Having been born and raised in Eugene, I certainly didn’t want to stay there for college. My senior-year orchestra conductor, Mr. Cole, said he thought I’d be accepted anywhere, but I had never been east of Moscow, Idaho, or south of San Francisco, so a good “anywhere” seemed like Seattle, where my oldest sister, Donna, was living and working as a music teacher. I knew that “The U” had a good music school, so I applied and was accepted by Professor William McColl on the basis of my Poulenc Sonata tape.
Meanwhile, Mom, Elementary Music Coordinator for District 4J, was planning a sabbatical to study comparative music education in Germany for the 1970-71 school year, and she liked the idea of my being near Donna, so the decision to go to “The U” was pretty easy.
We were thrilled when an envelope arrived a few weeks before school was to start offering me a stipend to play in The Contemporary Group. I had no idea what The Contemporary Group was, but I saw dollar signs and, when I did the math, realized that with the other scholarships I was promised, my mother could go study in Europe without having to give me any money for my first year of school. It was a happy situation for the youngest daughter of a divorced mom who had always worked so hard for her three girls.
So, off I went to Seattle in September, to find that Mr. McColl was an excellent teacher, and The Contemporary Group was a tremendous opportunity. I was the clarinetist in a student wind quintet (with Jeff Cohan, flute; E. Harvey Jewell, an oboe doctoral student; Ann Crandall, bassoon; and Paul McNutt, horn) coached by Felix Skowronek, flutist in the faculty quintet, the Soni Ventorum. There was also a student string quartet, which won the Coleman Chamber Music competition one year, being mentored by the Philadelphia String Quartet. William O. Smith was Director of The Group, which was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, with Robert Suderburg as Associate Director. Composer William Bergsma was the Dean of the School of Music at the time.
There were interesting works being performed: Pauline Oliveros’ “Wheel of Fortune”, which required Smith to play according to the draw of Tarot cards. Trombonist Stuart Dempster played in a work which first had him crawling around the floor of a darkened stage, lighting and blowing out matches, eventually buzzing through a garden hose equipped with a sprinkler that spewed baby powder as it rotated. John Eaton’s Agon was a tour-de-force for bass Leon Lishner, with a double string quartet and a double woodwind quintet tuned in micro-tones, requiring cords to be stretched down the bores of our instruments. Concerts were varied; here is a sample of Ibert’s Capriccio for Ten Instruments, as we performed it on December 3, 1970. I was 18 and a freshman at the time.
Capriccio for ten instruments
The more traditional groups at The U were challenging too. My first year in the University Symphony was Maestro Stanley Chappell’s last–he conducted a Verdi Requiem that none of us will forget. (The Seattle Youth Symphony still had the venerable Vilem Sokol at the helm and it was amazing to play Mahler 10th in that group, in addition.) In my clarinet lessons Prof. McColl used to talk about the Casals Festivals in which he had played in Puerto Rico, and would say to me “You have to sound like Bob Marcellus; you have to sound like Buddy Wright,” as he assigned those Uhl Etudes. At that point in my life, I didn’t know who those guys were, but I knew that I had to keep working on those Uhls!
The Soni Ventorum Woodwind Quintet had formed in Puerto Rico in the early sixties (see the website: www.soniventorum.com). McColl was a graduate of the Vienna Academy, a student of Leopold Wlach. The flutist, Skowronek, oboist, Laila Storch, and bassoonist, Arthur Grossman, were all Curtis graduates. The Soni worked in Puerto Rico for six years, teaching at the Conservatory and playing in the PR Symphony during those institutions’ earliest years, when Casals was often present. They also played in those incredible Casals Festival concerts that people still talk about, at the Theater of the University of Puerto Rico, with the old man conducting. It was an exciting time in Puerto Rico, and the Soni toured and performed as a Quintet in addition to their contractual duties under Festival Casals, Inc.
They left San Juan for Seattle when the U was looking for a woodwind quintet and hired the group as an entity. They continued concertizing and touring from their new base, and gave us students the best of training. They knew what the highest professional standards were, and they continually showed us, helped us, and, yes, criticized us—all for the right reasons.
My mom returned from her sabbatical and I started my second year at the U. I was enrolled as a double major, Music and Communications. Watergate was just beginning, so the journalism classes were buzzing. The U required three science classes (I chose Geology, Plant Taxonomy and Zoology,) three social sciences (Linguistics, the History of Modern Science and Sociology,) and three humanities (French Literature, and I used Advanced Placement credits to cover the others.) I chose my classes by asking friends who the good teachers were—I cared less about what the subject was than how interesting the class would be. I worked hard, learned a lot from some excellent profs, and stretched my mind—thanks Huskies!
During that year, a flutist buddy, Deb Shorrock, talked about a fabulous summer she had just spent at the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, CA. She encouraged me to apply, so in the spring I sent my audition tape of the Stravinsky Three Pieces and the Brahms Trio to the clarinet teacher, Mitchell Lurie. I was ecstatic when I received my acceptance letter!