George Gershwin, Robert Schulz and Me
Welcome to the beginning of my 10th year of blog-writing! It’s one more decade to celebrate, in tune with last month’s journal. Speaking of tunes, music is a perfect subject for this month, which is a tribute to the person who helped to inspire my love of George Gershwin’s work.
One of the earliest entries of Judy’s Journal was in November 2004. I wrote about being lucky enough to have grown up in Buffalo, New York. One of the reasons cited was the education I received, which included regular field trips to hear the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. Those experiences nurtured my musical tastes. When I graduated from Buffalo State and was hired to teach at P. S. 16 on Delaware Avenue, one of the first things I did with my less-than-$4000 salary was purchase season tickets to the Philharmonic.
Musical tastes develop in many ways. During the 1940’s, radio was a large squat presence in living rooms. Out of its speakers came worlds of adventure, drama and music. Neighborhoods had their own theatres, and it did not take long before movies would migrate from downtown. I remember being eight years old, walking home in the rain after seeing An American in Paris. My level of enchantment was the highest I had ever known. I stopped to look in puddles and noticed how motor oil swirled blues and greens, just like the color feast in Vincent Minnelli’s film. Decades later, I would write a poem, “Journal Entry,” about it (A Brush with Words 2013).
An American in Paris introduced me to George Gershwin’s “Concerto in F.” Oscar Levant played a Gershwin-like character. A fantasy concert, with Levant playing all the musicians and the conductor, was one of the musical centerpieces of the film. It was as kitschy as it was mesmerizing. I fell in love with the piece, but we had no record player so it faded into a memory…until high school.
I joined the Mt. St. Mary Academy Glee Club in freshmen year, 1956. Our director was Robert Schulz. We learned standard choral pieces and gave concerts at hospitals and high schools. My favorite piece was Handel’s “Messiah” until…one day, Mr. Schulz announced that he would be the guest pianist at Kleinhan’s Music Hall. Among his selections would be Gershwin’s “Concerto in F.”
Each glee club meeting from then until concert night would feature Mr. Schulz’s rehearsal and comments on sections of the Gershwin piece. What we students were privileged to witness was an artist’s passion literally in play. This was definitely a less-reserved Mr. Schulz. He was an artist urging us to appreciate the brilliance of certain passages and recognize the sound of absolute beauty.
Of course, some of us in the glee club attended the concert. Beyond the music was the pride we felt seeing Mr. Schulz performing so wonderfully. For weeks, he had given us the gift of sharing his passion for music. Teachers never know the extent or depth of their influence.
Today, I have three versions of “Concerto in F” and the DVD of An American in Paris. As described in Max Harrison’s 1985 liner notes, the concerto’s central movement “has a poetic, nocturnal atmosphere and the opening strands have one of the most beautiful passages [Gershwin] ever wrote.”
I told my sister, Jennie, about this month’s blog and said that my 1958 year book has a picture of Mr. Schulz in his tuxedo, probably taken at Kleinhan’s Music Hall that evening. She said, “Why don’t you scan it into your blog?” Another brilliant suggestion, Jennie!