Arts for World Unity Statement
“Early Childhood Recollections.” In Elena Fitzhum and Primavera Gruber, eds., Give Them Music: Musiktherapie im Exil Am Beispiel von Vally Weigl. Wiener Beiträge zur Musiktherapie 6. Vienna: Praesens, 2003, 185–95.
Early Childhood Recollections
by Vally Weigl
Just about thirty years ago when, prompted by a severe accident after my husband’s death, I took an M.A. in Rehabilitation and Recreation at Columbia University, I enrolled in a course in “Psychology of Family Relations” whose very fine instructor, Dr. Osborne, had us write down early childhood recollections. I dug these up in 1973, adding a few memories of later years, for a friend whom I met in the Peace movement. This friend recently convinced me that my grandchildren, and eventually my great-granddaughter, might be interested in these recollections as part of their “Roots”.
I grew up in a turn-of-the-century good bourgeois intellectual family milieu in Vienna together with my by only 11 months younger sister Käthe who grew ever closer to our father whom we both adored; especially when at night time he would sit at our bedside and tell us about Homer, Schiller and Wagner and his travels to Italy, Greece and Africa as a young newspaper reporter before he passed the bar and became a well-known character among Austrian lawyers, a “Hof- und Gerichts-Advokat”, as the official title was. We were fascinated when he spoke of Galileo, of Benjamin Franklin, the invention of the light’ning rod and lots of other things he got us interested in when we were only 4 and 5 years old. He was renowned for his wit, his short-sightedness and the candies he always had in his pockets, bulging with lots of fascinating things he collected and brought home from Viennese antique shops on his way home from court. He just could not pass them by without digging up now an ivory bishop’s cane or a nodding Chinese Buddha, some rare French miniature or books or similar discoveries. My mother, who was 22 years younger than he, often reproached him [for] his lack of concern for outward appearance and decor which meant much more to her, a weakness which we children soon discovered and against which we rebelled more and more as time went on. I recall the Friday afternoon receptions (“jours”) for respected society ladies and relatives for which Käthe and I had to appear hand in hand, identically impeccably dressed to recite some little verse one of which until today has stuck in my memory: “Mein liebes Schwesterchen und ich, wir lieben uns recht inniglich” (My darling sister and I we love each other tenderly”) while, just because we had to say so, we were squeezing or punching each other’s hands until with much relief we could take refuge in our joint nursery, having retrieved some delicious tid-bits or cake which had taken our mother hours to prepare. She fixed these personally, even though in those early days we still had a cook, a chamber-maid and a charwoman for the heavy house work and for cleaning our 5-room apartment and the adjac[ent] “Kanzlei”, our father’s 3-room office. Gradually that number of household help and the family wealth disappeared during World War I and the following depression, but for quite some time mother still clung to the “facade”, the symbols of the respectable bourgeois intellectual family. When at the age of 18 I insisted on earning some money by giving music lessons, mother was still objecting to it as not in keeping with the status of a “Hof & Gerichts Advokat’s” daughter and I had to fight for every step toward independence from those society rules which I rejected by then more and more. When Käthe later followed suit, her emancipation from those rules was by far easier since the parents had gotten more resigned to it and resented it much less.
In my very early years I had most of the then still rather virulent children’s diseases: diphtheria, [w]hooping cough, Chicken pox etc. and at the age of 6½ after a serious case of measles retained a severe eye infection. I had to remain for 3 weeks in a darkened room and to be taken out of school. My parents engaged then a very kindly private teacher whom I can still see before me and who was to teach me reading, so I wouldn’t lose a school year.
