First Impressions of Italy
8/30/09, Chris Earnest
After returning to Patch Barracks from France, we flew to Italy for the second part of the NATO tour. We left on a day typical for early March in southwestern Germany: gloomy, heavy gray sky, with a cold drizzle mixed with light snow falling. We landed in Pisa after dark, and already the difference was marked: even at night, the slight breeze on the airstrip was warm and pleasant. The accommodations in a very nice hotel were also quite a step up. But the real change was the next morning, when we woke to the wonderful sweet fragrance of the orange trees just outside the window. It was a splendid warm, sunny day, and before rehearsal Jake Berg and I took a short walk. The first person we met greeted us with a broad smile and a cheerful, hearty "Buon giorno!!" On our tours in Germany we had also met a lot of friendly people, but the contrast between that salutation and the serious, dutiful "Guten Tag" not uncommon in Swabia couldn't have been greater. The Italian tour was off to a great start!
Rome came later in the tour. After the concert several of us dropped into a small restaurant for some espresso and a snack, but Adam Pinsker's piece of pound cake turned out to be stale. We called the waiter over and Adam, using his best operatic Italian ("Non è fresco, questo!"), was able to convey to him what the problem was. But instead of taking the cake back he disappeared into the kitchen and immediately reappeared with a bottle of brandy which he sprinkled liberally onto the cake, saying "È fresco adesso!" ("Its not stale now!")
A Close Call
8/16/09, Dave Amram (from Vibrations: A Memoir, Paradigm Publishers, 2009)
When we came back from [a 1953 Austrian tour] and had a few days off, I was asked by someone in the special services to write some incidental music for a play they were doing based on a James Thurber story. The adapter was Buck Henry, and Paul Lief was the director. Paul told me what was needed for the play, which included a small ballet with two swisher-dancers who had managed to pass all the army entrance exams and were having a ball making it with each other and everybody else they could lay their hands on. They were very knowledgeable about music, however, with a very good understanding of rhythmic problems. There was so little time that we all agreed it would be best if I wrote the music to the choreography. So we went over the entire dance, counting the steps together. Then I composed music that fit what they were already doing. I completed the whole score in four and a half days, staying up day and night, with some friends helping to copy the parts for xylophone, timpani, clarinet, bassoon, and French horn. It was to be a special performance to show all the Seventh Army bigwigs the high caliber work that was going on. Since the symphony had already performed so much, this time they wanted to show all the dramatic talents that were part of our Patch Barracks madhouse.
We rehearsed for a day and a half and everything seemed very well synchronized. But just before the performance was to begin I looked around frantically for Rick, the clarinet player. It was time for the overture, but Rick was nowhere to be seen. He was apparently down in a trailer with some gypsies and had forgotten about his performance.
"Get Kenny," I said frantically. I knew Kenny Schermerhorn could sight-read the clarinet part on the muted trumpet, transposing it down an octave when necessary. While someone went to find him, a colonel came backstage in a cold rage. "Why don't you begin, soldier?" he questioned me, his voice filling the whole backstage with the cold, dry depth of his withered, sexless soul.
"I'm waiting for the clarinet player, sir." Surveying the scene like General Sherman about to burn Georgia to the ground, he turned his eyes toward me and said, "It looks like you got the musical personnel here to do the job, soldier. Let's get on with it."
"Listen, Colonel," I said, "I'm the composer and I wrote this music for certain instruments. If the clarinet player doesn't show up, someone is coming to play his part."
"I don't care what you wrote it for, soldier," said the colonel, zeroing in for the kill. "If you don't start playing by the time I'm in my seat, you're going to be doing some stockade time, and if you don't get a haircut by the next time I see you, you might do life." With this he stalked off. Just then Kenny came bursting in with his trumpet. We played and although the muted trumpet didn't exactly sound like a clarinet, the music went quite well. It was the only composition of mine I had performed in the army except for a few jazz tunes.
