Sunday, June 28, 2009


Unexpected connections between people continue to pop up out of nowhere. Well, nowhere isn't quite the right word. Last night, it was at a Festival Hill concert.

Festival Hill is our unimaginably lavish classical music venue here in Round Top (pop. 77), the lifework of concert pianist James Dick. The architecture is a blend of real nineteenth century Europe (or earlier) blended with a fantasy version of the same, all done in hand cut stone by our local craftsman, Jack Finke. The acoustically live surface of the hall's interior is constructed from hand made diamond-shaped overlays in wood. Wonderful gardens and restored Victorian buildings complete the campus. Every summer advanced music students from all over the world come for the Institute, which gives master classes and many opportunities for performance, both chamber and full orchestra.

In the Hall, there is a room devoted to the life and work of David Guion, an American composer who had great success arranging, in particular, cowboy tunes such as Home on the Range. He is given the dubious distinction of having kicked off the "singing cowboy" craze in the mid-20th century with a Broadway show he wrote and performed in.

Before all that he was a boy in Ballinger, Texas, south of Abilene and about fifty miles away from where my father was born, a year later than Davey. I knew my father knew him, but I had never known why until last night.

So, I'm in the Guion Room at the Hall, waiting for the concert to start and the docent comes up. I'm looking at a picture of young DG in elegant winter clothes. "Oh, that's when he was in Vienna, in 1910," says Mr. Elsig, the docent.

"Vienna?" I turn to look at him.

"Yes," he says, "he went there to study piano with Leopold Godowsky."

I tell you, the room moved. "I'll be goddamned," I say, brilliantly in archaic Texan . "My father was studying with Leopold Godowsky in Vienna at the same time." Which is true. But two boys from obscure and tiny Texas towns, both taking classes with Godowsky? How likely is that?

I think also what shocked me was the re-emergence of my father into my conscious world. I've been thinking of him lately, as I begin the research part of my next story. The incongruities of his life seem compelling to me, in particular the period he spent in Vienna, from the age of 14-18, during the time of Freud and numerous musical masters, most of whom were friends of Godowsky. He travelled with Godowsky, as did a number of his fellow students, and when Godowsky went back to New York, Daddy did, too, for a while. Guion was there, as well.

Discovering the Guion connection gave me some dates to hang all Daddy's stories from. My father would never admit to his age, as he was a good deal older than my mother, and the age of a grandfather when I was born. So his stories tended to be a little blurry about dates.

Now, however, I know. It is a strange feeling.


The Weaver of Grass said...

These incongruities and coincidences are what make life so interesting Bdogs - hope you enjoyed the concert too.

PJ's talking... said...

Love that story... what a treat to find that info in such a suprising way...

sizzie said...

Bdogs, I loved reading this story and could feel your enthusiam for the topic (and for getting on with the research it opened up?). And, I like to think, that someone was guiding your path to get you where you needed to be to hear what you needed to hear that night. Thanks.