In order to make better use of his services and also because we were supposed to share in everything we did, Käthe was to take part in these lessons. I later often wished my parents had not insisted on this economy-equalization measure; for the 5½ year old Käthe, sitting opposite me at the table learned to read even upside down faster than I with my weakened eyes could manage, —a deficiency which has remained with me all my life and has caused me much grief and feelings of rejection. For papa, delighted with his younger daughter’s early reading achievements—she became a real “bookworm”, devouring all the interesting books in his extensive library—always teased me and made fun of my slow reading tempo, duly seconded by Käthe, probably neither of them realizing how badly and helpless I felt about it. I have been in treatment by oculists, got reading glasses which did not remedy the easy tiring of my eyes, even (50 years afterwards!) took a “speed-reading course” at Columbia University in 1952 without much avail, and I realized only then that probably a “reading block” had been added to that eye deficiency which even today prevents me from catching up with texts on TV or in cinemas before they disappear or from finishing the main sections of the Sunday New York Times before the following Saturday.
From those early reading results dated the permanent labeling we had to hear over and over again: “Vally is the prettier, Käthe the more clever one” which made either of us feel unhappy and frustrated and laid the foundation to an unfortunate, lasting siblings’ rivalry, which prevented us from seeing each other as we really were and from recognizing each other’s strength and good qualities. I have often regarded the mutual inability to overcome these early feelings towards each other as a failure and great loss for both of us, since I secretly gradually learned to admire her early awakened sense of social conscience which led her to the Youth and Labor Movement while mine a few years later brought me into the Anti-War camp.
At that early stage, however, I hardly was aware that Käthe, too, must have suffered from that “label”; for whenever Papa realized it, he came to her rescue and comforted her, especially since he, too, was often blamed for his lack of outward appearance, while no one even imagined that I was not happy about “just being pretty and graceful.” So I rebelled against both and became the “black sheep” of the family, probably behaving at times like a brat, while Käthe, then still much more docile, was always regarded as the good child (“das brave Kind”), and later, when I had led the way and taken the brunt of the scolding, was allowed to go her own way, too.
But all through primary school and the respectable all-girl “Mädchenlyceum für Beamtentöchter”, to which we were sent, we were dressed alike and had to attend the same gym-, dancing classes, “Kränzchen” (House balls) etc. in which I, having a little better body coordination, could excel, but whose superficiality I, too, felt strongly. So I abandoned all that “social glamor” at 17, as soon as I finished the Lyceum and, much to mama’s disappointment was ever since only interested in the outdoors, mountain climbing, hiking, skiing, in rough, simple tourist clothing which I could afford myself from savings or early earnings in giving music lessons; all this still considered rather “revolutionary” and unconventional at that time.
Fortunately I met just then two wonderful, life-long friends, the beautiful, sensitive Fini Kohn (later Barany and a gifted photographer) with whom I started teaching in an orphanage as a volunteer; and whom (as well as later her children) I taught the piano; and Toni Bächer-Maar, the inspiring, rather masculine geologist-historian, about to become a revered high-school professor, with both of whom I took long hikes and skiing trips, enriched by long, stimulating discussions about everything one could imagine. Sometimes we spent even a whole weekend out and, to my parents’ disgust were even joined by some of our (really very “platonic”) male colleagues from Vienna University whose Musicological Institute and Philosophy faculty dep[artment] I entered in 1912, after my Lyceal-Matura and where I later became assistant to Prof. W. Fischer, playing in his classes and preparing students for the entrance examination to the Musicological Institute.
From 1915 on we were joined on these wonderful mountain trips by Dr. Karl Weigl, my composition teacher to whom I was recommended by the Musicological Institute in the Fall of 1914, whom I admired more and more for his music as well as his strong individuality, integrity, exceptional sense of humor and indomitable love of the mountains and to whom I got married 6 years later in 1921.
