Performed by Pianist Susan DeWitt Smith
The story of Dana's musical grandfather Ferdinand Sorenson and uncles is below.
SUSAN DeWITT SMITH'S MUSICAL BIOGRAPHY
Pianist Susan DeWitt Smith earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Dartmouth College and her Master of Music degree from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. She holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the Eastman School of Music, where she studied with Nelita True. Her many musical accolades include a second prize in the Young Keyboard Artists' International Competition, semi-finalist standing at the International Stravinsky Awards Competition, several performance awards from Dartmouth College and a performer's certificate and teaching award from Eastman.
Smith has performed throughout the United States and New Zealand. An avid chamber musician, she has played at the Hot Springs Music Festival, the Grand Teton Music Festival, the Nelson Music Festival and the Olympic Music Festival.
Her professional recordings include several works for Radio New Zealand. She has recorded for the Manu label and appears on a disc of works by New Zealand composers. KOCH International Classics recordings include Bloch's Concerto Grosso No. 1 with the San Diego Chamber Orchestra, three recordings with flutist Alexa Still and a recording of works by Roy Harris with the Third Angle New Music Ensemble.
Smith has appeared as a soloist with the Dartmouth Symphony Orchestra, San Diego Chamber Orchestra, Palomar Symphony, San Diego Symphony and Oregon Symphony. She is a member of the Oregon-based Third Angle New Music Ensemble and lives in Portland, where she teaches at Reed College and Marylhurst University. She maintains an active performing schedule. This is the second CD Susan has recorded for Dana. She recorded "Preludes for Silence and Darkness" for Dana in 2003.
THE MUSICAL LIFE & FAMILY OF FERDINAND SORENSON
Copyright 2005 Dana Carlile
Ferdinand Sorenson first arrived in Portland, Oregon in 1909 to play in the Portland Symphony with the assistance of his friend, mentor, and fellow musician Mose Christensen. Originally from Grenaa, Denmark where he was born in 1882, Ferdinand came to the United States as an infant with his sister Rasmines (Minnie), and his parents: Lars and Matilda. Eight other brothers and sisters had already immigrated to Little Denmark in southern Utah before them.
Ferdinand's music education began with his father, Lars, when he was 5 years old. By 8 he was playing in public with his father. Lars had been a lamplighter and wood shoe maker in Denmark but in Elsinore, Utah he was remembered for his fiddling. John Johnson the organist that played with Lars at the community dances remembers asking Lars what key to he should be playing in and Lars' reply was : "Oh, just keep playing, never mind the key." At an early age Ferdinand not only played the violin but also brass instruments to join in family and community orchestras. They would put a band together and go, as he said, "barnstorming around the countryside." In 1896 Ferdinand and his older brother Antone played in the band that welcomed the Denver & Rio Grande railroad's first passenger train.
When Ferdinand went to Salt Lake City in 1898 he continued his violin studies with Willard Weihe. Weihe had been a pupil of Ole Bull, Henri Vieuxtemps and Joseph Joachim. Weihe was a founder of the Salt Lake City Bohemian Club and the Salt Lake City Opera. In Salt Lake City Ferdinand played in his first symphony and opera orchestras. And it was there he met his friend and mentor in music and dancing, Mose Christensen. Mose was 12 years older than Ferdinand and also a violinist. Mose had studied violin with Henry Schradieck on the east coast. After Mose and his wife Carrie had moved to Boise, Idaho they found Ferdinand, traveling like a hobo in 1901. He was sleeping in a building under their construction wrapped in a US flag. The timing was opportune because a cellist was needed in Boise for a string quartet and Ferdinand was willing to take up playing the cello as well as the violin and brass instruments.
