Girl Coming of Age in the 1960s


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I am definitely not the star of the music department.

Letters from Penn State - June 1963

6:00 pm

The start of summer term

I just came back from dinner. McElwain dining hall is certainly different from McKee! There's just one cafeteria (no A,B, & C), but it can be approached from two sides. At the middle of the counter the two lines converge at coffee and tea. The checkers are all girls (West Halls are always boys). When you get out into the dining room, a boy student worker asks "How many, please?" and shows you where to sit, filling up each table in order, row by row, but not splitting up a group of kids if they come together. Whoever you want to sit with, you have to go down with. It's very good for meeting people, though.

I went in to see Mr. Johnson at the HUB this morning. He said to come back Friday morning. I also went to Mr. Dunlop and asked if there were tryouts. He said he knew me well enough to know that I could do it, and that was the extent of the tryout. I saw Dr. Fishburn for my registration and he approved the drop-add.

Chapel choir tryouts were today only, so I went up to Eisenhower around 2:00. Mr. Beach took applicants in groups. I went in with two sopranos and two altos. I told him I was there to try out for accompanying but he had me sing anyway. Afterward he had me stay after the other four and told me he would definitely use me, and to be at the first rehearsal next Tuesday night. And also to come Sunday at 8 for the morning service. I don't know what that means unless I'm going to sing on Sundays too, which I definitely don't deserve. My voice is nothing, compared to those other kids. My piano isn't that great either. I'm sitting here in the lounge listening to a girl playing the piano in a sitting-room next door. She's very good. There are scads of good piano players here. But I'm so glad I'm in! He said I wouldn't play the organ on Sunday but that sometimes at rehearsals they needed to hear it on the organ and I would have to play it a little. I went into Carnegie this afternoon to try the organ there. Would you please send my big organ book right away so I can read some things in it? He gave me the folder of all the music we might do this term.

My roommate is really nice. Her name is Janie Hoffman. She's a sixth-term sociology major from Windber. She transferred here last fall from Bucknell. She's about my size, blonde. We get along fine and I like her a lot.

Band meets for the first time tommorrow at 12:45, and I want to go practice. The next letter will be newsier.

Mon. eve

Will not take a job this summer

Enclosed is my schedule. I have twelve credits, after dropping piano and phys. ed. and adding band and chapel choir. Summer is certainly the best time for me; I can be in these select groups without being as good as the cream of the crop who make up the memberships in the regular terms. But that's what really irks me—that I'm not as good, and that if I graduate with not much better instrumental performance than I give now, that the music department won't even notice I'm leaving. There are certain names that come up over and over again among the music students, and they're the kids who are exceptional at something, or everything.

We sang at the Sunday service. There is no meditation choir in the summer, or maybe there's no chapel choir. Anyhow there's just one choir, directed by Mr. Beach, who I do like a lot. He talks so technically about singing! "Your breath should come from the middle, not the sides of the body"! And everyone is so good, especially the boys. I didn't play at all, because Mr. Ceiga was there (he is the organ teacher). He writes music and teaches courses in advanced composition. We sang a choral ascription (?) and an Amen by him.

I went over with Mary Crosby, a girl from down the hall who was at the tryouts with me. There is "instant breakfast" at 8:00. From now on I'm going to try and get up early enough to get English muffins or something at the Dell before going up there. Their "breakfast" is just a cup of coffee and a really minute piece of coffee cake, served because we miss breakfast in the dining halls, which is served from 8:00 to 8:45. Then rehearsal is from 8:20 to 8:50, when we go up to the loft. I love it.

Band is lovely too. Actually we only meet three times a week now, will add Tuesday and Thursday when the BOC kids get here. I play second, some guy is on first. Bob Fought is on baritone because he plays that too and the band needs basses. My lessons are with him, first one is Wednesday.

All my classes are interesting. I like psychology and history. We do have acres of reading, though. Janie is in my history class. She only has eight credits, just enough to live in the dorms. She came this summer mainly because her boyfriend is here. Her other subjects are Soc., phys. ed., and a one-credit etiquette course. Sounds breezy! She spends her free time practicing tennis.

You won't believe this, but I spend my free time practicing. I spend time that isn't free practicing. There is something about being here, and knowing that you have to go to band tomorrow, and you may have to play some thorny passage alone, that is a strong motivation.

I've decided not to get a job at the HUB. I went in again Friday morning. Mr. Johnson was eating, and since he wasn't too enthused the first time I interrupted a meal, I didn't go in. I returned in the afternoon, he'd already left, and wouldn't be back till Monday. And during this week I've decided my time is sufficiently filled without it. In fact, it might get really awful with it. In the fall I'll be back at Waring, but for this summer I'd like to throw myself on your mercy for spending money. I can get along fine if you'll send ten dollars every two weeks.

I want an iron for Christmas. Boy, I thought the ones in McKee were bad! Not one of those fifteen-odd irons downstairs is safe with water in it. They just drip and sputter and leak it all out in less than two minutes. You have to dampen everything ahead of time. We're allowed to have our own irons, just aren't supposed to use them in our rooms. Right now I want to go down and iron tomorrow's wardrobe.