Only Hitler and the ensuing emigration in 1938 separated us from these dear friends; Fini Barany and family went to Sweden; we with our 12 year old son, Wolfgang, to America from were we vainly tried to get Toni and her husband, Dr. Oscar Maar, to come over, too; threatened with separation from her “Aryan” husband, she ended her life in the early years of the war. Unfortunately our efforts to get Käthe out (who as a noted socialist and as a hostage for her prominent social-democratic husband, Dr. Otto Leichter, had been sent to the Nazi concentration camp in Ravensbrück) were just as futile; but at least our Quaker Friends in Philadelphia made it easier for her husband and two sons to adjust to their new home country when at last after very trying escape from France on a special permit from President Roosevelt they and other Austrian political émigrés on the Nazis’ “special list” were allowed to enter this country without final visas which they obtained via Canada later on. Especially one of our Quaker friends, Carolyn Norment, was their hostess in a Home near Haverford, Pa. and took a deep interest in them, esp. little Franz; also at the time when they learned of Käthe’s tragic death in Ravensbrück.
But all this happened much, much later and I wanted to say more about those early childhood days. There were periods in which the rivalry between the two of us was at a minimum, especially during summer trips when Papa was eager to show my mother, Käthe, me and a motherless cousin the wonders of the world; the art treasures of Verona, Venice, Pisa, Ravenna, Munich etc. and the mountains of the Salzkammergut, the Tyrol, the Dolomites and Switzerland. Then he was really “in his element” and he did impart his “Wanderlust” to both of us; in spite of my hobbling on a cane for the last 2 years I still am longing for the “wonders of the world” and the mountains and grasping any opportunity to see them again—. Another field in which we shared love and interest without feeling threatened by competition were Papa’s birthdays when the two of us “surprised him” by waking him up with his favorite selections from Haydn, Schubert or Mendelssohn on Violin and Piano or some piano duets, later also some other chamber music, some Bach or Beethoven.
Mama had been quite a good pianist herself and was both surprised and pleased when one day at the age of 5 she heard me play by ear on the piano whatever I had heard her play before. Thereupon it was decided that we both were to start piano lessons with a Leschetitzki pupil, Miss Bertha Löw. But my mother sat usually in on these lessons and involved our teacher in conversation about lots of other unconnected matters. It may have been this or the not very inspiring personality of Miss Löw, that at the age of 12 when one of my colleagues at the Lyceum was looking for some one to share in painting lessons, I signed up and wasted 2 or 3 years which I could have much better used for building a sound technical foundation on the piano. (At that time, when asked what I wanted to be later on, I used to reply “Malerin, Musikerin und Mutter” (a painter, musician and mother); but at the age of 14 or 15 I knew music was to be my destination; I took lessons with Prof. Wolfsohn, passed the Music Teachers State Exam 1913 and then started studying with Prof. Richard Robert among whose prize pupils were then also Rudi Serkin and George Szell. I later became his assistant in preparing his students for the Austrian State Teachers Exam, especially in theory and harmony which (as well as counterpoint and composition) I had started studying with Dr. Karl Weigl. At that time Papa presented me with a Bechstein baby grand piano which has been my cherished companion ever since and still takes up the main space of my bedroom in New York. — Unfortunately in our parental home in Vienna it stood in the family living room and since “Musik wird störend oft empfunden, dieweil sie mit Geräusch verbunden” (Music often disturbs by making noise), my practicing there must often have been a nuisance for the rest of the family, while Käthe’s studies for her Ph.D. in National Economy were silent and did not chase anybody out of the room. Papa was extremely proud of Käthe’s taking her Doctorate in Heidelberg, since no such degree existed for women in Austria then; all the greater was his disappointment when, after having been involved in anti-war activates in German munitions factories, she was not allowed to continue her studies there; she only could do so and get her degree after an amnesty at the end of the war, in 1918.
By that time Papa’s work as a lawyer had shrunk considerably and he let Käthe move into one room of his office which reduced the frictions of sharing out old “children’s room”, on the other hand encouraged our going our own separate ways, she with her social-democratic friends, I with mine. But at least we did no longer as in earlier years have to go along as “Gardedame” or “duenna” whenever one of us wanted to go out for even ½ hour with any male friend or acquaintance, which certainly had not improved our feelings toward each other. The new set-up helped us feel relieved by a last no longer having to live under “the sister’s watchful eye” and by developing our own personalities. This desire shut us off from each other and inhibited communication until it was too late to really get to know and do justice to one another.