Mose Christensen and his group of musicians in Idaho thought Ferdinand so talented that they helped him in 1905 collect enough money to travel to Europe to study. Ferdinand headed east intending to study the cello with Julius
Klengel in Leipzig, Germany. The train was delayed (reputedly by a tornado) and he missed the boat to Europe. He stayed in New York and studied cello with the Frenchman, William Ebann, at the New York College of Music. Eban was one of the instructors who taught out of studios above Carnegie Hall at that time. Ferdinand earned his living in theater and restaurant orchestras. He played cello in the orchestras of Walter Damrosch and in shows starring David Warfield and silent film star Nazimova. Ferdinand had to keep his theater jobs a secret from his teacher because his teacher wanted him playing only open strings on the cello for many weeks to improve his tone. In latter years Ferdinand related how lucky he had been to miss that boat to Europe.
On returning to the West, Ferdinand played briefly in the Boise Philharmonic (1908) under Mose Christensen's direction and was briefly principal cellist in the Portland Symphony under David Rosebrook (1909). In 1911, Mose and his musical friends (flutist and astronomer Bob Millard among others) met in the Christensen Dance Hall to organize, on a permanent basis, a symphony for Portland. Ferdinand was not there because he had married May Jensen and moved to Spokane in 1910. He settled there for 14 years and started his musical family with his three sons Hubert, Richard and Mayo. In Spokane, Ferdinand taught music, dancing and conducted a theater orchestra. Besides playing in the Spokane Symphony he also played in the Gesner-Sorenson String Quartet, the Gottfried Herbst String Quartet, the Spokane Citizen's Band and the Chuck Whitehead Orchestra. Both Herbst and Whitehead conducted the intermittent Spokane Symphony during these years. Gottfried Herbst went on to be a guest conductor with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.
In 1919 Chuck Whitehead built his own dance hall in Spokane at 333 Sprague Avenue (the building is now a car park). It was in the Whitehead Dancing Palace that Ferdinand started his dancing school after having graduated from Mose's Christensen dance school in Portland. He had one African-American dance student that went on to start Spokane's first African-American ballroom dance school and club. But teaching music, the dancing school, playing in and conducting theater orchestras in Spokane was not enough for Ferdinand and his growing family of musicians.
There was no growth in the 20 or so theaters in Spokane between Ferdinand's arrival in 1910 and 1924. In Portland however, during the same period, the number of theaters went from less than 20 to 50. Ferdinand thought he and his sons would have a better chance getting playing jobs in Portland. After his last children, Dorothy and Quinten (Pete) were born, Ferdinand moved back to Portland in 1924. Ferdinand's friend and occasional employer, Chuck Whitehead, also moved to Portland at the same time in spite of his success bringing such acts as Mr. and Mrs. Rudolf Valentino to the Whitehead Dancing Palace. From his Spokane band Chuck Whitehead brought to Portland with him his trumpet player Jack Shields, Sid Case his tuba and bass player, Elza Uhles his viola and banjo man and Harry Crocker who played sax and clarinet.
Ferdinand spent the rest of his life in Portland except when he was traveling around the country visiting family and former students. In Portland, Ferdinand began playing in the Portland Symphony again just when Willem van Hoogstraten began as conductor of the orchestra. Other groups he played in were the Ashley Cook Band, the McDougall Concert Band, the Ted Bacon String Orchestra and the Gershkovitch Symphony Orchestra. Ferdinand played in the Kelly's Restaurant Orchestra when Joe Sordka was the leader. He also played in the KGW, KOIN and other radio orchestras over the years. Ferdinand and his sons continued playing with Chuck Whitehead's Orchestra at the People`s, Rivoli and other theaters. Ferdinand also conducted the Sorenson Concert Orchestra and the Inter-Community Orchestra in Longview, Washington.
In 1929, restaurants, dance halls and the 50 some theaters in Portland, Oregon employed well over 2,000 musicians. Theaters such as the Heilig, Rivoli, Majestic, Orhpeum and Hippodrome employed orchestras six days a week, Some of these orchestras had up to 40 pieces. Talking pictures, radio, canned music and the Great Depression brought down the curtain on this world of vaudeville and cinema orchestras. When this happened Ferdinand had to make a living more from of teaching than playing music. Only his son Hubert was able to make a living just playing music but he had to hustle to do it. It was a good thing in Hubert's case because he hated teaching. Ferdinand lamented the decline of live music performance as a living not on only for himself but his four sons. He had thought music would be as good a career for all of them as it had been for him when he was young. May, his wife, thought he would have made more money if had kept to teaching dancing like Mose Christensen.
