitted high school students in their junior year, and I was admitted. For me, the great opportunity lay in studying with Professor William Billeter, a graduate of the Zurich Conservatory of Music in Switzerland and a student of some of the finest organists in Europe. He is the greatest musician I have ever been privileged to study with or know. He had come to Rexburg with great enthusiasm and with boxes filled with the music of Bach, Beethoven, Haydn, Schubert, and all the great masters. He was not just acquainted with these masterpieces; they were a part of his very fiber and being. It was a stiff diet for a people educated to consider "Spring Song," "Hearts and Flowers," and "A Day in Venice" as the ultimate in piano literature, and conversion to something greater was slow and discouraging.
One of the great contributions Professor Billeter made to this valley was the placing of a pipe organ in the Rexburg Tabernacle in 1923. When I came to Rexburg, I was most anxious to study organ. In his broken German, he asked me if I had studied the Bach Inventions. I remembered Minuets and Gavottes by Bach, but no Inventions. I must study piano first, he said. If it took the Bach Inventions to get to the organ, I was going to learn them in a hurry. I remember mother saying critically at the beginning of the week: "What's that you're practicing?" I would answer, "Bach." "Oh," was her disgruntled reply. At the end of the week she would ask, "What's that you're playing, it really dances and sings." I would answer again, "Bach!" Her reply was, "I don't believe it." One day Professor Billeter introduced me to a Beethoven Sonata and I was so excited that I ran all the way home and burst into the house and exclaimed, "Mother, I am not going to play anything but Beethoven the rest of my life." My brother was glad I didn't hold to that resolution. After listening to me practice three measures of a difficult passage in a sonata for an hour, he disgustedly rose to his feet and shouted at me as he threw his book down: "If you're going to be so darn dumb, I'm getting out of here."
By Christmas Professor Billeter decided I was ready to commence my study on the organ, and what a great experience that was. Times were hard and the tabernacle could only be heated for Union Meetings once a month and Stake Conferences. Only lights at the organ were allowed. My practice session usually started around 9:00 p.m. because my daytime hours were occupied with secretarial work for President Manwaring and school work. In the severe winter weather in the cold tabernacle, I had a tiny electric heater with which I used to warm my numbed fingers and try to defrost the organ keys. When the cold had crept into all my joints, I would stand in the open area near the pulpit and exercise to get back my circulation. I can still see the grotesque shadows that were cast on the wall from the lone organ light as I did my calisthenics. One night I was still practicing at midnight and mother, worried, sent one of the students, Dan, who was boarding with us, to see what was wrong. I was playing the organ at full voice when he entered the tabernacle, so I didn't hear him. He decided to sit near the back and listen to me for a few minutes. Suddenly I switched the organ and light off and started to feel my way in the dark down the long aisle to the door. Dan was desperate to know what to do, for he didn't want to frighten me. Finally, when I was a few feet from him he quietly spoke, "Don't be frightened!" I cried out and started to run, bumping into the benches. He grabbed me and firmly said, "It's Dan, now don't be frightened!" Frightened, though I was, I promised never to practice in the Tabernacle again until I had locked the door from the inside.
It was a great loss to Ricks College when William Billeter left, and the reason for his leaving was most ironic. In order to make Ricks College an accredited college, it was required by the state that each faculty member have a degree from an American university or college. Professor Billeter had a degree from one of the finest conservatories in Europe, and yet he could no longer teach at Ricks until he had earned that American degree. As he left, one sensed in him a disillusionment with music, with America, and even with his future.
I had the privilege of studying three years with Professor Billeter before going to Utah State in Logan. There I studied with a fine musician, Miss LuDean Rogers who was a graduate of the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and a student of fine teachers in Paris. After I received my degree, the handsome young man whom I had been in love with for five years, finally asked me to marry him and we returned to the valley to live. That was 1934, in the height of the depression, but we were in love and problems didn't seem insurmountable. We arrived in Sugar City on a Saturday night in late September, and Sunday was stake conference. As I entered the Rexburg Tabernacle that Sunday morning and heard that organ again after three years away from it, tears started to stream down my face. Concerned, my husband, LaMar, asked what was the matter. "I don't know," I spoke through my tears, "but I feel I have come home." And home it has been ever since.
I was home but a few days when I received a call to come to Ricks College to teach piano and organ, as Professor Billeter had just left, and requested that I take his college and community students. There were seven community students. I felt strongly that there should be more people studying music in Rexburg and surrounding communities, so the following summer I went from door to door in many areas talking with parents, school superintendents, and principals. Many people cooperated to make possible musical training for numerous young people. Plano, Newdale and Rexburg principals and superintendents found areas in their schools where a piano could be placed, and allowed released time for piano study. President Peter J. Ricks and President Orval P. Mortenson authorized the heating of the tabernacle each week to make possible organ training for Ricks and community students. They provided this service without charge for over fifteen years, and because of their generous support, hundreds of organists have been trained to serve the church in many parts of the world. Bishops of many wards also lent their cooperation.
One day each week, I gave lessons in homes to students in St. Anthony, Wilford, and Teton. Jerry (Mrs. Jerry Bean Powell), your home was the last in that long day of lessons. Always there was a warm greeting and usually a warm bowl of soup to cheer and energize me. I missed you once in late January. By late afternoon a blizzard started, and I decided I better get home as quickly as I could. Travel was slow and it was dark before I reached Sugar City. By then the drifts were so high I had to park a block from our home. I attempted to walk through the drifts but soon found myself in snow up to my arm pits. I was made completely immobile. My cries were swallowed in the wind, and I felt the end had come. I was only weeks away from the birth of our second child. I figured without my husband, though. Worried about me, he came home early from his work and was watching for the car lights. Armed with flashlight, shovel and rope, he came to my rescue. When he got within hearing distance he teasingly asked me, "What on earth are you doing out there?" "I don't know," I answered him, "but I hope you can get me out." Never had he or life looked more beautiful.