Not long after Käthe’s return from Heidelberg as Dr. Käthe Pick, I too left Vienna in 1920 in the midst of the post-war depression for taking a job as a 4 language interpreter and secretary to Edo Fimmen, Secretary General of the International Transport Workers Union in Amsterdam, Holland. (I had been hoping for work in the field of music, but since that was hard to find, I was glad to have obtained this one, especially since Fimmen was a very interesting man who at that time was trying to stop all war, by having all transport workers everywhere refuse to handle and transport any war materials,—a fascinating idea which for a brief time seemed to work at least in Europe, but failed as soon as Mussolini and Fascism broke the workers’ resistance.
Other reasons for my taking that job in Holland were that during that starvation period to overcome the general sense of hopelessness and frustration of that time in Austria it enabled me to send small food parcels to Papa and Prof. Robert; also to save some money in case my absence—and this was, of course, the primary reason—might convince both, Karl Weigl and myself, that we could and would no longer live without each other. After 15 months we felt pretty sure of that and, when I returned in the fall of 1921 he waited for me at the railroad station in Rekawinkel from were we took a lovely hike and decided to get married on December 27th, taking over my father’s offices and my mother’s adjacent “parlor” as our apartment. Käthe married Otto Leichter at about the same time and got our grandmother’s nearby apartment who moved in with our mother. My Amsterdam savings, however, provided us with not only the “emergency backlog” for our marriage but also, since it was not used up, with one 16½ years later to start life anew in the U.S. The night after the “Anschluss” I transferred it to the father of one of our students in Switzerland who later could send it to us in New York, so we had then not only the 10.oo-Mark we could take along in leaving Vienna and felt not quite as lost and insecure: also we could rely on ourselves during my husband’s illness.
This tendency to save without really being interested in money or even knowing what I have, is one of the traits and habits inherited from Papa. We were only 10 and 11 years old when he handed each of us a savings book with a modest deposit (“The children must learn to handle and save money”) to which wealthier relatives added more on birthdays or occasional visits. He could have been terribly disappointed had he—or anyone else—ever known that I used some of it for “emergency taxis” when a few times I woke up late for school. Since Papa was too short-sighted to see me hail the driver, perhaps that guilt feelings [sic] from those times, even today, make it harder for me to spend $2.00 for a taxi, which I sill like to avoid as a luxury item, than to spend $20.00 for the AFSC or other good humanitarian causes or $200.00 for a Weigl recording or performance. In the same way I sometimes put checks away in a hurry and to my pleasant surprise re-discover them after a month or two; or I may forget about food in the refrigerator if I do not need it at the moment and if it is not in the front row within hurried reach. Papa insisted on frugality in food and everyday living while spending money without regret on antiques, rare books and other things he cared for. Mama was more easygoing from the outset. It is only fair to say that she gained enormously in stature in her later years: She devotedly nursed her sick and almost blind husband through his last illness; she was over 60 when she studied Spanish and started earning some money by translations and she courageously stood up for Käthe under Nazi persecution as long as she could do anything for her. — — Karl Weigl used to say: “Fundamentally good people become better, worthless people worse through trials and tribulations”. . . . In this respect our family record, in spite of its partly “socialite” background, stands up pretty well: Mama’s formerly rather superficial younger sister Lenci, took care of her up to her tragic voluntary death in 1940  and faithfully transmitted Käthe’s letters to her family. Annie Ekler, the orphaned cousin whom we took along on summer trips and whose early interests focused on Bridge and fashionable clothing, later supported her husband’s medical studies here by working hard in a N.Y. factory. I had to remain Karl Weigl’s always optimistic “rosy-eyed Calliope”, even in his times of despondency and his long last illness, knowing the doctors’ verdict, but never letting him give up hope. Also, when he entrusted his musical heritage to me he knew I would never let him down but do for it whatever I could. — Otto Leichter and Käthe’s older son Henry fully rose to their responsibility of being both father and mother to their younger one, Franz, both of whom became highly respected lawyers and conscientious public citizens here. And more than anyone one else, Käthe grew to really heroic strength of character in not only enduring her own tragic fate, but also helping her “3 boys” and fellow-inmates keep up hope and courage to the very end and under much harder and trying circumstances than any of us ever had to face.