While Ferdinand played in many symphony orchestras it was not something he liked to do: "I don't care to play in orchestras. It's noisy. Playing in a section, there is no individuality with many people all playing the same part, I enjoy string quartets. It's the highest form of music." Thursday was the day that he would get together with Marion Fouse, Sammy Piazza, Patricia Mittelstadt, Ellis Layne and other friends and students over the years. They would meet in his studio at the Selling-Hirsh building (and latter the Fine Arts Building and then the Selling-Hirsh again) to play his beloved string quartets. If there were more than four players Ferdinand would pull out a string quintet or sextet from his extensive collection of music. When, in 1947, the Portland Symphony started again after an eight year hiatus, Werner Janssen, the new conductor, required old symphony members to re-audition. Ferdinand was one of the old-timers that refused to do so. And apparently without regret. Playing popular music had a price as well. An orchestra leader wanted younger looking musicians and Ferdinand had to brace himself for being teased by his family when he came home one night with his hair died to hide his gray hair.
Ferdinand's sons all started as his students. Teaching them to play strings as well as wind instruments enabled him to have his own family string quartet. Hubert started playing professionally at age 12 with the Spokane Symphony Orchestra. His sister Dorothy remembered it well because a boy getting full length trouser at age 12 was a big deal. Hubert and Richard both played in the Portland Junior Symphony and briefly with the Portland Symphony Orchestra, frequently at the same time. And they played together in the Sorenson-Howard Trio with their sister Dorothy's piano teacher, Randolph Howard. Hubert was working professionally for Chuck Whitehead at 15, playing trumpet, the same time he was playing violin in the Portland Junior Symphony.
Hubert played violin in the Portland Symphony String Quartet and joined Alexander Vdovin, Michel Penha and Susie Fennell-Pipes in the Neah-Kah-Nie Quartet. The Neah-Kah-Nie Quartet was the beginning of the Portland Chamber Music Society founded by Susie Fennell-Pipes. Latter, when Hubert moved to California, he joined Abraham Weiss, Karl Rossner and Nathan Abas in the Abas Quartet. There Hubert worked in both classical and popular music playing violin, clarinet, saxophone, and then the viola in the San Francisco Symphony, Opera and Ballet Orchestras. He had to give up the trumpet from his Chuck Whitehead Orchestra days and the flute because he said he just did not have the time to keep up practicing so many instruments.
After leaving Portland and the Sorenson-Howard Trio, Richard Sorenson shipped out of San Francisco on boats like the SS President Van Buren and SS Monterey. On occasion he was joined by his brother Hubert. Richard played violin, cello and sax in the ship orchestras until World War II started. On a trip around the world in 1935 he played with Earl Scott (trumpet), Norman Easley (sax & violin) and Wilsom Brons (piano), all from Portland, in the SS Van Buren orchestra. Because Richard doubled on the rare combination of sax and cello (as well as violin) he had to resist an offer to jump ship for a job in New York : competing in a city with 15,000 other musicians (many of them unemployed) seemed risky in the middle of the Great Depression. The ship orchestra jobs weren't much of a living though. Ferdinand and Richard's older brother Hubert had to send him money: sometimes on the other side of the world. Richard said of ship orchestra pay that only the Chinese workers on board were paid less. His last boat left Honolulu, Hawaii on December 6th 1941. After playing in Army Bands during World War II Richard played in the Monte Brooks Band that traveled around the West Coast.
Mayo Sorenson played in the Jefferson High School Band and then attended and taught music at the University of Oregon. While at the University of Oregon he played at the Eugene Hotel and with the university orchestra: occasionally as a soloist. Mayo also took up the baton, like his father, directing high school bands and university ensembles. Besides flute and violin he played two instruments occasionally disdained by his father: the saxophone and the piano (distained because of it's equal temperament, undependable tuning and Ferdinand being a string player with perfect pitch). Back in Portland Mayo played in the KGW radio orchestra and KOIN radio orchestra when Joe Sampietro was conducting. He also played in bands at Joe Amato's Jantzen Beach Ballroom, the Uptown Dance Hall and the Capitol Theater.
