Community Arts Orchestra Played Sixteen Sunday Concerts a Season for Four Years
In the accompanying picture we see the original Community Arts String Orchestra (later known as the Clerbois Orchestra) with Roger Clerbois as conductor. The forerunner of the Community Arts Association Music Branch, today it does not exist but the Branch, with activities much curtailed, became the Community Arts Association [sic: Community Arts Music Association] of Santa Barbara, Inc.
It was the late Adele Herter who inspired the creation of the Orchestra. She designed robes and a setting for its fortnightly concerts at the then new Recreation Center. Here we see the players in lavender robes against gold-stenciled blue draperies, their music on gold music stands. At the left in the picture is Anthony vander [sic: van der] Voort as concertmaster.
Although a great creative renaissance was beginning in Santa Barbra, quite probably the players and the large audience listening to them that March Sunday afternoon in 1921 – proud of this imposing beginning of an orchestra of their own – fell far short of dreaming what actually would come to pass here musically, once talented persons of vision and means had indicated to the people their potentialities.
For the ideal of the Community Arts Association as a whole (in which memberships once reached 1800) was “for every person to become articulate in his chosen field,” [sic]
The records of the Community Arts Music Branch show that it reached the local public most effectively through its scholarships, granted to more than 100 students between the years 1923 and 1929; and through its Summer band concerts, for several seasons in the late ‘20’s. Through the generosity of Maj. Max C. Fleischmann via the Santa Barbara Foundation, a 25-piece brass band sponsored by the Branch played around 48 concerts in Plaza del Mar and Alameda Plaza to audiences averaging 2500.
But over and above these were ventures that put Santa Barbara in a national cultural spotlight, ventures climaxed in 1927 and 1928 by a daring invitation to the Persinger String Quartet of San Francisco to come here for two years’ residence.
Under the inspiration of the late Ethel Roe Eichheim, wife of the noted composer Henry Eichheim, the Music Branch raised $50,000 and kept the quartet here during eight months each of those two fabulous years, arranging one transcontinental tour for it and booking engagements for it in leading concert halls of Eastern and Canadian cities during the four months when it was not “in residence.”
Played for Children
While the Quartet was here, it was at the beck and call of the Branch. It played to bumptious junior audiences in public schools as well as to sedate listeners at Lobero Theater and exclusive music lovers in the lush drawing rooms of the ‘20’s. Then were the days of unthreatened fortunes, when the late David Gray, for instance, once bought out the entire Lobero and gave tickets free to first-comers to hear Negro tenor, Roland Hayes.
In the Branch report for 1924-25 appears a quotation from Beulah A. Ratliff in “The Survey”:
“The impulse to substitute beauty for mediocrity does not leap full-fledged from the civic consciousness of a small American city. The group recognition of art as a vital force in life and the ability to work together for beauty as well as for ‘business as usual’ is due to the fact that for several years the artistic interests of the city (Santa Barbara) have been drawn together and given opportunity for experiment and growth through the Community Arts Association of Santa Barbara.”
To go back to the March afternoon in 1921. The program labeled “First Community Arts Concert” gives the orchestra personnel as: 1st violins, Anthony van derVoort [sic: der Voort], Anne Waldron, Florence Hooper, Sadie Carlston; 2nd violins, Helene Portune, Mr. Mozart (no given name), Thomas Manicini; violas, Caro Clerbois, Mr. Bartlett (no given name); celli, Harry Kaplun, Roscoe Lyans; piano, Grace Kaplun. Lester Donohue, still a prominent pianist on the Coast, was the soloist.
Elma C. Levy (Mrs. Michel A. Levy), writing in the ‘30’s about the Community Arts Association, observed: “In this day of radio and sound pictures it may be difficult to conceive of a community of 25,000 people, such as this was, devoid of opportunity to hear any kind of music, except those privileged to attend the series of fine artists brought here by (the late) Mrs. C. E. Herbert, or an occasional band concert during the Summer season…”
16 Sunday Concerts
Poring over old programs and Branch reports, we learned that the Orchestra under Roger Clerbois conducted 16 Sunday afternoon concerts a year at Recreation Center. Three-fourths of the musicians used were professional, one-fourth talented amateurs and advanced students. They were heard by a total of 10,500 persons in the four years of the Orchestra’s existence – an average 1600 to a concert. Seats ranged in price from 25 cents to $1.25.
As there is a new community orchestra today, it may be interesting to learn about “salaries” in the old days. A professional musician was paid $7.00 per concert, $1.00 for each rehearsal except one, which he attended without pay. The director was paid double that amount. Two students received $5.00 each concert, no pay for rehearsals. Several non-professionals donated their services. A soloist received $25.
Reports of the Music Branch referred constantly to the “educational value of the carefully chosen program” and “the beauty and dignified spirit” prevailing at the concerts. “All this,” reported Mrs. Frederic S. Gould in 1924, after the 53rd concert, “we owe to our conductor, whose aims are of the highest, whose ability as a program-maker is very unusual and whose taste…has led him to give the very best of music.”
At the outset, Mrs. Herter secured 39 donors who subscribed $6500 in advance for the season with pledges for two years. “This,” records report, “was essential, for the low priced tickets only covered expenses to a very small extent, and one of Mrs. Herter’s objectives, indeed the principal one, was to furnish good music at small cost to the public. This object has been constantly kept in mind.” Tickets also were given away to school children, teachers, and student nurses.
In 1924, the Branch decided that a falling off of attendance and a deficit of some $600 at each concert accompanied by fewer donations made it necessary to discontinue the Orchestra. But such a storm of protest followed that pledges of funds poured in and Clerbois decided to continue the Orchestra under his own management, which he did for a number of years. He is still influential in the musical life of the City.
“An important result of this experiment,” a subsequent report stated, “was that the people learned that the Community Arts does not believe it must continue to support indefinitely every activity it originates and that in some instances it may prove best to make certain activities independent or turn them over to another organization well started.”
New fields of music entered by the Branch will be described in next Sunday’s article.