The more I learned about her later years and how she faced them, the sadder I am that we never got to know each other better before. Had we outgrown and overcome those unfortunate sibling rivalries early enough, we could have meant so much to each other!
Käthe and I also shared two important life-long interests, which I am grateful to our parents for having instilled in us at an early age: our love for nature (especially the mountains) and for music. Every summer we went traveling to the “Salzkammergut”, the Tyrol or Switzerland and Papa felt exhilarated and “in his element” as soon as we started out. Mama took long early morning walks to the Selle-am-Grödener Joch when we stayed in that part of the Dolomites and we all bravely hiked across the St. Gotthard-of-Grimsel Pass in Switzerland; once even almost got lost in the fog when I tried to take some shortcuts.
As to music, I started at age 5 playing the piano and Käthe the violin. To her, too, although not a professional, playing chamber music with her Labor movement friends was an unfailing source of refreshment and joy.
Learning languages was also easy for us since we started at 3 and 4 when Mama read to us French children’s stories which I still remember: so we soon spoke French almost as fluently as German. A few years later we got instruction in English and afterwards also some Italian which we could practice during summer travels to Lago di Garda, Como or Venice.
All these languages came very handy when, after World War I, during the severe scarcity and depression in Vienna, I took a job as an interpreter for a very interesting international labor leader in Holland; and of course 18 years later, when in 1938 we emigrated to the U.S.
Mama even took up Spanish and did some translation work when after age 55 she became widowed. It kept her busy when both Käthe and I had become involved in our own families and professional goals: Käthe in the labor and working women movement, and I, in Karl’s creative work and some of my own, as well as in teaching. Twenty-three years later I similarly took an M.A. at Columbia U[niversity] and started professional work in music therapy (when I was about the same age as mama) when after Karl’s death I had to struggle through life alone. (in 1949)
Unfortunately mama could not see her three grandchildren, Henry, Franz and Wolfi (later called Johnny but originally named Wolfgang Johannes after Mozart and Goethe) after hardships during the first years of transition to the new home country, develop into well-adjusted, responsible citizens and family heads. Mama would also have enjoyed watching her great-grandchildren grow up and follow their own goals in life.
I am sorry of course that my own grandchildren, Kit (with husband John and baby Valerie Helen), Karl and Andy live rather far away two that we can only rarely get together. But I love them dearly and on those rare occasions cherish the feeling of closeness and understanding in spite of the distance.
I hope that these brief recollections may help them look back and better understand our background and common heritage.
[Ed. note: Vally Weigl’s essay has been transcribed verbatim, with no corrections of punctuation, spelling, or syntax except where indicated with editorial brackets. For background on the essay it is useful to know that Vally Weigl’s sister, Käthe Leichter, was arrested in Vienna by the Gestapo on 30 May 1938 and held in various prisons in Vienna until in January 1940 being transferred to the Ravensbrück concentration camp; in March 1942 she was sent away with a transport of women and gassed in the Bernburg mental asylum. Toward the beginning of her ordeal, in the fall of 1938 while in solitary confinement, she wrote a memoir, “Lebenserinnerungen,” which was published in 1973 in Herbert Steiner, ed., Käthe Leichter: Leben, Werk und Sterben einer österreichischen Sozialdemokratin (Vienna: Ibera & Molden, 1973). Some of Vally Weigl’s recollections may have been prompted by the chapter “Die Schwester” (My Sister) in Käthe Leichter’s memoir.]
Music has at all times been one of mankind’s most important means of expression and communication. In all cultures, all through recorded history, lullabies, love songs and dirges have accompanied man from cradle to grave. Long before Shakespeare, ancient legends of the Greeks, the Scandinavians, the Germans and many other nations have portrayed the “soothing of the savage breast” through music.