11/1/2009, Sheila Finch (Rayner)
The first week of November 1956, I flew from London to Nürnberg to be with my soon-to-be fiance, Clare Rayner (Pogo). My only live experience of orchestras was the rather stuffy Promenade concerts at the Royal Albert Hall, so I was prepared to be impressed. After picking me up at the airport, Pogo took me to the concert hall where the symphony was rehearsing for the evenings concert.
We entered the hall and found a rather chaotic scene. Some musicians were on stage rehearsing, others were playing with toy cars that they raced up and down the aisles. A harried looking man who I learned was the latest in the series of beleaguered army brass sent to captain the symphony was trying vainly to restore order, but nobody paid attention. Pogo explained that since Nürnberg was the toy capital of the world, the symphony had begun their day with visits to the toy shops.
Finally, the captain got most of the orchestra assembled on stage and laid down the law about the good impression the young soldiers were supposed to make as American ambassadors to the German audience. No car racing during the performance! And be sure to wear regulation black socks!
But when the conductor raised his baton that night, the front row of the orchestra displayed an assortment of brown socks among the black, and at least one person wearing one of each. And at one point between musical numbers, a solitary little race car made its way down the aisle toward the stage. Far from being offended, the German audience seemed to be enchanted. Quite a difference from the Proms!
11/4/13 Arno Drucker
Most of the times I performed, Ed Alley conducted, but one memorable concert in Berchtesgarden was conducted by the conductor of the Stuttgart Philharmonic, Hans Honner. Berchtesgaden was the place where Hitler had his famous “Eagles Nest” hideaway. The town became an “R & R” place for GI’s and there was an American hotel downtown where we ate lunch when we arrived. I noticed a covered up piano in the corner and, of course, was interested in it. It was a 9 foot Steinway concert grand. When we drove up the long, winding road to the top to the General Walker Hotel (the army took over everything and renamed things) and I immediately checked the concert hall, I found a really beat up small, piano (not a Steinway) - a really inferior instrument. This was a special concert and I particularly wanted to sound good but didn’t want to have to play this clunker. It happened that while I was trying the piano out the German piano tuner appeared. Once I started talking German to him he immediately commiserated with me, promising to do the best he could, but admitting he couldn’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.
I had an idea. I would go to our Colonel (the really big brass were attending this concert). This bold move was totally wrong from a military perspective but I was brash. I told the Colonel that the instrument in the hall was awful and there was an excellent piano in the village. Would he please let me have that piano brought up for the concert? It turned out that the Colonel was an unusual person. Not only was he knowledgeable about music, but he also spoke German. The Colonel talked to the piano tuner who gave him an earful about how awful the hall piano was, corroborating my story. The Colonel gave me permission to have a truck and 6 men to bring the piano up from the downtown hotel for the concert. The concert went well and I was very grateful.
3/13/99, Myron Rosenblum
During my tenure in the 7th Army Symphony (1957-58), we had occasion to play in the town of Sigmaringen. We rolled into town and during our afternoon rehearsal of Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann and Fauré (if my memory is correct!), I noticed a man sitting in the rear of the hall. Right after the break, Ling Tung, our conductor, told the orchestra that the man was a local music critic who informed him and the orchestra that we could not perform the Fauré Pavane.
The reason was simple and infuriating. Sigmaringen was the site of the ancient Hohenzollern dynasty and we were told that the town had not had any French music performed there in many hundreds of years and they weren't going to start then. Mozart, Beethoven and Schumann were fine (whatever the precise program was, I am certain it was all German/Austrian composers save one). Ling Tung, diplomatic as he was, did not oppose it as unhappy as he was, and we in the orchestra were not happy troopers by any means. We were sharing our music as good-will ambassadors and this went against the grain.
So, we played our music of Teutonic composers in that hallowed city of German history and nationalism, but we did break the barrier. Immediately after the last applause of the final piece, Ling turned to us and told us to pull out the Fauré which we then played as an encore. I don't recall whether or not it was announced (I suspect not), but the German audience there was treated to a beautiful piece of French music, probably for the first time in their lives. Sigmaringen survived it and is still there.
