Thursday, January 21, 2016

Madame Schumann-Heink & the Sagebrush Symphony Orchestra

A few months ago I was invited to give a presentation about Myrtle to a local club. The months leading up to the presentation had been pretty tumultuous for me, and I had piled all my research in the corner of my home office and hadn't looked at or thought about it for some time. I thought about preparing for the presentation, but just wasn't inspired. I'll be honest, I was still very sad about Movie Mouse, and was just feeling bummed. I decided to print out some photos and a basic timeline and just wing it.

I arrived, and realized they had chocolate cake and wine so I was all set.

I started talking, and remembering little tidbits, and coming up with new questions for myself to follow up on. The group of ladies there were wonderful, and really brainstormed with me, sharing ideas about the historical context of events in Myrtle's life, and stories of old Baker.

My friend Ann Clark was there, and started to reminisce about Myrtle. Myrtle died when Ann was a little girl, but she remembers her. And then Ann started to talk about her childhood vocal coach, and the time that Madame Schumann-Heink visited Baker. She told me I ought to look Madame Schumann-Heink up, and that she had a book she'd like me to see that featured this woman.

A few weeks ago, Ann loaned me the book and I spent part of the day learning about this amazing Madame Schumann-Heink, and I learned one story about her that stood out above the rest, the story about how she funded a children's symphony in Burns, Oregon just before World War 1, which became the inspiration for the Portland Youth Philharmonic.

The story goes that years ago a musician named Mary Dodge moved out to Burns to live in an engineering camp with her husband. She often played her violin, and found that children would gather around to hear her play. So she began to teach them, and little by little she built up a youth symphony, which was eventually named the Sagebrush Symphony Orchestra. Local ranchers and businessmen donated money so the kids could tour on the Chautauqua circuit. Their tour took them to Portland, where they played a few shows. World renowned vocalist Madame Schumann-Heink was there for one of their shows and was blown away by their performance. She was so inspired by them that she vowed to support them financially and host a benefit concert so that they could continue to tour.  Unfortunately, the war put a damper on things and the orchestra disbanded upon Mary Dodge's move to Portland. Once in Portland, Mrs. Dodge used her experience in Burns to build a new youth symphony, which is known today as the highly regarded Portland Youth Philharmonic--the oldest youth orchestra in the United States.

I don't know about you, but I had no idea that the Portland Youth Philharmonic has its roots in Burns.

You can read about it here:

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