In 1941 the Sugar Company asked LaMar to work in the Midvale plant near Salt Lake City. We were there one year and a marvelous opportunity was allowed me to study with Frederic Dixon, a concert pianist and student of Raphael Joseffy at Julliard. It took nearly half our monthly income to pay for the lessons, but my kind husband was willing to make that sacrifice. I had recently given birth to our third child, Kent, and a neighbor friend, whose family was grown, asked to tend him while I practiced. She came three hours each morning and afternoon and lovingly tended and watched over this child so I could practice. I received from Frederic Dixon a marvelous technical approach that gave me great progress. Seeing my joy, he said: "I am happy to experience your enthusiasm for this method, but the real thrill will come when you give it to your students and note their rapid development." He was right. I have never ceased to find joy in passing to others the truths he and others so carefully gave to me.
These stories from the past, as I mention in the beginning, are but examples of the lives and works of individuals in any community that has a rich cultural heritage. I have mentioned only keyboard musicians, but there have been many pioneers in the vocal, string, band, and visual art areas. Time will not allow me to mention them. May I refer to a few more special people who have laid the groundwork in many of our communities to allow you here tonight to do the fine work you are engaged in. I would like to mention first Clifford C. Clive. How many people here tonight have studied with him or with someone who has studied with him - - this fine musician who lived in our valley many years? Will you please stand. Isn't this a wonderful tribute to a great teacher. Will Mrs. W.W. Brady and Mrs. Deone Tall from Rigby please stand if they are here. We honor you tonight for the service you have given to so many. Are Mrs. Ruth Murdock from Ashton and Mrs. Mary Thomas from Sugar City here tonight? If you are, will you please stand. We love you for your lives of dedication and service. Clarence Murdock and Phoebe Christiansen from Teton Valley are two people who have influenced for good every family in that wonderful valley. Will you please stand if you are here. I know that Star Valley will ever call you blessed, Dr. Chester Hill, for the years of sacrifice you have made to give musical development to that remote area. If I mention anymore names, I would have to name all you wonderful teachers who are here tonight and many more. These people who have acknowledged your applause tonight are giants upon whose shoulders you stand. Your foundation is firm so your reach can be far.
I hope these brief references to the past have illustrated that to create a meaningful life three important forces have to be united in action: (1) a family who cares, (2) teachers who care, (3) and a community that cares. All have to be willing to make unselfish sacrifices. These forces have generated the spirit that has given us our rich musical heritage. It is the spirit that is present in you tonight, and it is the same spirit that will magnify the future. Before I close may I leave three challenges with you:
Challenge No. 1: Never just teach a music lesson. Each boy or girl who comes to you is a unique being and whether you teach him in a cold front room in a remote form house or in the warmth of a college studio makes no difference. It is your privilege to help mold this unique child into a noble human being, to fill his life with the spiritually sublime from all ages. He is fresh from the sublime in his preexistence and is sensitive to the sublime here if it is given to him with enthusiasm and care. Galileo said: "You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him to find it within himself." Socrates said: "Learning is remembering." Let us cultivate self-identification with the sublime, and help each child remember the things that are good, true, and beautiful. Help him shun the mediocre and vulgar. The world will flood him with that. If you will open for him a vision and put him on the path of things of great worth, he will bless you forever.
Challenge No. 2: Find ways to involve the whole family of the child you are teaching in meaningful musical experience. You have a tough competitor in the TV that is enslaving parents and children alike, but if you really care, if you really try, you will find a way. You have found a way to improve yourselves and your teaching capacities through this fine music teacher's organization. If you will combine your strengths with the home as your target, you can succeed there, too. The family home evening is a natural set up for rich musical experience that can be shared with the whole family. Consult with fathers and mothers and cooperate with them and guide them in working out programs for those evenings. That can be a beginning. Keep families aware of fine cultural recitals and concerts available in the community. Help prepare them for these events and encourage attendance as a family affair. Your enthusiasm for that which is good can bring value, unity, and spiritual experience to untold families.
Challenge No.3: Find a way to involve the whole community in your musical activity. The classroom, the church, and civic organizations can all be served with the talent you are developing. Recently a great ballet instructor was brought to the University of Utah to assist in their rapidly expanding ballet program. "As I study your program," he commented, "I see one great weakness. Your students practice and practice beautifully, but they rarely perform. It is performance that gives their art incentive and meaning." If the community is sure that you are not trying to build your own personal honor and glory, but only to bring development to their children, I am sure opportunities for performance can open up in many directions. Do not think in terms of only entertaining the community, but in edifying and educating the community through meaningful experience - - and if you really work at it you can make it meaningful! You can communicate things of real value! Invite the community to your festivals and let them hear their youngsters perform at their best. Both will benefit.
I challenge you in these three important areas, and I have faith that you can meet these challenges for you have inherited a great spirit, you are now generating a great spirit, and I know you will perpetuate this spirit in coming generations. Our age that is demanding "relevance" can have it if it will build upon the past, keeping alive the spirit of unity, sacrifice, love, and concern for meaningful human values. The Lord promises that "He who receiveth all things in thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be opened unto him, even an hundred fold; yea, even more." (D&C 78:19)
Let us be thankful for the rich musical heritage that is ours and may we ever strive to perpetuate and magnify it is my prayer, and I say this in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.