Canarina himself told me this story not in his book. They were playing in a German city - I forget which one - and he played an encore as we often did. Afterwards the local music critic approached him and asked him what that beautiful piece was that he had played as an encore. He had never heard it before. It was the Nocturne from Midsummer Night's Dream! It clearly had not been played in that part of Germany since 1933.
[Ed Note: John Canarina, when asked which hornist had the stamina for the very tiring Nocturne after a full concert, provided this additional information] I think that was in Fürth (Bayern), a suburb of Nürnberg, in which case the hornist was probably Allen Gusé. We also played the Scherzo from Midsummer on some other concerts. I'm sure it had been played in Germany, just not in Fürth. We heard the Berlin Philharmonic play the Italian Symphony in February 1960, so obviously Mendelssohn was being played.
Why I was Promoted to the Rank of Sgt. E-5
1/27/99, Jules M. Hirsh
The orchestra was at home rehearsing and a new Captain was on duty. He was standing near me when I suggested to the bass section that at letter D we take a down bow.
I was a PFC. After the day was over the First Sgt. called me into his office and said that Captain Gotowicki wished to see me. I went into his office and he asked me what I told the rest of the bass players to do. I explained that as the Principal Bassist it was my responsibility to see that the conductor's wishes were followed. He said that in army protocol a PFC cannot order higher ranking soldiers. As of the next day I was promoted to Sgt E-5.
After a short, polite, but curt conversation, the sergeant there told him that he was to be promoted. Did he object? Most certainly not in this situation. Looking at his status, the sergeant indicated to Pogo that he was to be promoted to specialist something, and that his performance rating was somethng like a "3." Pogo calmly told the sergeant that his performance rating could not possibily be so low as a "3." After all he was a member of the symphony, and his rating had to a "10." Without reflecting, the sergeant concurred, and immediately typed in a "10."
We've always heard that even sergeants breathe, but this guy did not take a breath; rather he mumbled incoherently something to the fact that no one could possibly be a specialist of any sort with this rating, and that it had to be a sergeant. Excited, as all symphony members would be with such a promotion, Pogo casually told him that he concurred, and that the sergeant should change his status. Again, still without breathing, (was the sergeant underwater?), in total dismay at reading the information before him, that which he had just typed, he repeated, "you have to be a sergeant." Again, Pogo's excited reply was, "Fine, change it!" Obediently the sergeant did this, and sent Sergeant Pogo on his way.
Returning to the barracks, Pogo told the sergeant in charge there that he had been promoted to sergeant. As could possibly be expected, the sergeant emphatically stated that that would never happen, and that Pogo should definitely NOT change his stripes to sergeant. Oh. what a disappointment. Pogo will not be a sergeant. Only the first trombonist, Cloud Crawford, an ER from Kentucky, would remain a sergeant. Totally chagrined by this turn of events, Pogo wept all the way to his next beer, a Dinkelacker.
So off went the symphony on another tour with Specialist/Sergeant Pogo.
On return from the tour, the sergeant at the barracks accosted Pogo, as usual firstly about his duck-tail hair-cut, but secondly chastising Pogo for not having the sergeant stripes on his uniform. Shocked, dismayed, and delighted (?), Pogo rushed to the nearest Gasthaus for another Dinkelacker, to reflect on this clearly logical, but unexpected turn of events.
Well, Pogo did become Sergeant Pogo, but with no great respect, or adoration from the symphony members. That only meant that Sergeant Pogo had to mop the barracks each day in order to retain his honorable status. Most certainly Sergeant Cloud, in his typical obstreperous Kentucky manner, would never mop the barracks.
So went promotions in the Seventh Army SYMPATHY BAND, and Sergeant Pogo happily mopped the floors at Patch, looking forward to his next escapade with the symphony.
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7/19/98, Michael Comins
Cellists Fernando (Freddie) Hahnl, a Yugoslav who spoke at least 4 languages, and Brooklynite Kevork K Fags ("toidy-toid st. & toid ave.") were stand-partners during the summer and fall of 1954.