Quinten (Pete) Sorenson played in the Jefferson High School Band like his brother Mayo and then with Chuck Whitehead like his father and brother Hubert. Pete started playing in the Woody Hite Band when he was still at Jefferson High-School. Pete had perfect pitch like his dad and all his brothers. As soon as he walked into a theater he new what key a band was playing in. Pete was happy to leave the reputedly moody Chuck Whitehead and continue playing with Woody Hite when the band joined the union and went professional in 1940. During World War II he played in US Army dance, concert and marching bands at Fort Lawton in Seattle, Washington and the Allied base at Prince Rupert, British Columbia. An amateur photographer, Pete took many of the family photos in the Sorenson Collection from the 30s, 40s and 50s.
With Ferdinand's numerous string and brass students and extensive teaching experience he was able to assist Mary Dodge, Jacques Gershkovitch and others develop the Portland Junior Symphony. Besides his private string and brass students Ferdinand taught, over the years, as an adjunct professor at Pacific University, Lewis and Clark College, Portland University, the University of Oregon and Portland State College. He conducted the student orchestra at Marylhurst College for Women and the student band at Pacific University. In the late 50's when Raphael Spiro, arrived from Chicago and started a string quartet the three other players he asked to join him, Leonard Stehn, Sammy Piazza and Pat Miller, were all Ferdinand's students.
As a teacher Ferdinand was known as both strict and kind. He would fire a student for not working and never give them a second chance but still take them out to lunch as a friend. When Sammy Piazza, one of Ferdinandâ€™s best and favorite student, showed up at a lesson unprepared Ferdinand walked over to the stand, folded up the music and handed it to Sammy telling him to come back when he was prepared. He had no use for â€œpractice lessonsâ€œ. Even if a student did work hard Ferdinand was not always sure he could be of help to a student. When Sammy Piazza came back from World War II, Ferdinand was pleased when he found he could still be of help to Sammy. Ferdinand did not exempt himself from his high standards, practicing 4 to 5 hours a day himself. Some of this practicing would take place during symphony rehearsals: he would practice scales during double forte sections for the brass when the cellos had nothing to play. He was practicing to until the end: in his last letter to his daughter before his stroke he said: â€œThe day one stops practicing is the day one begins sliding downhill.â€
Before and after Mose Christensen's death in 1920 at 49, Ferdinand continued his association with the Christensen family, traveling around the West to join them when they had their dance conferences and events. Ferdinand conducted his own orchestra when Clement Crouse presented a ballet by Mose Christensen's nephew, William Christensen. Ferdinand provided his family's musical services at some of William Christensen's ballet events in exchange for his daughter Dorothy's ballet lessons with William. William, in turn, would come and dance with his students at Ferdinand's events. Ferdinand's young daughter Dorothy was one of the evening nymphs in William Christensen's presentation of Ponchielli's "Dance of the Hours" for the Rose Festival Queen in 1933. William choreographed Ferdinand's "Tarantella" for sting quartet and danced it with Natalie Lauterstein as a "Ballet Duet". William also presented his ballet interpretation of Ferdinand's "Gavotte" for sting quartet in 1933. When William Christensen left Portland to found the San Francisco Ballet with his bother Lew Christensen, Dorothy settled for ballroom dance instruction from Mose' son Victor Christensen. Later, William Christensen went on to found Ballet West in Salt Lake City, carrying on the Christensen family tradition of dance in Utah.
Ferdinand was amiable and cheerful despite the family tragedies he survived. The only time he would cry in public was during especially good concerts when justice was being done to the music he loved. He would attend student as well as the professional concerts of the great musicians that toured through Portland: even piano players. He would treat family, friends and students to these concerts so they could hear why music was worth the effort.
