Currently, music is the-talk-of-the-town as Bottlerock rapidly approaches. However, music has always been a part of the local lifestyle, especially in Napa County schools.
For one long ago former Napan, Roderick Mount, the study and practice of melody and lyric became a lifelong pursuit. His fond remembrances of local music programs are a heartfelt refrain from the 1920s. These recollections are the subject of a two-part series that begins today.
Mount wrote of his hometown memories to his cousin, long-time Napa resident, Virginia Maxwell Tallman from his Santa Barbara home between 1988-1992. Both Mount and Tallman have since passed away.
Just like every other student throughout time, Mount had his most and least favorite subjects while attending Napa public schools. Having dedicated his professional life to music, it is safe to assume Mount preferred to study music. He also confessed, “I was never one to go for games, fresh air or exercise.”
His passion for and career in music began in elementary school in 1915. Mount wrote, “I can recall that we had some music exposure even in the four grades at Washington Primary (now Blue Oak School on Polk Street).”
This introduction to music was in the form of the students copying song lyrics written on the chalkboard into their notebooks. They learned melodies by listening to records played on the Victrola. A few years later, Mount and his classmates moved onto Central School, now the site of Napa City Hall, as they advanced to the intermediate level, grades four through eight.
At this higher level of education, both the scholastic and music curricula offered greater challenges and opportunities. At “Central School there was a professionally trained music teacher, Ione Fixx, later Mrs. Schalow. She was popular and I looked forward to her weekly visits. She also had some catchy tunes and words for us to sing,” said Mount.
In the fall of 1923, the former Napa High campus on Jefferson and Clay Streets, now the site of the shuttered Safeway, was converted into the new intermediate school. That year, Mount and the other seventh- and eighth-graders were transferred to that new Clay Street campus. The principal was Dee T. Davis who “took on the music program.”
Mount continued, “It was limited to a once-a-week session in singing” held in the auditorium. An English teacher, Flora Mehl, accompanied the chorus with her adept piano playing as they sang songs, such as, “My Heart’s in the Highlands,” “King of the Forest Am I” and “Welcome Sweet Spring.” In retrospect, Mount candidly added, “Most of, if not all of, the above titles are no longer heard of. No great loss!”
In the spring of 1924, Mount was promoted from the eighth grade. As part of that promotion ceremony, he sang “a soprano solo,” he wrote. “James Raney played a violin solo, Gertrude Squire and Marjorie Hearn gave piano solos.” Following his scholastic promotion, and summer vacation, Mount continued his education in music that fall at Napa High School.
The music program at Napa High was primarily singing. Musical instrument training was the domain of the private lesson music teachers, however, Mount was truly looking forward to his high school music studies. Much to his delight, Ione Fixx, now Mrs. Frank Schalow, was teaching music at Napa High. According to Mount, “Mrs. Schalow was an active music person for a good while in both the elementary schools and at Napa High School where she had a (coed) glee club, an orchestra and a music theory class.” The theory class “was for girls only,” Mount added.
Next week Mount’s musical memories will continue in the second installment of this two-part series. But before closing, I would like to invite all local history and music enthusiasts to tune in to Dorothy Salmon’s KVON 1440 AM radio show tomorrow, Monday, May 22, from 9-10 a.m. as she and I will be talking about Napa County’s long and diverse musical heritage.