During a rehearsal in the downtown PX theater across from the Bahnhof, a mumbling arose from the Cello section. Schermerhorn continued conducting and we continued to play as the mumbling quickly grew in intensity. Suddenly, Hahnl jumped up and, enraged, screamed "Faags, you domb sheet--you caan't heeven spik no Henglish!!" Schermerhorn, doubled up in hysterical laughter, nearly fell off the podium as pandemonium reigned for the next few minutes.
Accident and Aftermath
11/1/09, Chris Earnest
Not long after I joined the orchestra we were rehearsing the Eroica in the Gasthaus near the base.
When there was a break I laid my horn on a large table, out of possible harm's way, or so I thought.
As I was enjoying my typical Apfelstrudel in the adjoining room, someone came rushing in and told me something had
happened to my horn. I ran back into the rehearsal room and there was my horn lying on the floor with one side of the
bell bent back practically onto itself! Evidently I had put the horn on two tables pushed together end to end, and one of the violinists had mindlessly
pulled one of the tables away from the other, causing the horn to fall. I was too shocked and anguished
even to be angry – the horn was only four years old! It did play OK for the rest of the rehearsal, except when I looked down at the bell, which made my stomach turn.
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9/06/99, Adam Pinsker
After I took my European discharge and was studying at the local conservatory, I stayed in touch with friends in the orchestra and in Special Services administration, who had handled the paperwork for the orchestra. When Ondrejka was close to finishing his army days, they held auditions, as they usually did, for a new conductor. The jury always consisted, in those days, of the music directors of the three German orchestras of the city: the State Orchestra (the opera orchestra in concert), the Stuttgart Philharmonic and the Radio Orchestra. Their unanimous choice was the orchestra's principal bass, Henry Lewis. The fellows in the front office told me that their boss, Col. Bewie, a southerner, was very displeased and was making noises that he was going to take action. I told them to let Bewie know that a former member of the orchestra, now a civilian in Stuttgart, would inform his senator, Herbert Lehman, of Bewie's action, if he took any, and that was the end of that.
The Twisted Muse
9/06/99, Adam Pinsker
Adler told me he was surprised that Germans were not familiar with Messiah, even the German choristers. I had long puzzled about this until about two years ago, when a book came out called The Twisted Muse. It is all about all the arts under the Third Reich. Handel was in bad favor with Goebbels and Hitler because he wrote all those oratorios on "Jewish texts." Messiah itself is mostly taken from Old Testament sources, and then there is the whole slew of Judas Macabeus, Jephtha, Belshazzar, et al. He was in such disfavor that even his instrumental music was not often played.
8/16/09 Dave Amram (from Vibrations: A Memoir, Paradigm Publishers, 2009)
[In the fall of 1953], after almost seven months of continuous work and extremely successful concerts, Seventh Army headquarters suddenly decided that the symphony was a waste of time. We had played for German audiences with great success, to the amazement of the critics and a public who only had seen Americans getting drunk, fighting, listening to hillbilly music on their transistor radios and generally being more obnoxious than even the Germans themselves when they were tourists. In spite of the fact that we were setting a better image of America than any other organization in the army, the military people felt that while it was good to continue the hillbilly bands and the juggling shows, the symphony was not really necessary.
Fortunately our conductor at that time, James Dixon, was the protégé of Dimitri Mitropoulos. When he wrote Mitropoulos about the situation, the Maestro, who had a concert scheduled in Germany, made a special trip to Seventh Army headquarters and spoke to the generals. He was so persuasive that the symphony was continued for several more years.
After this Mitropoulos threw a party for all the members of the orchestra. We had a marvelous dinner in a German restaurant and afterwards Mitropoulos had a question and answer period in the great tradition of Greek philosophic gatherings. We would ask him questions and he would ask us questions, often answering them himself. It was a kind of Socratic metaphysical discussion. He told us that as in mountain climbing, where each man depends on the other, so had our spirit kept the orchestra together. By utilizing our positive energies even in a military situation, we could serve our country and also continue to develop ourselves for civilian life. In a few hours he renewed our whole sense of dignity and our faith in music.
