This second, and final, installment of the Roderick Mount musical notes series begins with his memories of the circa 1920s Napa High School music classes. As he wrote in his letters sent to his Napa resident cousin, Virginia Tallman, his excitement was dampened by some of the course enrollment restrictions.
According to Mount, the music theory class was for female students only. “Another male student, Robert Waldrop, and I were ‘put out’ over that.”
Mount’s recollections continued with a brief biography of Waldrop. Mount was of the opinion Waldrop’s musical talent was a family trait. For example, his aunt, Uda Waldrop, was the official City of San Francisco organist.
Mount described Robert Waldrop as a “born musician who had a remarkable speaking voice.” Waldrop eventually went to San Francisco to be an NBC radio announcer. “There, he composed music for radio and hosted several programs of serious, classical, music. Before his untimely death, Robert made it to New York. There, he was a big time announcer with NBC Symphony under Toscanini as well as the Metropolitan Opera.”
Returning to Napa High during the 1920s, Mount continued his account of its music program. In 1925, a new face joined the department, “a Mr. George Strong who was a vice principal and teacher. He developed a boys glee club which gained some stature.” Mount added, Strong had a “powerful, smooth baritone voice. He married Sarah Thomas who was a professional mezzo-soprano of note.” Strong was also an organist for Saint Mary’s Episcopal Church. Sarah Strong was also a highly regarded private voice lessons instructor. On a personal note, the Strongs were neighbors during my early childhood. I frequently heard them “running scales” to warm up their voices prior to singing.
Mount continued his description of the Napa High Music department faculty and students. Together they “put on operettas.” He evaluated those productions as “less challenging shows” as compared to current high school performances. To underscore the differences between the eras, Mount described the 1920s music program as “next-to-primitive.”
Mount added he was thrilled to witness the advancement of the Napa County schools’ music programs. While he gave great praise to the students and faculty, Mount lamented, “It is heart-breaking to think that their programs are in jeopardy due largely to the incompetence of our elected politicians.”
With that said, Mount returned to his high school reflections. Regardless of the caliber of the performances, he noted the operettas were enjoyed by the performers, student body and general public. Mount also wrote those operettas were usually PTA fund-raisers and performed in “the then new Napa High School (now District) auditorium.”
The community also participated in those productions. Mount stated that professional adult instrumentalists provided the melodic accompaniment for the operettas. Also, they were conducted by Jules Weyand. He “had a music store on First Street, directly across from Mount and Sons Real Estate and Insurance and next to A. G. Prouty, Jeweler.” The conductor, “also had a five-piece group which played for the Sunday vaudeville acts at the then new Hippodrome — later Fox theater,” which was located on First and Randolph Streets.
In 1928, Mount graduated from Napa High with about 40 other classmates. For the next two years, the student became the teacher. “I was the music director for the local light opera organization, a part of the adult education program. We were semi professional with ‘name’ performers in lead parts and local talent in secondary roles.”
Mount left Napa in 1930 to attend the University of Southern California and to pursue his dream of a career in music. “It was necessary for me to get away in order to succeed in a professional career as well as to have an easier life personally.” Mount did realize his dreams and aspirations by becoming a professor of music at both USC and UC Santa Barbara.
Based on his letters, Mount remained connected and attached to his hometown. He wrote, “In the long run, after I left Napa and my family, there are more happy thoughts remembrances than negative ones,” Mount wrote. “My heart is still in that old hometown.”