‘Rave Reviews’ chronicles intrepid group of Tuesday Musical women

By Kerry Clawson
Beacon Journal staff writer

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Gertrude Penfield Seiberling was an honorary president of Tuesday musical.

The book Rave Reviews leaves one very strong impression: More than a century of highly determined women have kept Tuesday Musical Association alive and thriving for more than 125 years, namely the intrepid ladies of the early years who wouldn’t allow the new arts club to fail.

Released in October by the University of Akron Press, this history of Akron’s venerable volunteer musical organization begins Nov. 9, 1887, when accomplished musician Celia Baker summoned a carefully selected group of women with “proven musical ability” to her home at 610 E. Market St. The group, originally called the Tuesday Afternoon Club, discussed advancing music appreciation and creating a performance outlet for women in Akron.

These women were the wives and/or daughters of some of Akron’s best-known business magnates, including Baker, whose husband, George, was president of Akron Electric Light and Power; and Harriet Miles, nee Seiberling, sister to F.A. Seiberling and daughter of John Seiberling, inventor and manufacturer of farm machinery.

Gertrude Seiberling, wife of future Goodyear Rubber & Tire Co. baron F.A. Seiberling, missed the first meeting because she was on her honeymoon. But she became a driving force in the organization, especially after Tuesday Musical declared bankruptcy in November 1902.

She led the charge to reorganize and revive the organization in 1903. Previously, as the Piqua Daily Call printed in 1902, it was composed of “the society people of this city.” That image began to change with the creation of the People’s Chorus, with a $2 membership fee, and the lowering of dues and ticket prices.

Stretches of Rave Reviews read like a dry chronology because the early history has been reconstructed from archival material, genealogy records and newspaper articles about concerts and meetings.

Group effort

The book, created by committee effort, acknowledges the organization’s archives committee, led by Marcianne Herr along with Harriet Boggs, Anna Mae Cummings, Laurie Gilles, Carolyn Durway, David Kellogg and Corrinne Rohrbacher, with photographic research by Dale Dong.

Editing was done by Thomas Bacher, director of the University of Akron Press, with Sharon Cebula and Cynthia Harrison serving as contributing editors and spearheading the pictorial history.

Rave Reviews reads like two different books in one, with the written history by Bacher followed by a pictorial history that repeats (and sometimes conflicts with) information from the previous section. Some time components also don’t make sense, including a headline in the pictorial section that says “Five Decades of Growth, 1919-1946.”

Yet the historical photos, programs and newspaper articles in the pictorial section are so fascinating, it would have been nice to see them integrated into the main chronology. Short biographies of the club’s accomplished founders and early leaders are engaging, too.

The book’s attractive jacket features luminous soprano Renee Fleming and the ever-charismatic cellist Yo-Yo Ma beautifully juxtaposed against a portrait of 25 well-dressed members from 1917. Inside, both Fleming and Ma join world-renowned artists Joshua Bell and Itzhak Perlman with quotes paying tribute to Tuesday Musical.

Some of Rave Reviews’ smaller anecdotes are among the most delightful, including a Beacon Journal account of the club’s 40th anniversary ball in 1928 that includes a photo of a giant birthday cake with 40 club members dressed to evoke pink and white candles. Another charming 1899 write-up in the Akron Daily Democrat speaks of Miss Angie Watters fainting at an annual banquet at Silver Lake.

Seiberling influence

It’s fascinating to learn that Gertrude Seiberling, a highly respected contralto, sang not only for Tuesday Musical events but also for President William Howard Taft and his Cabinet at the White House in 1910.

After Stan Hywet was completed in 1915, Gertrude Seiberling hosted numerous world-class performers in her home and held meetings, recitals and guest performers in the famed music room for decades.

Whenever Tuesday Musical was on the brink of extinction, influential people helped it survive. In 1903, the Beacon Journal reported that “several of the music lovers of the city” were “in a position to lend financial assistance” to the club. Donors were unnamed but were most likely business entrepreneurs, some married to influential club members.

In 1905, when Tuesday Musical found itself in need of financial assistance again, F.A. Seiberling; A.H. Noah, treasurer of Diamond Rubber Co.; and Paul Werner, financier for the German-American Music Hall; each contributed $100 (about $2,600 in today’s dollars).

Pianist Mary Schumacher, active with the club since about 1900, wanted to ease the financial burden of bringing the finest musicians to Akron. Upon her death in 1936, Schumacher, widow of Akron oatmeal king Ferdinand Schumacher, left Tuesday Musical $50,000 ($806,000 in today’s dollars).

The legacy, after careful investment, ensured decades of concerts as well as funds for the club’s first scholarship programs.

Other anecdotes

Here are just some of the many interesting nuggets from Rave Reviews:

• In the beginning, prospective members of Tuesday Musical were required to go through rigorous musical auditions. Today, only musical appreciation is required, although members still perform for each other at afternoon meetings.

• Sadly, in the early 1950s, club historian Louise Harper reported that Tuesday Musical scrapbooks dating back to 1887 had disappeared. Only the current 1943-1953 scrapbook remained.

• Tuesday Musical concerts were held at the German-American Music Hall beginning in 1904. The hall formerly stood at Exchange and High streets, where the Beacon Journal is currently located. Tuesday Musical eventually outgrew the venue and moved to the new Akron Armory in 1917, and to E.J. Thomas Hall in 1973.

• The book’s details are a bit off on an anecdote about singer Joan Sutherland. According to former Concert Manager Lola Rothmann, she fetched the acclaimed Australian soprano from Rochester, N.Y., and brought her to Akron on a private Goodyear plane in icy, snowy conditions in January 1977. The late Goodyear executive Carl Snyder, who was a fan of Sutherland, enabled the singer to arrive in style rather than take her planned commercial flight. The delightful Sutherland taught her accompanist how to needlepoint during the flight.

• Tuesday Musical Club changed its name to Tuesday Musical Association in 1998 as part of the nonprofit’s reorganization.

• Men were admitted into the club in 1995. Pianist David Fisher became the first male member and Kent State University music educator Jerry Davidson was the first male president in 2006.

• Tuesday Musical predates the Cleveland Orchestra, which was founded in 1918. The groups’ relationship goes back to when the Cleveland Orchestra was a fledgling organization.

• Former Executive Director Barbara Feld remembers taking renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman in 1990 to an Akron landmark: Swensons.

• Gertrude Seiberling wasn’t the only musically inclined member of her family: F.A. Seiberling played the flute and cello.

Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or kclawson@thebeaconjournal.com.

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