Saturday, May 20, 2017

Choirmaster, Musical Leader, and Operatic Composer Eugene Farner [otd 05/20]

Eugene Adrian Farner, who initiated Boise’s annual “Music Week,” was born May 20, 1888 in New York City. A child prodigy, he played his first public violin solo at the age of eight. He later became the director for his high school’s orchestra and continued to direct it for three years after he graduated at seventeen. Throughout all his years of regular schooling, Eugene also studied music under private tutors, “some of whom were noted musicians.”

In 1910, Farner opened a studio in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. He also served as choir master for the St. Luke's Episcopal Church. Two years later, Episcopal Bishop James B. Funsten persuaded Farner to move to Boise and take a position as musical director and choir master at St. Michael's Cathedral. Except for fourteen months military service during World War I, he held that position for over a decade.
Music Week, Boise High School, 1939. City of Boise.

Beyond his church duties, Farner studied and composed operatic music. He also served as Director of the Boise Civic Festival Chorus and Orchestra and was active in other music-related organizations. In 1919, Farner conceived and promoted a city-wide music celebration, one in which local musicians performed for their neighbors. He envisioned the event as an amalgam of a music festival and a “Week of Song.” Festivals tended to have limited sponsorship and participation. And they charged for admission. Of course, a “week of song” offered only various forms of singing: church choirs, barbershop quartets, and the like.

Music Week offered a broad mix of musical forms and was as inclusive as Farner could make it. Nor did they charge admission. Farner ran that first “Week” in May, 1919. Among the many events, he directed singing by the Boise Civic Festival Chorus, “with full orchestral accompaniment.” The Idaho Statesman noted (May 11, 1919) that many organizations had joined together, hoping “to make the oratorio production and music-and-pageantry week a big thing in the life of Boise.”

The celebration did prove very popular, and has continued to this day. Records indicate that leaders added the first Broadway musical production to the repertoire in 1959.
Boise Music Week. BMW photo.
It is perhaps significant that a newspaper report after the 1958 Week bemoaned dwindling public interest. Organizers even considered skipping a year or two until interest picked up. The stage play was a big hit, and is still a feature of the event.

The celebration is billed as the nation's first such non-commercial city-wide musical event. Even the historian of National Music Week, Charles Tremaine, wrote in 1925 that Boise’s “claim to priority is hereby acknowledged.” However, he also noted that, since no one else knew about the festival at the time, “it is not believed to have influenced the Music Day in Dallas or the general development of Music Week.”

Tremaine credits the heavily promoted 1920 Music Week in New York as “furnishing [the] chief impetus” for National Music Week.

And that fuels an intriguing speculation. New York-born Farner had many musical contacts in the City and probably corresponded with them regularly. (He moved back to the New Jersey-New York area in the mid-Twenties.)

Might Farner’s Music Week success in Boise have sparked interest in his home town? We’re unlikely to ever know.
References: [Hawley]
Judith Austin, “Music Week,” Reference Series No. 700, Idaho State Historical Society (1970).
Edward Ellsworth Hipsher, American Opera and Its Composers, Da Capo Press, New York (1978).
"Guide to the Music Week Records: 1913-1986," Collection Number MS 50, Idaho State Historical Society (2008).
C. M. Tremaine, History of National Music Week, National Bureau for the Advancement of Music, New York (1925).

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for writing this. Eugene Farner is my father's father. - Robin Farner Gillis