Sun. eve

I am definitely not worthy

I have everything I own in the dryers downstairs. This damp heat is oppressive and washing is such warm work and you have to wash so often! There aren't even any windows in the drying room. What an oven! And you have to sit around down there waiting for a washer and then for a dryer. There are only four dryers for McElwain, same as McKee, but there must be twice as many girls in this big building. Enough of this griping. I really like McElwain, almost as much as West.

Thursday morning at the choir sectional I accompanied for the first time. I hope it wasn't the last. What a fiasco! If I ever completely flubbed anything, that was it. Every time I think about it I blush. Ick! It was so horrible. I don't know what was the matter with me. I couldn't even count. I was playing a 2/4 passage in 3/4. And I didn't even realize why I wasn't with the choir until afterward, when I dashed mortified down to Carnegie, skipping lunch (felt too sick to eat anyway) to practice and practice and practice and started screaming the time to myself and suddenly realized there weren't enough quarter notes in the measure. And I couldn't play just two parts together, like the tenor and soprano. I get confused with the four lines.

Twenty-minute break to get the clothes and iron a couple of things.

As I was saying, I don't believe I'm the best accompanist Mr. Beach ever had. He finished the session with "Thank you, Alice" and I could have gone through the floor. I think I am capable of doing it, but only if I memorize all the music so I don't have to take my eyes off him for a second. And practice reading four lines of music at once. But if I am not a success this coming Thursday, I may be the next one off the roof, because it's a black feeling to know that you are in something to which you not only make no contribution (in the singing department, I really don't), but actually make a negative contribution by fouling up any kid who happens to listen to the piano to try to find his pitch or the time.

However, I have been practicing the stuff as if driven, and things should go better. Tell Carol that Gerhardt is in my sectional and that Mr. Beach seems to like him a lot, though she is not concerned with him now. I also ran into him the other day on the handball courts when Janie and I went out to practice tennis.

Janie is athletic. At the moment she is determined to become a good tennis player. She bought a cheap racket to start with, to be sure she'd like the game. She's tried mine and likes it better, because the strings are more bouncy, amazingly enough. I agree, but it wears you out to swing the thing, it is so heavy and the handle is so thick, to which Janie agrees. We are both talking about getting good women's rackets.

I had my first lesson with Bob. So inspiring. He gave me all his old music to look over and see what I like. He decided we would work mainly on tone, rather than technique. So I am doomed to playing one note and holding it for an age. He gave me some very simple things to do. Mr. Rockwell last term always gave me things that were very difficult, maybe figuring that I'd really have to work some then. So far, I'm practicing more for Bob.

We had quizes (2 zs in quizzes?) in Psych 14 and History 20 on Friday. I did okay, I think. But please understand that I am not giving first attention to the 3-credit courses this term. First comes sax, then playing for choir. Janie, by the way, has about a 3.6 all-U.

Carnegie, here I come. I hope it's cooler over there. Our room facing into the court gets practically no breeze at all.

Thurs. morn

Inferior, but still participating

I'm out of typing paper and am too lazy to type this anyway. I got up late and am waiting for my hair to dry.

My first quizzes, as I told you, were last Friday. I've gotten the marks back: Psych 14, A; History 20, D. We have quizzes in them both again tomorrow.

In the middle of choir Tuesday night Mr. Beach said "Oh, I want to see Alice Sanders after the rehearsal". So for the rest of the evening I sat there numb, thinking I was going to get the axe as far as any more accompanying went. When I went over to talk to him, he asked if I had time to accompany at some of the voice lessons he gives. So I am down for one every Thursday at 2:20 and then whatever ones he finds fit into my free time. And I told him that I'd been working on the choir music and listening to the Tuesday-night accompanist, Bill Mastrocola, and that it would go much better next time. He said I did all right, that he thought I was jolted a little the first time. You might say so.

Bill always plays in octaves when playing one part alone, like some problem spot for the tenors, so they can hear the note which they wouldn't if it was just exactly the one they were singing. And plays the tenor part an octave lower than written when part-playing with the sopranos, for instance, so his hands don't get mixed up. Like mine did.

Every choir member doesn't sing every Sunday. This is one of my Sundays.

The BOC kids have arrived, including one alto sax player, Sue Impress, eleventh grader from Emporium. She's pretty nice, looks sort of like Sandy Aronsohn. She is sharing the first folder with the boy whose name I still don't know, which is ridiculous. He's a civil engineering major, says he's just doing this for the summer.

My second sax lesson was yesterday morning. It went fine, we had it in the little room behind Mr. Dunlop's office. Mr. Dunlop was giving a lesson in his office at the same time. "You mean you've been practicing this for a week?!" "Can't you play four measures without making a mistake?" Etc. I'm glad I have Bob. Mr. Dunlop's poor student must have been reduced to a quivering lump by the end. He can be so sharp. But I still love him.

I hate to say this, but you could start sending me bi-weekly reinforcement any time now. After going on a spree buying two skirts, two blouses, and nylons, I'm down to seven dollars and owe Bob two for a book next week.

