Maurice Whitney — Hosting Percy Grainger

This is the latest in an occasional series of posts about Maurice Whitney, head of music at Glens Falls School District for 25 years.

Post-Star music writer Brunnhilde McCune predicted April 10, 1946 would prove to be a turning point in the lives of teenage music students.

Australian pianist, composer and conductor Percy Grainger appeared in concert with the Glens Falls High School Orchestra and Choir, conducting half of the program and performing several piano selections.

High School Music Director Maurice Whitney, who conducted the other half of the program, had become friends with Grainger in the summer of 1945, when the two were on the staff of Ernest Williams Music Camp, near Saugerties.

“To Mr. Whitney belongs great credit,” McCune wrote.

Grainger, who typically charged $3,000 for a performance — the equivalent of $42,500 in 2021 dollars — appeared at Glens Falls pro bono.

“Such a gesture on the part of a world-famous artist shows the greatness of his character,” McCune wrote. “His presence with the young musicians cannot help but to inspire them to a greater effort.”

Grainger traveled from Indiana on April 8.

On April 9 he rehearsed with the chorus and 50-member orchestra, sitting in with the orchestra’s percussion section on marimba, xylophone and staff bells on his composition “Spoon River.”

On April 10 he spoke in the morning to American history classes about the role of music in life and culture, participated in an afternoon concert for students, and the evening concert at Glens Falls Junior High School before a capacity audience.

After the evening concert, Grainger left on the midnight train from Albany for Detroit, where he was to perform with the Detroit Orchestra,

McCune praised the student musicians.

“It would be fine if more string players could be added to the group, but this seems to be a lack in many school orchestras. The brass section is unusually good.”

The “high point” of the concert was Grainger’s arrangement of Bach’s organ Toccata in F for three pianos, with Grainger, Whitney and 17-year-old William Deguire performing.

Sources: The Post-Star April 6, 10, 11, 1946.

Click here to read the most recent previous post in this series.

Freelance history writer and documentary film producer from Ticonderoga, NY