The Festival of 1954
5/27/98, Ron Rhodes

The 1954 festival consisted of many events: a ballet evening, a GBS play, chamber music, an organ concert and programs by several different symphony orchestras. One of the main events was a fully staged Beethoven's Fidelio, in two performances.

The 7th Army Symphony played for the ballet company (from the National Opera of Paris), performed their own symphony concert and was the orchestra for Fidelio. We were there for many days, and there was a lot of rehearsal.

The scene was the Nibelungenhalle in Passau. We were well into the rehearsal of Copland's El Salon Mexico. Clarinetist Lloyd Greenberg had just begun a raucous and shrill solo. At that moment, the doors to the rehearsal room flew open and the entire city council of Passau strode into the room. The 7ASO had been to previous Passau festivals, but apparently they wanted to hear just what it was they had engaged for the performances. They seemed to be in some kind of shock. Maybe they had never heard Copland before. At any rate, they were not happy.

Maestro Schermerhorn stopped the rehearsal while introductions were made. Their spokesman (perhaps the mayor of Passau, but it's hard to remember details from so long ago) indicated they would like to hear the Leonore Overture #3. I guess they figured if we could play that they didn't have to worry about the Fidelio performance.

Sgt. Schermerhorn explained to them that we had little time left to rehearse the Copland and really needed to continue with it. There was an awkward silence, and then the Mayor (or whoever) firmly declared "BITTE, die Leonoren!"   End of discussion. There was nothing for it. We assembled the Beethoven orchestra and began the Leonore #3.

During my time in the orchestra, I was impressed by its ability to rise to an occasion. If we ever needed some quality playing, this was the time. Let's call it a triumph of eternal art, or perhaps Beethoven himself. The stern expressions of the council softened when the first chords seemed appropriately profound. By the time Jake Berg began the flute solo, it was apparent we had the council on our side. The overture came to its triumphant conclusion, to applause and smiles all around. The day was saved, just as Florestan was saved by the trumpet call!

From that time, I do believe we could have played poorly and no one would have cared. As it was, the festival was a success, and the 7ASO was not the least of the events.

Passau Trivia from 1954

Our quarters in Passau were in a former orphanage, just off the banks of the Danube. We often stayed in quarters that could be described as "rustic", but this was unique because we all slept in bunks designed for children. The mattresses were made of straw. A few extra beers at night were required for proper rest.

The famous and dramatically critical trumpet call near the end of Fidelio is usually played off stage. Since the Nibelungenhalle wasn't exactly state of the art, we found that the call sounded pretty good when played from the latrine directly in back of the orchestra pit.

Passau Fidelio Chorus, 1954
1/9/01, Charles Briefer

The tale I recall from the 1954 Passau Festival was Ken Schermerhorn's first rehearsal of the final scene of "Fidelio," where the released prisoners give thanks to the governor, Leonore, et al, with a rousing chorus that begins, "HEIL! HEIL!." Only it came out "Heil...Heil." Kenny looked at the chorus with a mixture of scorn and amusement, and told them dryly, "It's OK; you can say it now"!

The Festival of 1953
10/17/98, William C. Venman

I was in the Passau '53 orchestra -- which was a scene-and-a-half, like when the Black Watch pipe corps showed up at "our" gasthaus the evening after they played -- and when we played Orff's "Die Kluege" on one week of rehearsals with a German conductor -- and the tenor fell off the barrel on which he was warbling the German equivalent of "cock-a-doodle-doo," sending the barrel crashing down the dozen or so steps from the stage into the pit (the venue seemed to have been an old Reichshalle) -- right between the first cello (was it one of the Serbagi brothers?) and the harp -- and so on.

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A Little Bit of French in Deutschland!
3/13/99, Myron Rosenblum

During my tenure in the 7th Army Symphony (1957-58), we had occasion to play in the town of Sigmaringen. We rolled into town and during our afternoon rehearsal of Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann and Fauré (if my memory is correct!), I noticed a man sitting in the rear of the hall. Right after the break, Ling Tung, our conductor, told the orchestra that the man was a local music critic who informed him and the orchestra that we could not perform the Fauré Pavane.

The reason was simple and infuriating. Sigmaringen was the site of the ancient Hohenzollern dynasty and we were told that the town had not had any French music performed there in many hundreds of years and they weren't going to start then. Mozart, Beethoven and Schumann were fine (whatever the precise program was, I am certain it was all German/Austrian composers save one). Ling Tung, diplomatic as he was, did not oppose it as unhappy as he was, and we in the orchestra were not happy troopers by any means. We were sharing our music as good-will ambassadors and this went against the grain.

