The first regular meeting of our Alameda County Branch took place on June 3, 1913. What an auspicious day! We received our charter on October 15, 1913. We can all take pride in this great organization’s history and its accomplishments.
We were invited and honored to host the state convention at approximately twenty-year intervals, 1935, 1955, and 1975, all at Mills College. Four of our members became state presidents: Edna Corneil Ford, 1932, Caroline E. Irons, 1945, Gladys Lotter, 1962, and Lucile Fahay, 1970. Over the years, our members have participated in all the state programs, with a particular interest in the Certificate of Merit Program.
Our largest and most responsible branch project is our Memorial Scholarship Foundation. Going back to 1955, when Margaret Bonnington was our branch president, Catherine Manzer was appointed treasurer to obtain money for the convention by selling ads in the convention program. They were so successful that a surplus of approximately $500 was given back to our branch. They then decided that this money should be set aside for a scholarship program. The fund was established in 1956 as a memorial to aid talented students in memory of deceased members, in whose name contributions were made. Early in 1958, the first competition was held, and Walter Moore, a senior at Berkeley High and a pianist, was our first winner. The award was $100; adjusted for inflation, the amount today would be more like $500. It was certainly a good beginning!
During those early years, in addition to the memorial contributions, we received a bequest of $4,500 from the estate of Myra Palache and also $10,000 from the estate of Elwin Calberg. Both had been active and dedicated members of our branch. In 1972, we were notified that we had been named in the will of Estelle Drummond Swift and would be receiving a generous bequest of one-third of her estate. The good news came during the presidency of Margaret Schmidt, and we were thrilled and excited. Little did we know that the will would be contested and in the courts for more than two years, all during the presidency of Maria Homem, who succeeded Margaret. This was unfortunate, and we spent more than $5,000 in legal fees. Mr. Leonhauser, the MTAC attorney, represented us. This delay did give us ample time to apply to the IRS for a tax-exempt status. Much paper work was involved, but we were successful and were given the 501c3 classification, the same exemption given to churches and charitable organizations, a truly tax-exempt status. Eventually, the case was settled and we received one- third of the estate, approximately $100,000. This came during the presidency of Symeta Kuper, who succeeded Maria. Symeta was devoted to the scholarship program and gave generously of her time.
Estelle Drummond Swift was a piano teacher, a well-known church organist, and a one-time dean of the American Guild of Organists, and an active member of our branch. It was her wish to help needy and deserving students, and over the years many have benefited from her generosity.
We learned in 1983 that we would again be recipients of a sizable bequest, this time from the estate of Esther Harriet Hughes. Miss Hughes was a dedicated teacher and devoted her life to teaching young singers. Several of her students became members of the state’s Young Artist Guild and performed at the state convention. Our inheritance consisted of Miss Hughes’s property on Cedar Street, a four-unit apartment building including a rear residence. For a while we were “landlords” and encountered many vexing problems with renters, the Rent Control Board, etc. Eventually, the property was sold for $248,000. Our two pianos were also inherited from these last bequests. The first came from the Swift estate and is considered the property of the branch, the second from the Hughes estate and is owned by the Memorial Scholarship Foundation. A plaque is attached to each piano designating the name of the donor. This was arranged by Mr. Charles McKinney, who felt we should recognize and remember the generosity of these two wonderful teachers, Mrs. Swift and Miss Hughes.
With these additional funds, we were able to expand our scholarship program and also lend a helping hand to other worthy music organizations primarily involved in the development of serious young musicians. Over a period of years, grants were given to the following: East Bay Music Foundation, Young People’s Symphony, Oakland Youth Orchestra, Mills College, Holy Names University Opera Scenes Workshop, Berkeley Opera, Berkeley Symphony, Junior Bach Festival, San Francisco Conservatory, and more.
In 1989, during Andrea Simms’s term as president, we learned that Marin County had an interesting project called “Discovery.” Andrea took the initiative, visited Marin, and returned with information that inspired us to try a similar program here. We had been considering developing a new program of our own and gradually phasing out the grants. Lucy Sidener volunteered to head a committee to implement this program. It began with two students, and now we have ten students participating. Prospective students are auditioned by a committee and the parents are interviewed to establish eligibility. During the second year, the student is required to participate in Certificate of Merit or to perform on a formal student recital. We call this program the Discovery Scholarship Program and consider it most worthwhile and a success.
Much of this history has been devoted to our Memorial Scholarship Foundation, because it is unique to our branch, but of course we have many other interesting programs: Composers Today, informal student recitals, the video library, our yearbook. Our branch is fortunate to have had excellent leadership and a devoted volunteer force over the years and we look forward to many more achievements and wonderful memories as the future unfold.
- Maria Homem* [c. 1990]
In the early 90’s, with a dearth of volunteers to head up our many programs and responsibilities, the branch was rescued from collapse by a group concerned teachers. They formed a new board under the leadership of Karl Goldstein and together they revived the branch.
At the same time, the Memorial Scholarship Foundation continued to thrive, and instead of a few large awards, many small scholarships were given, with all winners participating in the MSF Festival Concert.
During Patty Brown’s presidency we moved our two pianos from Zion Lutheran Church in Oakland to the Crowden School in Berkeley, where we also enjoy holding our branch programs, housing our library of instructional videos, and being part of a musical community. Early in the new century, because the CM program had both grown so large and had also been computerized into the state system, the board decided to give honoraria to the CM committee, as several of the other large branches had done.
Our many other programs have continued to evolve, thanks to our dedicated officers and volunteers. One of our new projects undertaken by Eileen Klatsky, Betty Woo, Jennifer Navarrete and Bruce Fischer was the compiling of the Maria Homem Memorial Library*, a teaching repertoire reference library housed at Holy Names University. Another addition to our branch was our participation in the VOCE program, instigated and administered by Erika Miranda. The informal recital program was re-instated, discovery scholarships have continued to grow, as has participation in both the adult performance program and our own teachers’ performance workshops.
Under the leadership of Louise Milota, in 2011 we hosted the State Convention in Oakland, and this year we are celebrating our centennial and are looking forward to another century of musical and pedagogical achievements and fellowship.
-Katherine Triest, 2013
* Click here for information on the Maria Homem Memorial Library