During the last weekend in September, Iowa City will be invaded by clarinetists.
Theyll be here to honor Himie Voxman, who has reached his 90th birthday and is still involved with the School of Music. A two-day celebration will include concerts and a banquet.
In clarinet circles, everyone knows Himie Voxman, director of the School of Music from 1954 until his retirement in 1980. But they may not know what brought him to the School of Music in the first place. After all, when he came to Iowa in the fall of 1929, he was a chemical engineering major and when he arrived on campus, he had no intention of participating in music other than playing in the University Band, which was then part of the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC).
Just after Voxman enrolled, the stock market crashed and the United States sank into the Depression.
In that same month, Voxman received a call from a stranger asking if hed like to join the University Symphony. He did so. The stranger was Scott Reger, a doctoral student in audiology, who later played a key role in Voxmans future.
Voxman wanted to teach clarinet to put himself through college, but he had no place to hold lessons. But when the going gets tough, clarinetists become inventive.
I found the keys that opened a room in the basement of the old music building, which had been the hospital until a new hospital was constructed across the river, Voxman says. So I set myself up in that room. I didnt have any money. I found two other guys who didnt have much. We bought a toaster and a small heater, and every morning we would have cocoa and toast with peanut butter. At noon, we frequently repeated the meal.
One day, Physical Plant came over, just trying out doors, and they couldnt open that door. So they broke it down. I wasnt around, but they found I had the heater, he says with a grin. Dr. Clapp said he kept me from being expelled from the University, because it was illegal to cook in a University building.
Thats Phillip Greeley Clapp, the legendary head of the Universitys School of Music from 1919 until 1954. Clapp, whose criticism, Voxman remembers, brought tears to the eyes of a faculty tenor soloist, causing him to flee the stage during a rehearsal. Clapp, who, Voxman says, demanded discipline. Evidently, he had a soft spot in his heart for the musical engineering student from Centerville, Iowa.
To continue his lessons, Voxman rented a room over a grocery store opposite City High School, convenient for his pupils.
When I ran out of money, a semester before graduation, I thought I might have to leave school, he remembers. But then a couple of men were looking for someone to write band music to go with a script they had written for a pageant on Iowa history. In the 1930s and 1940s, a number of Iowa communities were having 100th birthdays. This pageant started with Columbus, went through the Indians, and on through history to the 1930s. They wanted music that a town band could play outdoors. I had been librarian for a town band, so they hired me.
Voxman was able to graduate in chemical engineering, but the Depression was still in full force. As he recalls, There were no jobs for anyone in my class that year.
Reger, who was working under Dean Carl Seashore in the Department of Psychology, asked Seashore if he could find money to employ Voxman. Seashore named Voxman a research assistant in psychology. A year later, he had a masters degree in the psychology of music.
When it was time for renewal, Clapp asked Seashore if Voxmans assistantship could be split between music and psychology, with Voxman teaching one-eighth of his time in music and doing psychology research with the other one-eighth.
Little by little, I was moving more into music, Voxman says. I was getting $65 a month at that time and I was earning money teaching my clarinet students. By the next renewal time, Seashore said, Well, youre doing well in music. Why dont you just go ahead and take a part-time position with Dr. Clapp?
In that same year, City High gave me a small teaching appointment. Each year, I received increased time and money in the high school and more in the University until 1939, when I received a full-time University position. Such is the story of life in hard times.
Voxman later participated in the administration of the School of Music by chairing an executive committee that assisted Clapp. When Clapp retired shortly before his death in 1954, Voxman became head of the school. Of this period, Voxman characteristically says littlebut others praise his abilities.
Ive always felt very fortunate to have been a faculty member under his direction, says Delbert Disselhorst, professor of music. We always felt a great deal of independence and yet Himie knew very well what was happening or needed to happen in any given area of the school. He was always available for counselsupport always, but criticism where appropriate. Hes a gifted humanitarian, teacher and administrator.
In retirement, Voxman hasnt slowed down.
Hes still an inveterate scholar; hes intensely interested in lots and lots of thingsmusic, literature, history, geography. Hes traveled and continues to travel extensively. Hes one of the most avid concertgoers in the city.
One of his interests is organizing the vast storehouse of music he collected during 16 trips to Europe, pieces not only for clarinet but also for saxophone, oboe, and bassoon. This collection exists nowhere else in the United States, he says. Thanks to Voxman, it will exist in the Rita Benton Music Library.
During the same weekend as the Voxman celebration, famed crooner Tony Bennett will be on stage at Hancher Auditorium.
Ive decided that it would be nice if Tony Bennett came to my banquet and sang Happy Birthday! Voxman quips.