Remembrances of "A" Choir

Remberances of “A” Choir

By James Grebe, Mc Kinley High School, class of June, 1960 

Back from my birth in 1942 to the middle 1950’s I lived at the intersection of Lesperance Street (1/2 BLOCK North of Russell) and S. Broadway.  At that time, integration was not a popular or familiar word.  The artificial dividing line between the “colored” and “white” neighborhood seemed to be Third Street in our area.  The boys in our neighborhood did not care about all that as we all played together.  We, for some reason, did not think it was unnatural for our friends, who happened to be “colored” went to a different school.  We just did not think about it.  My one friend below Third Street was a fellow named Robert Ray.  I can remember that a group of us friends used to be in his house and gathering around his piano to listen to him play. We called them houses though they would probably be called apartments today.  Later, in 1956, the schools became un-segregated (I don’t remember the word de-segregation being used).  In 1956, I began my studies at McKinley High School and since I always liked to sing, joined the choir.  Robert was a year or so younger than I so I was already a sophomore when he began at McKinley.  He wanted to join the choir and sing also.  When Mr. Perrine (the choir leader) found that Robert played piano, and well, he was called upon to be accompanying rather than being able to sing. 

     This was a colorful time for Mr. Perrine, as he bought his  1958 Thunderbird, and was a very popular teacher.  Robert Ray did not get to sing all 3 years, that I know of, but became the official accompanist of the choir.  I can remember the class encouraging Robert to play piano when we were early for class.  Remember, this was “A” Choir, and that meant really early (7:30 AM).  I can remember also some of the things we sang, some quite serious.  Some, in particular, were selections from Gounod’s “Redemption”.  Mr. Perrine had a favorite soprano soloist who was about a year ahead of me whose name was Joyce Tomich.  Her voice made a person think that the heavens opened and out came the voice of an angel.  I can remember being on the choir risers while we performed at various places and Joyce would be center stage and, I remember these words, still today, from, a selection from the “Redemption” called the “Lovely Appear”.  Gee, even those words sound glorious.  From the “Lovely Appear” Joyce would sing,

“Then the timorous birds

Where so ever they fly,

Shall not fear any more,

The hawk’s merciless cry……” 

The last word, cry, was a very high note and I can remember getting goose bumps hearing her sing out this portion of lyrics.  Still, today I can picture myself hearing it. 

Then it came time to leave McKinley.  I was member of the choir all 4 years and had my “Orchestral Letter” to sew on my McKinley sweater.  I made, and have kept, the best memories of my life from choir experiences.

          Then I graduated, and went on to Harris Teachers College.  One of the classes everyone had to take then was piano instruction.  This was at the beginning of the 2nd year.  I had no clear idea if I was going to go on and become a teacher but as soon as I hit that piano class I knew something happened.  I decided, like love at first sight, that I wanted to do something with pianos for the rest of my life.  I have now been in the piano service business over 45+ years and counting. During the dead of winter, 1961-62 I wrote letters to the different piano companies around and got only one reply back from the Aeolian Co. of MO offering me an apprenticeship position after school had completed in June.  I graduated with my A.A. on a Friday and started working for Aeolian the next Monday morning in the piano rebuilding shop.  I felt like I died and went to heaven.  I soaked in the knowledge like a dry sponge.  I worked under some of the greats in the St. Louis piano industry.  After 10 years total of working for Aeolian, Ludwig Music House and then Ludwig-Aeolian I left their employ to continue my career as an independent piano tuner-technician in 1972.            It was in the 1980’s that one of my client accounts was University of MO in Normandy.  Evelyn Mitchell was the artist in residence as well as the head of the music department and she was retiring.  I did not hear of who was replacing her till in the fall when I was in the process of getting the schools’ many pianos in tune for the fall semester.  Lo and behold I found out the new head of the music department was none other than my long lost friend, Robert Ray.  I had heard snippets about his accomplishments in the newspaper through the years but had lost track of him personally.  I kept thinking to myself, great talent shows it head very early in one’s life and if nourished it can make a person soar.   And so it did for Robert Ray, McKinley High School’s own.  I remember meeting him while I was there tuning and congratulated him for his accomplishments.Though the following has nothing to do with how talent wins out, that day was the last time I was called to tune for the University of Mo. at the Normandy Campus.  Strange but true

Copyright,1995/Yesterday Once More Publications, James Grebe

© Copyright 2017 James Grebe. All rights reserved.