Saturday, May 12, 2012

May Festival……whatever is that?


.was my first thought as I read the letter from my old friend Gwendolyn. She was inviting me to Cincinnati to hear her daughter, Percylla, sing in their May Festival, a very large choral event.  It was 1948, and I had just returned to Pittsburgh from Louisville, after a week of festivities at the horse races, the Kentucky Derby, they called it. I was nearly exhausted, having spent many evenings drinking mint julips and hosting fund raisers, or is that “fun” raisers, at the Brown Hotel. But, Gwen was a dear old friend from Pitt, and apparently this was a special year for not only her daughter, an upcoming graduate of Cincinnati’s Conservatory of Music, but for women in general. It was the Diamond Jubilee, and a woman was to lead one of the performances (only because a man had become ill) ….and a High School teacher no less…one brave step for woman-kind! The event had taken place for decades, much to my surprise, and Archer could not believe, with my fond interest in music, that I had not heard of it….Gwen says  it’s because I’d been off gallivanting around the world too much!

So, I hopped on the Pennsy thinking…. if I wanted to, I could always hop right back on in Cincinnati and continue on to Chicago…..I knew I could have a wonderful time in Chicago. After all, I had heard much about this city, but not much about the music.

To my amazement, Cincinnati had the most beautiful train station ever, rivaling Grand Central to be sure. Gwen sent a car that took me to her home near the University. Gwen had married a watchmaker, and with her family’s backing, he had created an empire in clocks, bell towers, and other timepieces. This, and much more, was told to me by their driver, and quite the talker I might add, George, as he went on and on about “Miss V”.

More about my Cincinnati trip later, but I will say the city did remind me of the lovely river towns in Germany, with all the green hills and beer…and yes, it seemed everyone was named George!

The May Festival was performed at their “Music Hall”, a most extraordinary piece of architecture…..with the most amazing “wallwork”, and crystal chandeliers! It was not as though I had never seen such a place….the larger cities in Europe were filled with such buildings, but they were much older….I always think of our country as being so very young…and this city was quite a bit more apace with New York than I might have expected. I was quite taken with it.

The performances…..which were conducted by a New Yorker, I might add, were impeccable…all except for the one with Gwen’s daughter, Percylla. She arrived late to the performance and actually walked on stage in a gold lame dress with an amethyst tiara….and her hair as wild as a jackalope….whatever was she thinking! Everyone else was in black…..her mother said she just liked to “stand out” in a crowd…… but I know, from my conversation with the “talker” George, that she was having a bit of a fling with one of the string players and must have been in his company to the very last minute!

That aside, the event was the “bees knees” and I shall spread the word all the way to Pittsburgh!

As a side note, and mum’s the word, I heard they were having a bit of a financial problem with the festival that year, so I wired $1,000 to them upon returning home….Prys alone made the event worth that to me….....Astoria

By the by, to see my treasury in honor of Music Hall and the May Festival:

By the by, for “what to wear” to the event, you must consider this jacket:



By the by, I returned to Cincinnati a few more times, only once for the May Festival, but I have heard that it is still as popular and respected as ever. For more on May Festival:

By the by, unfortunately the Music Hall building did not fare so well. It rather began to show its age and wear over the years; however, I am pleased to read that it is getting a complete redo (I believe they call it a facelift these days) from the bottom up!
What is and what could be….

By the by, one of the other trips I made to Cincinnati was to document a “ghost hunt” for a book I wrote in the 1970’s. And, in addition to many underground tunnels and charming old homes, I was taken to Music Hall!
Ghosts in these halls……….

By the by, Cincinnati continues to be a leader in music, not only classical, but choral et. al. I recently read an article about an upcoming event there called the World Choir Games!
I wonder if that handsome young man, what is his name, he was in.....what is it called...a boy band?...will be there..........

By the by, for more on the glorious Brown Hotel in Louisville,

By the by, to go back to the beginning and catch up to all of Astoria's adventures go to: