My Memories of the Denver Chapter ARS

Note: Here is the history of the Denver Chapter as I remember it —mostly memories of activities that I was involved in. Many other members of the chapter took part in additional projects and events, which I hope that they will document for our archives.


Each of the members of the American Recorder Society has a story to tell about his or her introduction to the recorder. My story begins one afternoon in the spring of 1968 when I got a phone call from Martha Jane Gardiner, whom I did not know. She had heard that I might like to learn to play the recorder. I replied that I was a flutist with a few young students and that I might like to acquire a recorder to teach them about the history of the flute. But I had no intention to play a recorder more than a few notes, because it might ruin my flute embouchure!

That was no excuse for Martha Jane! She suggested that I come over to her home to see her recorders. So I hopped on my bike and rode there, just a few blocks away. All of her recorders and music were spread out on the living room floor. She soon convinced me to play a few notes on a plastic soprano, then showed me her “Liz” and “Jake” books (perfect for teaching the history of the flute!) and I was hooked.
Martha Jane, who had a degree in music education, told me that she was going to start a beginning recorder class in the fall at a nearby YWCA Wives’ Club. It was being organized by her friend, Barbara Duey, who wanted to learn the recorder. So Barb asked Martha Jane to bring her early music group to play for the YW club and entice the members to take her forthcoming class. One of the members who was a friend of mine had given Martha Jane my name and phone number.

But that summer, before her fall class had even started, Martha Jane taught me the special techniques required to play the recorder and I was invited to perform with her group for a cast party at Central City. This consort (later called “The Camerata”) was organized and directed by Virginia Rylands, a keyboard teacher who played recorder as well as jazz piano. Other regular members at that time were recorder players Diane Gregory, Micki Fisk, and Martha Jane, as well as a harpsichordist and two singers. At every rehearsal I heard about the wonderful recorder teacher, Augusta Bleys, with whom they had all studied, and about the American Recorder Society, of which they were all members. Martha Jane encouraged me to join the ARS at the first meeting of the Denver Chapter that fall “because it’s such a good cause!”
Miss Bleys, as we called her then, was a fine musician who had moved to Denver from Holland after World War II. She taught piano, harpsichord, and flute, as well as recorder, and played in Antonia Brico’s “Businessmen’s Symphony.” She and several of her students had organized the Denver Chapter ARS in January, 1964, and its charter was granted on September 25, 1964. The chapter members met once a month on Sunday afternoons in Augusta’s studio at 1115 Grant, #4. It was in the old Dennis Sheedy mansion, a large Gothic-style red brick and sandstone home (now torn down), which was then a fine arts conservatory. [See Augusta’s report attached, “The Genesis and Growth of the American Recorder Society in Denver, Colorado [n.d.]

To begin the first meeting of the 1968-69 year, Augusta invited the Camerata to perform the music to be played afterwards by the large group--a little dance suite for four recorders by the contemporary composer Hans Lau. Since I was the fifth and newest member of the group, I was not to perform with them. But that morning I got a call from Martha Jane, who said that Diane was ill and would I play her soprano part? I agreed, but with great trepidation—I had never even met the famous Miss Bleys! We got to her studio early for warm-up and coaching. Augusta kept talking about articulation, but I had to concentrate on playing the notes of my part, which I had never rehearsed with the group.
Augusta purchased the music for each chapter meeting from Wells Music on California Street, and everyone was required to purchase a copy before coming into the meeting. Music not sold was kept by her, later to become the chapter library. Each member paid annual dues that were sent to the national organization—I don’t remember if there were chapter dues at that time. I do know that Augusta was not paid as musical director or for the use of her studio and music until sometime later.

Soon after my first meeting I was invited to join Augusta’s advanced consort. The other members were Rudy (Rutherford) Witthous (Augusta’s star student and one of the founding members of the chapter), Ann Williams (who had recently moved here from the East), Rod Horton (a professor at Colorado Women’s College), and Micki Fisk (member of the Camerata). We rehearsed weekly and worked very hard on Hans Ulrich Staeps’s Choric Quintet until Augusta felt we were ready to have it recorded professionally and played on KVOD. So John Wolfe of KVOD came to our rehearsal with all of his recording equipment. He set it up, and we played the difficult four-movement work through almost perfectly—but something happened so that it didn’t record at all. We tried a couple more times but were unable to play it well enough again.


Early in 1969 Augusta’s consort started working on Staeps’s Aubade und Tanz (still one of my favorite recorder ensemble pieces) to perform at the chapter’s spring workshop. The Denver Chapter had already sponsored two spring weekend workshops in its first four years. They were both led by the Telemann Trio, a group from California (Shirley Marcus, Gloria Ramsey and Norris Freed). Ann Williams was chairman for the 1969 workshop, which was led by the recorder maker Friederich von Huene, assisted by his wife Ingeborg. This was my first workshop, and I loved every minute of it. Friederich sent the music list well ahead, and published copies were ordered from Wells. (Imagine a workshop with no photocopies!) All participants were expected to buy the workshop music (or share it with a standmate, because it was expensive!) and then practice it ahead. Augusta warned us that we should play only one size of recorder at a workshop so that we wouldn’t mix up fingerings!

The chapter has held weekend workshops every (or almost every) spring. Early ones following that by the von Huenes were led individually by Ken Wollitz and Shirley Marcus and by Shelley Gruskin with a harpsichordist and singer. Some of us took advantage of the visits by these nationally known teachers for private lessons.

In the summer of 1969, just a year after I met her, Martha Jane and her family moved to The Hague, in the Netherlands. I missed her terribly—for she had changed my life and was my inspiration for teaching music! She asked me to take over her YWCA adult recorder class , and that’s how I became a recorder teacher. Barbara Duey was now by far the best student in the class, and it was a challenge keeping her motivated along with the others, mostly beginners. The YWCA recorder classes soon expanded to several sites in the Denver area, and Barb eventually taught some of them. Many of the recorder players in these classes joined the ARS and became active members of the Denver Chapter.


About a year after Martha Jane moved to the Netherlands, Augusta went there for an extended visit to see her family and study with Franz Brueggen. (She had only one lesson with him, who referred her to one of his students.) Before she left she turned over her studio to two of her more advanced students: Janet Handmaker and Sally Pyle. Also she appointed Ann Williams as temporary director of the Denver Chapter.


In the spring of 1971 Ann asked me to conduct the May chapter meeting to be held in Elsie Repogle’s home. (The chapter occasionally held special meetings in members’ or friends’ large homes.) I was so honored and excited to conduct my first chapter meeting. I had taken conducting at the C.U. College of Music years before but had no idea that I would never conduct anything! For music I chose some of my favorites in the Camerata’s repertoire, including Roland de Lassus’s I Know a Young Maiden.

That summer Augusta wrote to Ann that she was extending her visit to Holland a few more months. Ann told the chapter board that she would like to turn over the interim directorship to me, and they agreed. The board’s only instruction was that I should use for our meetings the music in the chapter library, which had accumulated unplayed through the years. For the first time a tentative schedule was set for the season with a theme for each meeting, such as: “16th-Century: Age of the Dance,” “Renaissance House Music,” and “Holiday Music—Middle Ages to Bach.” A guest conductor was scheduled for one meeting, Dr. Gordon Sandford from the C.U. College of Music.
In November of 1971, I flew to Wichita to take the exam for the ARS Teacher’s Certificate and became the third certified recorder teacher in Denver, after Augusta and Rudy.

While I was conducting the meeting in December, 1971, a newcomer came in, sat down in the back row, and pulled out an impressive array of recorders. At the break he gave me his business card, on which was written: “Looking for a 3-legged quartet.” It was Richard Conn, who was moving here to be curator of the Native Arts Department at the Denver Art Museum. Dick was to become one of the most valuable members of our chapter and a good friend of many of us.


When Augusta finally returned to Denver and her studio in February 1972, the chapter board, with Micki Fisk as president, had paved the way for more independence from its music director. With this in mind the board decided to pay Augusta for conducting the meetings and for the use of her studio as a meeting place. The chapter members admired Augusta for her musicianship, and many of us loved her as a friend, but she was difficult to work with and very set in her ways.


In 1973 I conducted three meetings, one of which was in the home of our president Dolores Hall. A special guest and recorder player from Wichita, Don Granger, attended this meeting. Dolores and Don had never met, but not long afterwards they left their spouses and were married. Dick Conn referred to this scandal in his poem for the chapter’s 15th anniversary [attached].


In the summer of 1973 Augusta had taught at a workshop in California directed by LaNoue Davenport, where they performed Josquin’s Pange Lingua Mass. She then suggested to Dr. Gordon Sandford that the C.U. College of Music and the Denver Chapter co-sponsor a similar workshop. He agreed, and our board appointed me as workshop chairman for the “Renaissance Festival “ to be held in Boulder on May 10-12, 1974. The faculty included Gordon Sandford, Director of the Collegium Musicum, Dr. Barbara Doscher, Instructor in Voice, Dr. Oliver Ellsworth, Assistant Professor of Music History, Dr. William Richardson, Assistant Professor of Trombone, and Elmer Schock, doctoral candidate in choral conducting. A large group of faculty and amateur recorder and other early instrument players, as well as vocalists, rehearsed and performed the gorgeous Josquin mass. The weekend terminated with an elaborate Renaissance banquet.


In the summer of 1975 a national ARS Workshop was held at Telluride, Colorado. The faculty included Ken Wollitz, Martha Bixler, Valerie Horst and others from the East plus Gordon Sandford from Boulder. Many members of the Denver Chapter attended—the first taste for most of us of a weeklong recorder workshop.

This workshop may have inspired the members of the Denver Chapter to look for more variety in their meetings than Augusta was willing to do. So Dick Conn, who I believe was chapter president at the time, asked me if I would consider being music director. I said that I would not want to replace Augusta, who was my good friend, but would be willing to share the directorship with her. She agreed reluctantly, so we alternated conducting the meetings from September 1975 until May 1976. '


After the 1975-76 year, Augusta resigned as co-director, and the board asked me to be Music Director. I had enrolled at the College of Music at C.U. Boulder to finish my degree, but consented as long as I didn’t have to conduct most of the meetings. We agreed that I should ask various members and outside musicians to be guest conductors. This began the chapter’s policy of having different conductors for each meeting of the year.
The second Telluride workshop was held in the summer of 1976. The faculty was almost the same as in 1975, but enrollment was down. This was the finale of the Telluride workshop, probably because it was such a long distance from Denver and airports.

In 1976 the Denver Chapter ARS sponsored its first Renaissance Arts Faire during the week of September 5-11. Two young women had approached our board with the idea and agreed to coordinate the activities. It was held at Skunk Hollow Forge near Soda Lakes, east of the town of Morrison. The theme was Elizabethan, with Queen Bess reigning. Full-time music was furnished by our chapter members, and our chapter received a percentage of the profits.


The workshop this year was conducted by Duain Wolf (conductor of the Colorado Children’s Chorale at that time and now conductor of the Colorado Symphony Chorus and the Chicago Symphony Chorus). I was workshop director and worked closely with Duain. It was held at St. Mary’s Church on 2290 South Clayton Street, and the subject was “Chant and Liturgical Drama.” The workshop concluded with a concert of recorders and early instruments performing with the choir of St. Mary’s.

In the spring of 1977 I resigned as music director in order to write my thesis and finish my degree. The chapter board decided to replace the job of music director with a program director, who would schedule conductors and coordinate the meetings for the year.

This was the second year of the Faire at Skunk Hollow, which was held the last weekend in August and the first weekend in September. Admission was $2.50 for adults ($1.50 if in costume) and 50 cents for children. Dick Conn, president of the chapter, impersonated Henry VIII at this Faire, and again our members performed throughout the weekends.


The venue for our Renaissance Faire was no longer available this year because the area was being converted into Bear Creek Lake Park. So the two women who ran it for us sold it to a company from Minnesota—one of the professional outfits that tour fairs around the country. They picked a location near Castle Rock to hold the new Colorado Renaissance Festival. Dick Conn, again chapter president, asked me to negotiate with this company for adequate compensation for full-time music by our members. This was not “my thing,” but I succeeded in getting around $600 for our chapter plus tickets to the Festival for all of our performers. Then I had to find people to play full time for six weekends and see that we were fulfilling our obligations. We did this for several years until the Renaissance Festival dismissed all local performers and hired only professionals who worked the national circuit.

The national ARS board, which consisted mostly of Easterners, had been reorganized about 1976. Chapters all over the US were asked to nominate people to represent their communities. Sharon Helton, who was our Chapter Representative, asked me to run. I was nominated but lost the general election. Then in 1978 there were two vacancies on the board to be filled by consensus of the remaining board members. Father Bernard Hopkins, who was a board member, came to Denver to visit his friend Dick Conn and urged either Dick or myself to apply for one of the vacancies. Dick deferred to me because he was president of the chapter at the time and I had just run in the national election. Several of the national board members knew me from Telluride, so I was appointed to fill in a two-year term. After taking on many responsibilities with the national organization for the next 30 years, I regretfully have had to become less involved with our chapter.


To celebrate the chapter’s 15th anniversary, Dick Conn wrote an amusing poem (attached). It mistakenly referred to our birth year as 1963 instead of 1964.


The first assignment I was given as a member of the national ARS board was to start and direct another annual weeklong workshop in Colorado, but closer to the Front Range than Telluride. I contacted Gordon Sandford at C.U., who was delighted to host the workshop at Boulder in the summer of 1980. Bobbie Blanc agreed to be assistant director of the Colorado ARS Workshop (later the Colorado Recorder Festival or CRF), and I enjoyed working with her on this for many years. This workshop was independent of the Denver Chapter, but many of our members attended regularly. It became a source for new friends and relationships—musical and otherwise. And the CRF faculty has become a source for our chapter workshops--Shelley Gruskin, Peter Seibert, Martha Bixler, Ken Andresen, Eileen Hadidian, and others.


The 1980 Colorado ARS Workshop participants found the Boulder campus too large, so we moved the next year to The Colorado College in Colorado Springs. Michael Grace, head of the music department, was a gracious host. The workshop continued annually until 1989. Then to avoid conflict with other newer workshops in the West, the CRF tried a biennial schedule, resuming in 1992 and 1994. Bobbie Blanc and Dick Conn took over as co-directors during that time when I was serving as ARS president.


In 1983 I worked with Dr. Alan Luhring of the C.U. Music History Department on a Renaissance Dance Workshop for our chapter.


Our chapter’s 20th Anniversary celebration featured a piece composed for the occasion by one of our members, Nancy Ann Carr, Chorale & Chorale Prelude (based on the “Happy Birthday” melody).


Right before Valentine’s Day in 1985 the chapter presented “A Royal Tea Party of the Queen of Hearts.” Queen Victoria Hays (now Taylor) presided, with King Don Shumaker and Knave Howard Baker. The shepherd Amyntas was played by Ed Taylor, and the shepherdess Phyllis was Cheryl Graves. Eight consorts performed, along with two singers, a harpsichordist (Sally Pyle) and pianist (Virginia Rylands), and everyone played in the Royal Wind Band, which I conducted. Entertainment for Her Majesty included Morris dancing led by Steve Winograd. This event was featured in an article in the American Recorder, Feb., 1986.

Our 1985 workshop was presented by Peter Seibert (Seattle), Susan Prior (Toronto), Martha Reynolds (Texas State University at San Marcos) and myself. The topic was the new ARS Education Program and Teacher Certification.


On November 16, 1986, the chapter celebrated St. Cecilia’s Day with a Festival at Christ Episcopal Church, lavishly decorated by Bobbie Blanc’s committee. Dick Conn was Master of Ceremonies and I was Music Director. Six consorts performed as well as the Royal Wind Band and harpsichordists Judy Miller and Sally Pyle. High tea, provided by Pat Smith and others, was served afterwards.


In 1989 the ARS celebrated its 50th Anniversary and the Denver Chapter our 25th. On April 1st seventeen of our members drove to Keystone, rode to the top of the ski lift, and played in the warming house the same piece (Holborne’s NIghtwatch) at exactly the same time as ARS members all over the world played it. Our chapter was acknowledged for playing at the highest altitude (11,640 feet), and pictures of Susan Osborn, Don Shumaker, and Judy Stanfield (Fritz) playing there were on the cover of the August 1989 issue of American Recorder.

On May 21 our chapter had our own “Silver and Gold Anniversary Celebration.’’ The committee for this event was chaired by Cheryl Graves with Bobbie Benton in charge of refreshments, Carolyn Patterson supervising decorations, Dick Conn writing the script, and Bobbie Blanc providing awards and certificates. Daniel Soussan, Meg Bernens, Sally Collins, and Don Shumaker were actors. I coordinated the music provided by our members playing in a large group and various consorts. The highlight was the premiere performance of Dialogue and Dance, which the chapter had commissioned from Colorado’s foremost composer, Cecil Effinger, who was present at this occasion. Elaine Granata, president of the chapter, made a presentation to our founder, Augusta Bleys, who was guest of honor.