Music, more than any other art, can make us laugh or cry and, at least temporarily, forget worries, hardship and anxieties. It is an ideal means of establishing contact with adults and children who cannot be reached or who cannot express themselves through language. The vital and stimulating force of rhythm in live music especially attracts also lonely outsiders and induces them to join in the fun with other children, whereby they often unconsciously attempt tasks they previously may never have attempted and which they would have considered beyond their capacity. This in turn will encourage them to venture further and become part of the group.
Music has a special impact in filling the needs of those groups of handicapped, who by the very nature of their impairment, may be compelled to miss many other sensual impressions of the world around them and thereby to lead more isolated lives because of it.
For the bling, for instance, acoustic acuity and differentiation is invaluable. They need it for recognizing people’s voices, danger signs of traffic or of the weather; and their ear can be sharpened to any kind of acoustic perception through systematic ear training. At the same time music for them can alse become an important substitute for those socializing and recreational activities which their sighted fellowmen take for granted, such as pictures, movies, sports, and dancing. At many good training centers for the blind, they dance together, perform on the stage in dramatic and musical plays and take part in concerts, which enriches their lives and gives them a sense of personal worth.
With the deaf and hard of hearing, too, the former widespread belief that music was inaccessible and meaningless to them is vanishing more and more. In the deafened person especially, the loss of feeling of relationship with the outside world often causes a feeling of depression, which to some degree at least can be counteracted by training in rhythm and music. They learn quickly to dance and dramatize songs remarkably well. At the “Escuela Oral para Ninos Sordas” in Mexico City, the wife of the audiologist, Dr. Berruecos, an excellent musician with long experience with the handicapped, teaches the children to recognize and translate into movement vibrations on drums and on an especially adapted grand piano with a built-in extra sounding board. Their specially constructed flooring of easily vibrating material is now being tried in a few institutions for the deaf in this country, too. Many such patients, while deaf to the spoken word, can this way perceive music, especially tones of lower frequencies. Although they usually cannot learn to reproduce tones of a certain pitch themselves, they do become aware of pitch differences in the speech of others and thereby often can be taught to produce relative differences of pitch in their own speaking voice. This gives them greater variety in inflection and helps them avoid the otherwise typical monotone speaking voice of the deaf and hard of hearing.
An expression of radiant joy and triumph came over the face of seven-year-old aphasic little Larry who was deaf so far as verbal communication was concerned, when he was permitted to climb on a table and lean over the top of the piano at San Francisco’s Cerebral Palsy school. With his whole small body thereby feeling the vibrations of the low and loud chords, Larry could perceive and clap with every chord and rhythm, and stop whenever the music stopped. To make sure that he did not just watch the keyboard, he was asked to close his eyes, to avoid imitation of the other children’s movements. They and the teacher went on clapping, even when the playing ceased. But Larry would invariably stop with the music and the fact that he could not be fooled made him feel the prouder of himself and of his new achievement. Each day, as soon as the teacher entered the classroom and before she could reach the piano, Larry rushed on his crutches to the little table, climbed on top of it and leaned over the piano, his eyes closed, his hands ready to clap the rhythm, his whole little being anxious to resume that wonderful new game.
For cardiac patients who today no longer are condemned to absolute bed rest and idleness, physicians now recommend limited activities of daily living and of recreation, which can be performed more easily if coordinated to music of a desirable moderate tempo and character. Thereby these activities cause less effort and less “wear and tear,” while in a mild form they can provide release of stress and energy.
Also, for tuberculous and other chronically ill patients, listening to and participation in music can improve attention span, maintain interest and reduce worries and self-preoccupation. By producing a calming effect it can favorably influence their mood and thereby chances for recovery.
The effectiveness of music in working with mental patients has often been described. Not quite as much is generally known about its importance in the training of motor handicapped, especially also cerebral palsied children. Most of them respond eagerly to music and rhythm and how much they can benefit from participation in such activities. Patients who cannot run or jump or climb trees with other children and who lack the stimulus of dancing, sports and many other social pleasures, need all the more an emotional outlet in creative activities within their reach, which they can share with others, which gives them some feeling of achievement, of belonging to the group and thereby immediate satisfaction. Music can fill many of these psychological needs and at the same time help them physically, too.
For patients with severe speech impairment music can act as a means of contact with other people and a valve for pent-up tensions, as it communicates moods, attitudes and feelings. It can also aid considerably toward better speech, as though vocalizing and group singing, breathing habits, phonation and inflection can be improved. Often stutterers who cannot speak a single continuous sentence may sing whole verses of some familiar song.
To the accompaniment of rhythmic music, children will put ever so much more effort into physical exercises which can be disguised as “acting out songs,” personifying ponies, bicycle riders, windmills, a postman, a policeman, and a host of other people and things. Children’s imagination spurred on by stimulating rhythm often carries them over hurdles they never thought they could take. Any such experience will strengthen their self-confidence and encourage them.
For those who are not too severely involved, learning to play an instrument is a good incentive in this direction. For others, participation in a rhythm band is an excellent mans of combining efforts toward several treatment goals. Even the desire to hold and handle such instruments as cymbals, drums or triangles is strong motivation for many severely handicapped patients, and eyes light with pride in youngsters who for the first time succeed in making their paralyzed hands jingle a bell or their athetoid arms hit a drum or tambourine right in time according to the demands of the music. These requirements of the music are often more readily accepted, even by otherwise undisciplined youngsters, than verbal directions from parents or teachers. Waiting for their turn to come in, letting go here, restraining their strength there (according to loud or soft sections of the music) encourages control, coordination and lengthened attention span. Additional discipline may be provide4d by letting the children conduct the band, which gives them a feeling of power, too rarely experienced by these children, since all the others must follow their lead in tempo and dynamics.
In a very good article Earl Schenck Miers wrote: “Handicapped people are just like everyone else—only more so.” All of us need self-assurance, the feeling of being wanted, needed and able to contribute and mean something to others. These are very real and often unfulfilled needs of the handicapped child, too, which can be satisfied partially by giving him adequate responsibilities and means of gaining a sense of personal worth and achievement wherever possible. Even a few bars of a “solo” on drums, triangles or xylophone make him feel needed and important, since he is the center of everyone’s attention for those moments and can contribute to that enjoyable group project of which he is proud to be a part. And even though functional music can help toward their physical improvement, better use of hands and fingers, better motor control and coordination in speech and gait, its value as a socializing force, as motivation and providing emotional satisfaction and stamina are at least as important. Severely handicapped cerebral palsied children, who can hardly stand on their feet will try to dance or “practice for a parade” if a stirring dance or march is played for them; and it has been touching to see how considerately their less involved classmates have helped and supported them in such attempts which then encouraged them to practice walking more effectively, too. Also some more withdrawn patients improved in posture as well as in self-reliance and in their attitude toward the group after leading the rhythm band. After a while they could take the next big step forward in learning to accept others, too, as leaders.
Of course, the musician at the piano must be able to project a strong sense of rhythm which will pull the timid, withdrawn youngster irresistibly into its spell. He must not only be a good, well-versed musician, who watches the patients while he plays and understands their condition and needs, but also one who is imaginative in adapting his techniques to these needs.
Most important of all, he must like people, enjoy working with them, and be genuinely interested in them as human beings, not just as patients or cases. The children sense this and react accordingly. The person who, besides bringing them the enjoyment of music, makes them feel he is personally interested in them, can motivate them to greater effort.
“Arts for World Unity Statement.” Typescript, 3 pages, 3 March 1982.
Arts for World Unity Statement
by Vally Weigl
March 3, 1982
From my very early days as a musician and composer, I have been concerned about using the power of music for reaching people toward “that of God in every man.” [phrase attributed to George Fox, founder of the Religious Society of Friends.] Yet while teaching music at Westtown School 1942–49, I realized how few Quakers as yet were aware of this power. Obviously, the centuries of condemnation of everything “worldly” or “emotional” had left their imprint and could be altered only gradually. But there were beginnings of more receptiveness toward the arts, and by today the attitude toward them has been changing.