So, we played our music of Teutonic composers in that hallowed city of German history and nationalism, but we did break the barrier. Immediately after the last applause of the final piece, Ling turned to us and told us to pull out the Fauré which we then played as an encore. I don't recall whether or not it was announced (I suspect not), but the German audience there was treated to a beautiful piece of French music, probably for the first time in their lives. Sigmaringen survived it and is still there.

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Why I was Promoted to the Rank of Sgt. E-5
1/27/99, Jules M. Hirsh
The orchestra was at home rehearsing and a new Captain was on duty. He was standing near me when I suggested to the bass section that at letter D we take a down bow.

I was a PFC. After the day was over the First Sgt. called me into his office and said that Captain Gotowicki wished to see me. I went into his office and he asked me what I told the rest of the bass players to do. I explained that as the Principal Bassist it was my responsibility to see that the conductor's wishes were followed. He said that in army protocol a PFC cannot order higher ranking soldiers. As of the next day I was promoted to Sgt E-5.

How Pogo, later Herr Professor Dr. Rayner,
or from his students, Dr. Ja Ja, but now simply PA,
made Sergeant in the 7th Army Symphony

6/23/98, Clare G. Rayner

On one fine day in Vaihingen, as Pogo and the symphony were reclining in the warm sunny skies of Stuttgart, Pogo was told to go to a unit down the hill where he was to be evaluated for his forth-coming promotion. Obedient, as all symphony members, and with his typical duck-tail haircut, Pogo took the long trek down to the headquarters.

After a short, polite, but curt conversation, the sergeant there told him that he was to be promoted. Did he object? Most certainly not in this situation. Looking at his status, the sergeant indicated to Pogo that he was to be promoted to specialist something, and that his performance rating was somethng like a "3." Pogo calmly told the sergeant that his performance rating could not possibily be so low as a "3." After all he was a member of the symphony, and his rating had to a "10." Without reflecting, the sergeant concurred, and immediately typed in a "10."

We've always heard that even sergeants breathe, but this guy did not take a breath; rather he mumbled incoherently something to the fact that no one could possibly be a specialist of any sort with this rating, and that it had to be a sergeant. Excited, as all symphony members would be with such a promotion, Pogo casually told him that he concurred, and that the sergeant should change his status. Again, still without breathing, (was the sergeant underwater?), in total dismay at reading the information before him, that which he had just typed, he repeated, "you have to be a sergeant." Again, Pogo's excited reply was, "Fine, change it!" Obediently the sergeant did this, and sent Sergeant Pogo on his way.

Returning to the barracks, Pogo told the sergeant in charge there that he had been promoted to sergeant. As could possibly be expected, the sergeant emphatically stated that that would never happen, and that Pogo should definitely NOT change his stripes to sergeant. Oh. what a disappointment. Pogo will not be a sergeant. Only the first trombonist, Cloud Crawford, an ER from Kentucky, would remain a sergeant. Totally chagrined by this turn of events, Pogo wept all the way to his next beer, a Dinkelacker.

So off went the symphony on another tour with Specialist/Sergeant Pogo.

On return from the tour, the sergeant at the barracks accosted Pogo, as usual firstly about his duck-tail hair-cut, but secondly chastising Pogo for not having the sergeant stripes on his uniform. Shocked, dismayed, and delighted (?), Pogo rushed to the nearest Gasthaus for another Dinkelacker, to reflect on this clearly logical, but unexpected turn of events.

Well, Pogo did become Sergeant Pogo, but with no great respect, or adoration from the symphony members. That only meant that Sergeant Pogo had to mop the barracks each day in order to retain his honorable status. Most certainly Sergeant Cloud, in his typical obstreperous Kentucky manner, would never mop the barracks.

So went promotions in the Seventh Army SYMPATHY BAND, and Sergeant Pogo happily mopped the floors at Patch, looking forward to his next escapade with the symphony.

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Rehearsal Disruption
7/19/98, Michael Comins
Cellists Fernando (Freddie) Hahnl, a Yugoslav who spoke at least 4 languages, and Brooklynite Kevork K Fags ("toidy-toid st. & toid ave.") were stand-partners during the summer and fall of 1954.