He also spoke at great length of how music was a mountain and that every one of us, every musician, every composer, every man-made sound was a pebble in that mountain. He spoke of his own boyhood in Greece, where he was raised by monks, how he studied in Berlin. Much of his success in music was, as he said, being in the right place at a given moment. His chances had come, like so many other conductors', when someone was sick. But, he said, "You not only have to be there, you must be able to do it when you are lucky enough to be called upon." He spoke at great length about the symphony as a drama, visually as well as in terms of sound and how important it was to be involved in the music even during the rests.
From that night on whenever Mitropoulus conducted in Germany almost the entire symphony would go if we were anywhere even remotely nearby. He was always delighted to see us backstage. He remembered most of our names and he also asked me to show him anything I was writing. All of us were deeply impressed by his great spirituality and his realness. He made us all decide that if he were a general, we would follow him into battle to death if necessary.
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Camping Out, and Hotels
11/3/13 Arno Drucker
The time with the orchestra was memorable in many ways. During the summer months when tourists drove up hotel prices, the few married men and their wives travelled together and slept, first in our VW’s, and then in tents at German campgrounds. Bill Scarlett, the principal trumpeter, was handy with woodworking. We bought luggage racks for our VW’s and made a wooden box to fit in each rack, to carry our tents. The tents were custom made, and each included a sleeping section and a "living room" area. They were quite comfortable (although we could have done without one 12 day stretch of rain). We cooked on small gas stoves, washed our clothes in water heated by the stoves and performed our concerts at night in our army dress blue uniforms.
During the winter when we couldn’t camp, I dressed in my German pants, shoes, and jacket, selected 2nd or 3rd rate hotels in the town or city where we were to stay for our concerts, and in my best German, bargained for lowering the room rate. I first asked what the clerk could do for a three-day stay - didn’t have to change the linen. Next, what if I brought in two more couples? I was usually able to bring the price down - every pfennig helped. As a lowly private, then corporal and finally sergeant, my Army salary was very low and we had to stretch it to the max.
4/24/16 Bob Quinn
On August 14, 1959 Ann Fassnidge of Longfield Hill, Kent, England, and Robert Quinn of Marion, Iowa, USA, were married in a thatched roof church in the village of Hartley, Kent, England. How this came to be is one of many stories that are part of the history of the 7th Army Symphony.
In October 1956 I arrived in Stuttgart and joined the orchestra when it returned from Greece. Becoming friends with Clare Rayner (aka Sgt. Pogo) and Dick Dennis led to my meeting Ann. Clare had met Sheila, who was English, while he was on leave in Switzerland. Sheila's cousin Brenda met Dick shortly after that in England. Brenda sent Dick the name and address of her college friend, Ann, so that I could write and arrange for a date in London while on Christmas leave in 1957. Ann and I exchanged several letters and photographs.
We met in London "under the clock in Victoria Station" on December 22, 1957. That evening we went to a concert at the Royal Festival Hall. Before Ann got on the train to go home she agreed to meet me again the following day. We went to see The Pajama Game and then to a Chinese restaurant where we met 7ASO conductor Ling Tung. Ann remembers Ling selecting one of the best meals ever. That evening Ann invited me home for Christmas dinner.
Christmas dinner was preceded by a visit to a local pub with several members of the family: two aunts, two uncles, a grandfather and her mother and father. The Queen's speech was listened to between the main course and the pudding (dessert). Grandfather – a retired WW-I Sgt. Major — slept through the speech but said it was one of the Queen's best.
That evening, before I was to leave for London, Ann's mother invited me to pack my bags and come to stay for the rest of my leave. She indicated that it was too expensive for Ann to take the train to London every day. I accepted the invitation.