Janie is waiting for me to go to lunch and I have to get dressed yet. Happy fourth!

6:00 pm

Compatible roommates are so important

I'm writing this because it's so nice to just sit back in the armchair with a notebook on my lap, instead of dragging the typewriter out of the closet. Also because, though I got some typing paper, it's the wrong kind.

I went into the drugstore and asked for Eaton's erasable paper. The guy showed me all they had, called "Eaton's Essay Onion Skin". I said "Are you sure it's erasable? It doesn't say so." He said "Oh yes, I think all their paper is." Which I didn't believe, but bought it anyway. Now I find that not only is it non-erasable, but it's the transparent, thin-as-gold-leaf variety. I feel like throwing it away. It depresses me to look at a foolish purchase. I forgot typing paper comes in different weights. Oh, well. I'm never giving that guy my business again.

The average of my three History quizzes now is a C. We have another Psych test today.

Band will pretty much discontinue after the last BOC concert in early August. So today I went over to Willard and signed up for a food service job August 12-29, which promises 6-9 hours a day (now, have I got that wrong? It must be per week. Hmmm.) It's probably some convention or other. I'll have all my meals free except Tuesday and Thursday breakfast.

The first BOC concert is this Sunday evening, 7:00 pm, out in front of the library. Tuesday evening we have a concert in Park Forest Village, a development someplace around here. Buses leave from Carnegie at 6:30 pm. It'll be like going to football games in high school but more exciting.

Bill's [older brother] job and apartment both sound great. It'd be nice if he had a roommate. I don't think I'd want to come back to my own little room alone at night. Or maybe I would. Sometimes roommates are pains.

Janie is no pain. Boy, the luck with roommates has certainly shifted. I love her and Bonnie both. We are on a 500 Rummy craze. We play while waiting for the dining hall to open, and before we go to bed, and for study breaks. The cards are always lying on the dresser, to practice shuffling. We want to learn bridge.

Accompanying on Thursday went much better. Not perfect, but better. But then, he was being pretty kind to me in what he chose to practice. Sometimes he wants accompaniment when only the four separate lines are given, called "reading from the open score". That is hard, because I'm always reading the tenor as if it were written in the bass clef.

Thursday afternoon I accompanied Lois McConnaughey's voice lesson with Mr. Beach. I can see I'm going to be floored by voice. Mostly because I'll be so inhibited. The things you have to do sound so silly and affected! "Comforter" is pronounced "comfuhtuh". "I" is a combination of "ah" and "ee", mostly "ah". In "self", pronounce the "F" and form the "L" around it. There's too much to remember in every single little work.

I had to buy two books for the sax lessons. They are the high point of my week, natch. But already I get the feeling that I won't be in the band in the fall. Maybe next year. It would be pretty revolting if I graduate an instrumental major and have never been in the band.

Would you please send an extra ten dollars next time you send money? I need a new pair of loafers, and I want to get another pair just like the ones I have, which are pretty sad.

I'm sorry this letter has been so delayed. Midterm slump. (My History midterm is Friday.) I'll write again Friday afternoon.

Mon. morn

Trapped in a practice room

I'm writing while waiting for Psych class to start. We have it in an air-conditioned auditorium in Chambers. The comfort is enough to put you to sleep.

Every letter is a requisition.

Boy, every term, every letter gets further apart. I said I'd write this Friday, started it Monday, and now it's Wednesday night. And I'm degenerating hopelessly back into the old pigeon-scratch, because then I can lie around on the bed and write.

As I was saying, I might as well get the old money problem out of the way first. I must say, it's hard to cut down to $5.00 a week after my old standard of spending. RIght now I'm down to 32 cents. I've been looking for baby-sitting jobs, none turned up so far. Tomorrow I go for "orientation" for the August foods service job.

What has taken a disproportionate amount of money so far is the sax. $5.25 has gone for sax books. (I have to get another book for Psych 13 this week, a paperback that costs $1.95.) And reeds. Bob uses Van Doren reeds, they are what all professionals use, and he is switching me over to them. They aren't numbered like other reeds, and I've bought about 8 reeds so far this term finding the right stiffness. Bob gets his by the box from Pittsburgh, at $7.00 for 25, a saving over the 35 cents per individual reed. He said I ought to try that, and has ordered me a box which will be here any day. So please send reinforcement. Around $10.00 for the reeds and book, and some spending money.

I'm still kind of tired. Monday was an all-nighter. My Psych 13 midterm (half the grade) was Tuesday morning at 8 a.m., or so I thought. He changed the date to Thursday, tomorrow. Now I suppose I should go over the stuff again, but I sure don't feel like it.

We got our History midterms back today. I got 69, Janie got 72. It's 1/3 of the grade. I'm getting a C in that course.

Last night the band played an outdoor concert at Park Forest Village, a beautiful development three miles out of State College. They served us coke and ice cream afterward. Mr. Beach lives out there. College band is certainly different from high school band trips. We can get there any way we want, just get there. You could ride the bus or get a ride. I know a Mu Ed girl, Karen Musheno, who lives over in Centre Hall and has her own VW, and rode over with her. For some reason or other, it was wonderful, the whole night.

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