During a rehearsal in the downtown PX theater across from the Bahnhof, a mumbling arose from the Cello section. Schermerhorn continued conducting and we continued to play as the mumbling quickly grew in intensity. Suddenly, Hahnl jumped up and, enraged, screamed "Faags, you domb sheet--you caan't heeven spik no Henglish!!"   Schermerhorn, doubled up in hysterical laughter, nearly fell off the podium as pandemonium reigned for the next few minutes.


Email Received from another GI
2/26/08, from Donald Waits (non-member)

        This will be a strange, but I hope, pleasant bit of memory.
        It is for me, that is.

        I am not a professional musician, but have been influenced
        by music all my life.  As a young kid, back in l957, I found
        myself waiting with hundreds of other kids at Fort Dix (you
        all remember the garden spot of New Jersey) for transport
        overseas.  My destination was Germany.  In the barracks
        where I was quartered there was a young man on his way 
        to join the Seventh Army Symphony.  His instrument was
        the viola, a favorite of mine at the time.  We soon became
        friends and he let me sit with him as he practiced in some
        isolated room in the barracks.  As I had previously began
        to love classical music, just hanging out with him was a
        treat and a learning experience.  

        We each eventually received our orders; I was to go to a
        little town called Lanstuhl (sp) as part of a medical group.
        Since I was terrified of flying, I opted to take a MSTS ship.
        My friend, the violist, being a brash New Yorker, elected to
        fly to Stuttgart.  We exchanged addresses and wished each
        other well, although we never expected to see each other
        again.  I was eventually transfered to the 30 Evac. Hospital
        unit at Ludwigsburg.  Shortly after my arrival I received a
        note from my friend inviting me to a concert in Stuttgart.
        I was thrilled, not only to be going to a concert, but to maybe
        see my friend once more.  I vividly recall the audience's 
        reaction.  Mostly German and military personnel, they gave
        the orchestra a rousing standing ovation.  The music making
        was first class!  From that initial experience, I was forever
        a fan of the Seventh Army Symphony.  It was MY Symphony.
        Naturally, most guys in the symphony were draftees and left
        after 18 months.  I was an RA kid and stayed my 3 years.

        I am now living in New Orleans after retiring from teaching Art
        for 30 years in New York.  For many reasons I am thinking of
        writing a novel; not a memoir, but needing to refresh my 
        memory about certain aspects of my past.  Computers being
        the great tools that they are, I merely Googled "Seventh Army
        Symphony" and, to my delight, found all this information.
        I have spent the last hour clicking on the various pieces of
        information so lovingly assembled by you guys.  All of my
        fond memories of my German experience came back in waves
        of pleasure.  (I had a very soft job-a clerk in an office.)
        My only regret is that I cannot remember the name of that
        wonderful violist.  It is truly a joy to know that members of the
        7th ASO have stayed in touch with each other all these years.

        Thank you for the site with all its detailed information, and best
        wishes to all at the 7th ASO.

        Donald Waits (Sp3-1957-60)

        Follow-up note received on 3/5/08:

        Of course, you understand all this was 51 years
        ago!  My God, the fact that I remember any of
        that is a miracle.  The only thing I am sure of
        is that we (the nameless viola player) and I
        were at Fort Dix and it was snowing a lot.  I
        had not seen much snow, being from Louisiana
        and then, later, Fort Ord, California.  I do, to this
        day, remember the gorgeous sound of that
        viola.  We were both a bit nervous about our
        assignments.  I did not have a clue about my
        duties since even though I was to be attached
        to a medical group, I was not a "medic", but
        a lowly clerk.  It wasn't until I was eventually
        transferred to the 30th Evac Hospital in the
        town of Ludwigsburg that I got to see the 
        Seventh Army Symphony.  

        My memory is perfect regarding the concert.
        I was so proud of the members of the orchestra
        in that the German attendees were so vocal in
        their admiration.  There were these mostly very
        young American musicians playing German
        music for Germans so soon after the war.  The
        orchestra seemed to be traveling around a lot
        so I never got a chance to see them again.
        The memory has stayed with me all these years.
         I have been a lover of classical music all my

        I have no idea how my little experience so long
        ago could be of use to you, but I feel better 
        knowing that the remaining members of the 
        Seventh Army Symphony may read of my 
        sincere appreciation of that wonderful event.

        Best regards to all.

        Donald Waits
        New Orleans, La.

(End of Tales)
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