We continued to correspond over the next few months. Ann and Brenda came to Stuttgart over Easter and I went to England for Ann's college graduation ball. In July 1958 I was discharged in Europe and went to stay with Ann's parents for a month. We became engaged before I returned to the US and graduate school. Plans were made for the wedding the following summer.
Clare married Sheila, and because they were visiting her parents that summer, Clare was able to be the best man at our wedding.
In August we will celebrate our 57th anniversary. The clock in Victoria Station was moved (it's now on a wall) and we are going strong.
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Email Received from another GI
2/26/08, from Donald Waits (non-member)
This will be a strange, but I hope, pleasant bit of memory. It is for me, that is. I am not a professional musician, but have been influenced by music all my life. As a young kid, back in l957, I found myself waiting with hundreds of other kids at Fort Dix (you all remember the garden spot of New Jersey) for transport overseas. My destination was Germany. In the barracks where I was quartered there was a young man on his way to join the Seventh Army Symphony. His instrument was the viola, a favorite of mine at the time. We soon became friends and he let me sit with him as he practiced in some isolated room in the barracks. As I had previously begun to love classical music, just hanging out with him was a treat and a learning experience. We each eventually received our orders; I was to go to a little town called Landstuhl as part of a medical group. Since I was terrified of flying, I opted to take a MSTS ship. My friend, the violist, being a brash New Yorker, elected to fly to Stuttgart. We exchanged addresses and wished each other well, although we never expected to see each other again. I was eventually transfered to the 30 Evac. Hospital unit at Ludwigsburg. Shortly after my arrival I received a note from my friend inviting me to a concert in Stuttgart. I was thrilled, not only to be going to a concert, but to maybe see my friend once more. I vividly recall the audience's reaction. Mostly German and military personnel, they gave the orchestra a rousing standing ovation. The music making was first class! From that initial experience, I was forever a fan of the Seventh Army Symphony. It was MY Symphony. Naturally, most guys in the symphony were draftees and left after 18 months. I was an RA kid and stayed my 3 years. I am now living in New Orleans after retiring from teaching Art for 30 years in New York. For many reasons I am thinking of writing a novel; not a memoir, but needing to refresh my memory about certain aspects of my past. Computers being the great tools that they are, I merely Googled "Seventh Army Symphony" and, to my delight, found all this information. I have spent the last hour clicking on the various pieces of information so lovingly assembled by you guys. All of my fond memories of my German experience came back in waves of pleasure. (I had a very soft job - a clerk in an office.) My only regret is that I cannot remember the name of that wonderful violist. It is truly a joy to know that members of the 7th ASO have stayed in touch with each other all these years. Thank you for the site with all its detailed information, and best wishes to all at the 7th ASO. Sincerely, Donald Waits (Sp3-1957-60) Follow-up note received on 3/5/08: Of course, you understand all this was 51 years ago! My God, the fact that I remember any of that is a miracle. The only thing I am sure of is that we (the nameless viola player and I) were at Fort Dix and it was snowing a lot. I had not seen much snow, being from Louisiana and then, later, Fort Ord, California. I do, to this day, remember the gorgeous sound of that viola. We were both a bit nervous about our assignments. I did not have a clue about my duties since even though I was to be attached to a medical group, I was not a "medic", but a lowly clerk. It wasn't until I was eventually transferred to the 30th Evac Hospital in the town of Ludwigsburg that I got to see the Seventh Army Symphony. My memory is perfect regarding the concert. I was so proud of the members of the orchestra in that the German attendees were so vocal in their admiration. There were these mostly very young American musicians playing German music for Germans so soon after the war. The orchestra seemed to be traveling around a lot so I never got a chance to see them again. The memory has stayed with me all these years. I have been a lover of classical music all my life. I have no idea how my little experience so long ago could be of use to you, but I feel better knowing that the remaining members of the Seventh Army Symphony may read of my sincere appreciation of that wonderful event. Best regards to all. Donald Waits New Orleans, La. firstname.lastname@example.org