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1938 NYS Federation of Music Clubs Convention

The 1938 NYS Federation of Music Clubs Convention in Binghamton

In her history of Harmony Club, Edith Ryan wrote:  “Undoubtedly the most stupendous undertaking of our career was our invitation to the NYS Federation of Music Clubs to hold their [1938] convention in Binghamton.”

Hannah Thomas was tireless in bringing Southern Tier music clubs into the NYS Federation of Music Clubs (an organization that still exists today).  In 1937 she was Director of the Southern Tier District.  Her friend and former Binghamtonian Kate Fowler Chase (of the Fowler Department Store family, and who had once been organist at First Presbyterian Church in Bgm) was President of the NYS Federation of Music Clubs.  It was the perfect time to propose that the 10th biennial convention of the Federation be held for the first time in Binghamton.  Hannah enlisted the support of the Binghamton Chamber of Commerce, with Harmony Club as the sponsoring organization.  Club members assumed responsibility for many committee tasks.

Edith Ryan continues in her history:  “’Did’ Feeck, our president, was a bit cagey, for in the Fall of 1937 she appointed [me] publicity chairman, knowing full well that [my] father Ralph E. Bennett was Vice‑President and General Manager of the Binghamton Press.  So when Papa heard of this, he said to me, ‘You get all the publicity material you can, and I shall see that it is used.’” 

“…I wrote to Kate Fowler Chase….Her response was immediate.  From then on, the postman serving Leroy Street was one of the busiest fellows in town.  For four months I was the recipient of dozens of large envelopes or packages containing biographies and photographs of nationally known musicians who were to appear during the convention, and the Binghamton Press used every one of them!”

Four Days, 350 Delegates, 40 Noted Musicians, Massed Choirs, Audiences of 1000!

And so it did.  For four days from April 20-April 23, 1938, convention news filled the front pages of the Press.  350 delegates and 40 noted musicians:  singers (including Metropolitan Opera stars), instrumentalists, composers, conductors, and professors of music all convened at the Arlington Hotel.  There were 6 luncheon discussion forums with speakers.  Audiences, some over 1000 people, crowded into First Presbyterian Church and West Junior High School to hear 2 matinee and 4 evening concerts, including massed choirs of 200 and 300 members.  For the first time in Federation history, contests were conducted for young musicians from all over the state, and the last day of the convention was a “Junior Day,” with Elizabeth Britton and Allene Bixby having major roles.

Among musicians of special interest to Binghamtonians:

The Fairbanks String Trio
, consisting of pianist Mary Alice Brownlow and cellist Ruth Jennings Brown, both Harmony Club members, and violinist and concertmaster of the Binghamton Civic Orchestra Harvey Fairbanks, who was the son-in-law of Club member Allene Bixby.

Composer of sea shanties Pauline Winslow, formerly of Binghamton, who wrote and dedicated a new composition to the Binghamton Kahlurah Chanters, who premiered the piece at the Convention.

New York City organist M. Searle Wright, who would later serve for nearly 20 years as music director of St. Paul’s Chapel of Columbia University and national president of the American Guild of Organists before returning in 1977 to Binghamton, where he grew up, to serve as Link Professor of Music at Binghamton University and organist at First Congregational Church in Binghamton.

Helen Hosmer, Director of what was then called the Crane Department of Music at the Potsdam Normal School (now the Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam).

In her President’s report to the convention, Kate Fowler Chase praised convention chair Hannah Thomas:  “Since our energetic chairman Mrs. Thomas of Binghamton started work, she has brought 21 new clubs and more on the way.  She practically created a district.  Before it was only geographic.  Today it is a live fact with 36 clubs.”

On the second day of the convention, the Binghamton Press editorialized:  “Here is a community opportunity…It is probable and certainly it is to be hoped, that one result of this state meeting in Binghamton will be a tremendous revival of interest and activity in things musical and a more general popularization for and public participation in a well-arranged musical calendar which should run throughout the year.”

In opening the convention, Mr. J. Kennard Johnson, of the Binghamton Chamber of Commerce, said:  “Truly this morning we can say that the harmony of the spheres has descended upon this fair city.”

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