I felt really encouraged when in 1972 Francis Hall invited me to Powell House to meet a wonderful man and graphic artist, Fritz Eichenberg, then a member of Scarsdale Meeting, who had nurtured exactly the same dreams as I did from the point of view of the visual artist. In many months of concentrated joint efforts we then set up goals and purposes for such an “Arts for World Unity Committee” and won the moral support as sponsors from prominent clergymen and Quakers (such as Howard Brinton, Clarence Picket, Philip Berrigan, Thomas Merton, etc.) and distinguished artists (Casals, Menuhin, Martha Graham, Gerhard Marcks, and many others).
In 1963 Fritz Eichenberg and I presented our concert to the New York Yearly Meeting’s Peace Institute, which agreed to set up an “Arts for World Unity Committee,” and for a few years also gave us some modest financial support. Fritz Eichenberg became its first Chairman, but after suffering a slight heart attack a few years later, he asked me to take over the Chairmanship. More recently Ruth Ringenbach of the Westbury Meting has been our Chairperson while I continued to be responsible for the performing arts program.
Unfortunately, the “Peace Institute” did not get the suggested financial backing from its members and could no longer support us and other planned projects. Our committee was turned over to the “Friends’ Peace and Social Action Committee” and our peace-centered programs had to rely on volunteer performers. Still, we were able to arrange such intercultural, international programs in churches of 8 various denominations, libraries, and other institutions on a good artistic level and with warm response. — In fact, the Donnell Library has been so appreciative that they offered us their attractive hall and printed programs free of charge for one or two annual programs there. — I was able to provide them (via Community Trust Fund) with a small annual support which, though not enough for the participants’ “fees” should at least cover their expenses. However, the Library’s staff is not supposed to make arrangements with individual artists or disburse money to the performers, so they agreed that one of my assistants, Max Lifchitz, would take care of this should I be unable to continue organizing these programs myself.
With the New York Quarterly Meeting’s, the Library’s, and Community Trust Fund’s consent, the NY Quarterly Meeting will hold the amount for Max Lifchitz so it can be disbursed for the expenses of the artists participating at the Library concerts. Clerk Paul Cormier of NY Quarterly Meeting suggested that I write this article for their three NY Meetings’ Newsletters, Morningside, 15th Sheet, and Brooklyn, which all have kindly promised to cooperate.
So that interested members and attenders may know about our work and possibly, especially if they have experience in public relations, typing, fund-raising, or the like, help in our efforts. At Morningside Meeting Mary Jane Matz (Musicologist) and Kathy Wood (Flutist) and at the FOR Jane Jeats (Pianist) have already consented to join our committee, other professionals may follow.
A few years ago Friends’ Journal published an article about our concern that Arts for World Unity (AWU) “should not go down the drain”; the response was really gratifying. From various parts of the country (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Hays, Kansas; St. Paul, Minnesota; and Cincinnati, Ohio) Friends wrote to me and started arranging small-scale AWU programs in their communities; Angela Seidel presented some programs at Pendle Hill, Friends’ General Conference, and in Cincinnati.
Since the creative arts can stir people’s imagination as nothing else can, it is a worthwhile goal to work for. Help us in our efforts to encourage creative people in the performing, literary, and visual arts to find new expressions for the power that can transform evil into good and violence into reverence for life.
If you are interested in participating, please contact me so we may arrange for a meeting at my home.
55 West 95th Street
New York, NY 10025
Ed. note: An original copy of this untitled three-page typescript, written nine months before her death, is located at the KWF; this transcription includes corrections and changes in ink made by Vally Weigl, as well as a few silent corrections of punctuation and spelling. It has not been determined for whom Vally Weigl wrote this letter or whether it was indeed duplicated and distributed.