On April 29, 1990, the chapter had a party, “Elizabethan Delights,” at my home in Arapahoe County. Fourteen consorts performed, and Augusta Bleys played a harpsichord solo, Ye Wanton Singers sang, and The Maroon Bells Dancers danced outside in the snow.


To celebrate national Play-the-Recorder Month in March 1997, our chapter held its first annual Recorder Faire--a tradition that has continued to this day. The public was invited (at free admission), the purpose being to promote the recorder and entice new members to our chapter and the ARS. It was held at Christ Episcopal Church, which was brightly decorated outside and in. There were continuous performances by the “Denver ARS Recorder Orchestra,” small consorts, and school groups. Free recorder mini-lessons were given, music instruments of all types were for sale, and refreshments were served. Dick Conn and Bobbie Blanc helped me greatly with this event, but it did not attract as many non-recorder players as we wished. Soon the chapter changed the venue to more public places and Elaine Granata has coordinated it annually ever since.


Bobbie Blanc, Program Chairman, invited me to plan with her another festive event, “The Masque of the Jewel Queen.” It was held at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, 1600 Grant Street, on February 18. The Court Herald, Susan Wilcox, opened the festivities with a fanfare on her sackbut. The Processional of the Queen’s Band was led by Mistress of the Musicke (myself) and accompanied by the Court Fiddler (Bill Conklin). Victoria Taylor, the Queen of Jewels, entered with her lady-in-waiting and page for her coronation. Pat Midyet was the Court Harpist and Keith Emerson the Court Singer. Story Tellers were Anne Chetham Strode, Cindy Avis, Gail Nickless, and Terri Zanetti. The Lord and Lady of the Dance (Norman Hughes and Elizabeth Stehl) led the dancing, followed by the “Jewel Treats of the Table.”


Our chapter celebrated its 40th Anniversary at a party on February 15, 2004, at which we particularly honored the memory of Augusta Bleys, who was the founder of our chapter in 1964. Augusta was born in Holland in 1912 and had recently passed away in 2003. Among the music played was Four Dances by Melchior Franck (ARS Edition #2), which Augusta conducted at the first recorder ensemble meeting in Denver in 1956. Also we played Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring by J. S. Bach, which many of the “old-time” members remembered playing often with Augusta accompanying on the piano. The meeting ended by playing Cecil Effinger’s Dialogue and Dance, which the chapter had commissioned for its 25th Anniversary in 1989.


This year, in 2009, the ARS is 70 years old and our chapter is 45! At our January meeting we honored the occasion and the memory of longtime chapter member Dick Conn by performing Cecil Effinger’s Dialogue and Dance and Hans Ulrich Staeps’ East West. Dick felt that one of the functions of the ARS is to commission pieces for recorders by well known composers, and it was his idea to approach Dr. Effinger for a composition to premiere at our 25th Anniversary party in 1989.

One of Dick’s favorite composers of recorder music was the Austrian Hans Ulrich Staeps. In the spring of 1983 Dick told me that he was going to Vienna for Art Museum business and would like to meet the composer when he was there. So he asked me to write to Dr. Staeps to see if he would compose a large-scale work to be performed by the faculty and all participants at the 1984 Colorado Recorder Festival at Colorado College. Dr. Staeps responded that he was interested, so Dick was able to meet with him and discuss the commission. When my husband and I were in Vienna a few months later, we picked up the manuscript at the Staeps’ home and had a wonderful evening with Dr. and Mrs. Staeps. Several years later, out of the blue, I received a manuscript of a new piece, East West, by Staeps, a “quasi 1988 present for you and… [the] circle of recorder players round you.” Dick, Mary Scott, Bobbie Blanc and I, with Rod Shubert, guitarist, made a tape of East West and sent it to Dr. Staeps. East West was premiered at the Colorado Recorder Festival in July, 1988. Staeps died later that month. It was his last composition—“a secret farewell to America.” And a fine tribute to our chapter’s late friend, Richard Conn.

Constance M. Primus
November 24, 2009