Monday, May 21, 2012

Irvington School of Music

 On any given day in Irvington in the early twentieth century, music could be heard emanating from various homes.  Piano and vocal teachers abounded on several streets and on warmer days, their students' lessons drifted out of the houses under the canopy of trees and along the brick streets.

On November 6, 1918, Adelaide Conte opened the Irvington School of Music at 269 South Audubon Road.  Miss Conte first came to the US as a young girl from Italy and then went back to study voice at the Conservatory of Venice.  Her new school offered all kinds of instruction in voice, piano, organ, violin, and other instruments in the parlors of the rented home.  She lived upstairs and leased out rooms to music students including Loa Delameter.  As an accomplished operatic singer, she directed the voice students, most of whom attended Butler University or nearby high schools.  Percival Owen headed up the piano department while Florence Cardiff assisted with the choral groups. Jesse Christian Brown, who lived a few houses away at 251 South Audubon taught the beginner's French classes in the house.  Mme. Cousin, a "well known teacher of French" instructed the advanced French students.

Classes were held on Wednesday and Friday evenings in the house for the advanced students.  Beginners and young children attended classes on Saturday.  Genevieve Schmutte was one of many young teachers who conducted classes for the primary students.  Talented students who could not afford to pay Miss Conte's rates could apply for a scholarship.  Students had to audition for that reward.  Miss Conte offered her courses at 269 South Audubon from 1918 till 1921.  She eventually moved her school to another house along East Washington Street.  One can only imagine the beautiful arias and less than perfect instrumental sounds coming out of these two homes.  To see a photo of her other school, click on the Conte link below.

The historic photo shows the Irvington School of Music in 1920.  The teachers are standing on the steps.  The first document is a recital program from 1921.  It is possible that the school had already moved by this time.  Genevieve Schmutte conducted the free concert at the Irvington Presbyterian Church.  Many of the names on the list are long time Irvington families.  The last document is a piece of stationary from when the school operated along South Audubon Road.  A contemporary photo, taken on May 20, 2012, shows that little has changed on the exterior since 1920.  The home was likely constructed in 1907 as a private residence.  The Spear family dwelled in the home shortly after it was built.

Teacher, Genevieve Schmutte stands second from the left in the top row.  

Provenance of the historic photo taken in 1920 and of the documents.  On April 28, 2012, I was doing yard work at my home at 269 South Audubon Road.  I had just finished mowing the backyard when I decided to go to the front and sweep the sidewalks.  I was not supposed to be home at that hour because I had the day off from the school where I teach.  It had been an unusually mild winter so we did not use any of our "snow" days so I began to tackle the high grass.  It had been a beautiful day which is why I was doing yard work.  Unbeknownst to me, Sandy Burton was on a personal odyssey.  Her grandmother, Genevieve Schmutte had died long before Sandy was born, but she was trying to find out more about her grandmother's life.  She had just cleaned out a family home that had fallen victim to vandalism and fire. As she was removing furniture, she found a box of photographs and personal documents that had belonged to her grandmother.  The box had been wet so she was not sure if there was anything worth saving.  Then, she found a photo of an unusual looking home and some recital information on a little known school in a place called "Irvington."  

She enlisted her husband and they drove down from Fishers, Indiana to explore Irvington.  In her hands, she held onto the photo of the home .  As they pulled in front of 269 South Audubon Road, I was walking with my broom in hand to finish my task.  She decided to roll down her car window.  "Excuse me, sir, I don't want to bother you, but do you live here?"  Now, you must understand that I run a blog dedicated to finding historic photos and stories of Irvington.  Despite my best efforts, historic photos of my own home had eluded me.  I immediately sensed that something wonderful was about to come my way.  "Why, yes I do.  Did you have a relative who lived in this house?"  She then got out of her vehicle and showed me the photo.  "I have been waiting for you," I replied.  We both became very excited for different reasons.  Needless to say, I gave her a complete tour of the home and she told me as much as she could about this special woman who left this planet too soon.  Sandy was also very generous with both the documents and the photo.  "I was not going to knock on your door," she told me "because I didn't want to disturb you."  I am so glad that I happened to be in the right place at the precise moment on that day.  I am very grateful to Sandy Burton for her generous spirit and gifts.  

1 comment:

  1. Such a fantastic story, Bill! Gave me goosebumps to read it!