In 1960, at 78, Ferdinand took a six week bus trip around the US to see what he had missed and what had changed over 60 years as well as to visit family, friends and old students. He took his violin with him to play chamber music on the way. In the journal he kept of his trip, he made a number of observations. Disneyland: "The landscaping and buildings are remarkable but the entertainment is for children." New Orleans: "The price of the rooms, such as they are, is very modern. They see you coming and they don't expect to see you again. They probably won't. The night clubs we visited were really something . . . To stay away from. I have never seen such moving and quivering female muscles." The Smokey Mountains: "They are entirely covered in trees, and I saw the first clear water since leaving the West." (Something a lover of swimming would notice.) The Boston Symphony: "It was superb. It was almost worth coming here to hear that orchestra. The fiddlers played together like one man." Tanglewood: "Rain! Rain! Rain! Oregon has a dry climate."
In latter years, until he lost his drivers license, Ferdinand would take his violin and a concerto to study as he traveled incommunicado in his Nash automobile around the west. When he wasn't staying with family and former students he would camp out in parks and stay in the "Ambassador Suite of the Nash Hotel." Ferdinand would take his violin out in places like Bryce National Park to play for himself and the mountains, reliving his days as a shepherd serenading his flock when he was a youth in Utah.
Ferdinand was still teaching privately and at Portland State College when he had a stroke and died a few months latter in December 1966 at the age of 84. Only his son Hubert and his daughter Dorothy had survived him.
A BIT ABOUT DANA
Composer Dana Carlile is an amateur pianist who had several years of piano instruction as a child from his mother Dorothy. He took up the piano again on his own after hearing Istvan Nadas play the complete keyboard works of J. S. Bach at Reed College in 1979. "The Ballet of Phantoms" is a selection from the 80 pieces in his collections "Songs Without Words" Book One and Two.
Audio Editing, Mastering
and Graphic Layout (including misspelling) by
Cover photo is Stefano Mascagno with a student at the Christensen Dance Studio in Portland, Oregon. Mascagno was brought from Italy by Mose Christensen to teach ballet at his studio.
The CD is dedicated to Dana's uncle Richard Sorenson
Many thanks to
The Multnomah County Library
A Lullaby for Innocence
Rhonda Ringering, Piano
1 Berceuse No. 2, Pompeii from the Sea
2 Waltz No. 16, The Ghosts of Shaniko
3 Deja Vu Satie, Gymnopedie
4 Oblique No. 1, Cairo to Cheops
5 Lullaby of the Waltz, Dancing for Dreams
6 Deja Vu Scarlatti, A Lullaby for La Rouchefoucauld
7 Oblique No. 2, Mephisto's Lullaby
8 Mazurka No. 3, Ravel's Cat on the Piano
9 Berceuse No. 1, Dream of the Swan
10 Lullaby No. 3, Metamorphosis of a Celtic Theme
11 Barcarolle No. 6, Richard on the Nile
12 Waltz No. 17, The Tumbleweed Waltz
13 Pensive No. 2, The Song of the Swan
14 Lullaby No. 4, Summer Wind in the Tall Grass
15 Siesta No. 5, Dreaming of Sleep
16 Oblique No. 1, Cairo to Cheops
17 Waltz No. 3, The Lilt of Innocence
1. Waltz No. 3, The Lilt of Innocence
2. Barcarolle No. 4, Metolius
3. Waltz No. 6, An Apparition of Chopin
4. The Vaudeville of the Ghosts
5. Waltz No. 9, Vienna, August 1914
6. Deja Vu Poulenc Part One in C Major
7. Deja Vu Poulenc Part Two in C Minor
8. Oblique No. 1, Cairo to Cheops
9. Tango No. 1, The Witchesâ€™ Bacchanalia
10. The Opera of Silence, An Oasis for the Ears
11. Mazurka No. 4, Joseph Conrad, the Life of Exile
12. Mazurka No. 5, East of Eden
13. West from Gibraltar, Blue Water Sailing
14. Waltz No. 12, Waltz of the Shenandoah
15. Barcarolle No. 6, Richard on the Nile
16. Waltz No. 13, Waltz of the Vampires
17. Salon Blue, A Song Without Words
18. Waltz No. 19, The Seine in Paris
19. Oblique No. 6, This Game of Ghosts