View from the center
By Lynn McKeown
A time for music
A few days before Thanksgiving there was a death notice in the paper for Ada Marie Snyder, who had just passed away at the age of 91. She will be remembered by a few people in the area, especially in Monmouth, as a high school music teacher in the 1950s and '60s, as well as director of the choir at the First Methodist Church in Monmouth. I was a student during the ‘50s (MHS Class of '57), and her passing has me thinking of those days and especially of the importance of music for me and others at the time.
Monmouth High School had what I think would be considered an outstanding music program in those years. And, as is often the case, one person was largely responsible. That was the band director, Lester Munneke. Mr. Munneke (I can't bring myself to call him by his first name, though he became a family friend) taught instrumental music starting at the elementary school level, and by the time students were in high school they had been molded into rather skilled players. The MHS concert band went to the state contest every year, as I remember, and invariably won first ratings. Many individual students also played solos at these contests, mostly also winning high ratings.
The band played the usual band music – marches by Karl King, John Philip Sousa and others – but also more challenging pieces. I especially liked the music by Wagner. We played simplified arrangements of the Die Meistersinger Overture and Introduction to the Third Act of Lohengrin that were a sort of exposure to classical music and great fun to play.
Ada Marie Snyder joined the music staff in the early 1950s, I believe. As I understand it, Mr. Munneke was the guiding force in her hiring, with the express purpose of starting an orchestra. She was herself an accomplished violinist, having performed Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto as a Master's Degree requirement at the University of Iowa. Our high school orchestra played such pieces as a simplified arrangement of the third movement of Mozart's 40th Symphony. It gave us a bit of an understanding of the great musical genius of Mozart.
Mrs. Snyder also taught a class in music appreciation – using as text a book by Aaron Copland, one of the greatest American composers. One assignment was to write a musical composition. Mine was a classically inspired piece thankfully lost in the mists of time.
Then, as now, having an orchestra as part of a small-town high school music program was unusual. Ada Marie (I feel more like using her first name since she and my mother were good friends, both being music teachers, my mother in the elementary grades) was an excellent music teacher and orchestra director, though the orchestra's first venture to the state contest proved somewhat disappointing. As I understand it, the group got a second rather than a first rating because of one judge's lower grade. That lower grade resulted from, as he told Lester Munneke, his belief that "women shouldn't be orchestra directors." I hope such prejudice is by now a thing of the past.
My sisters and I all played musical instruments (My sister Kathy, the overachiever of the family, played three – clarinet, violin and piano), and I think playing music was very important for us and many other students, who I know have fond memories of music at MHS. It gave us a sense of accomplishment, as well as being just plain fun – except for the necessary practicing at home and filling out the required practice cards.
The band sometimes took trips, and my freshman year we took a long one, though I ended up taking only part of it. We had traveled north, playing concerts and sightseeing in Minnesota and Canada, but on the way back I had an appendicitis attack and had to have my appendix removed late at night in a hospital in Duluth, Minnesota. The band went on their way back to Monmouth, with Mrs. Snyder, who was along as a chaperone, keeping me company until one of my uncles could come up and make arrangements to take me home.
I had a less dramatic but, to me, interesting musical experience earlier in that same freshman year. The football team had an undefeated season (even beating Galesburg H.S. – but that's another story). There was a victory parade to celebrate, but somehow I didn't get the word and didn't bring my horn and music to school that day. Mr. Munneke gave me an old trombone he had lying around and told me to do the best I could without music. The strange thing was that I found I could play tolerably well "by ear." You could say it was a beginning of a career as an amateur jazz musician, one of the components of jazz being improvisation.
My high school years were a time when I and a few of my classmates became interested in jazz. At a time when other students were getting excited by Elvis and rock and roll, I and a few others were starting to listen to Benny Goodman, Stan Kenton and Charlie Parker – and attempting, with varying degrees of success, to play like them. One of my friends, Glenn Brooks, brought a little 45 speed phonograph to school, and we would sometimes sit on the floor in the hallway with another friend, Al Munneke, son of the band director and an excellent drummer, and listen to our jazz records. (In later years, Glenn played electric bass in backup groups for some big name performers in Las Vegas and on the West Coast.)
Mr. Munneke encouraged all kinds of music, including a dance band which played simplified arrangements of "big band" swing music. Sometimes we played for school dances, with a classmate, Sharon Neufeld – a very good singer – providing the vocals. Sharon was the daughter of a local fundamentalist minister who didn't like the idea of teenagers dancing, so we never knew if she would make it to the dances when we performed. Apparently Sharon had to literally sneak out of the house, if she could manage it, on those occasions.
It would be stating the obvious to say that music is very important to people – perhaps doubly so at this holiday time of the year – and I suspect that many people who perform or just love to listen to music can remember their own music teachers with gratitude. Lester Munneke passed away about 10 years ago in Monmouth. After leaving Monmouth in, I believe, the late '60s, Ada Marie Snyder moved to the Quad Cities where she taught in the schools and gave private stringed instrument lessons for many years. Some of us who grew up in Monmouth have especially fond memories of these two outstanding teachers and their enthusiasm for music. Our mentors pass away, though we continue to benefit from what they taught us. We also will pass away, but the music goes on.