Last week I explained how Sir Arthur Bliss came to compose a fanfare for an American college football team, Lehigh University, who were desperate to defeat their old rivals, Lafayette. Jonathan Elkus, then director of Lehigh’s Concert Band discovered that the Blisses were in the United States for a performance of another Bliss’ work, and invited them to Lehigh to hear the fanfare and see the game.
The Blisses accepted the invitation and were soon en route.
David Hughes, who was an undergraduate officer of the band, was deputed along with David Hotchkiss, Lehigh’s Band Manager, to collect the Blisses from New York, and escort them to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. David Hughes has very vivid memories of that journey:
“Prof. Elkus had entrusted Dave and me with the job of bringing the Blisses to campus from New York City. We had met them right on time at Central Park South (much to Sir Arthur’s delight: “Right on the mark!!”, said he), but, we hadn’t figured on the rather large amount of luggage they were travelling with. So, the entire car trip was spent with me and Trudy wedged into a small backseat, surrounded and cut off by huge leather steamer cases. The conversation in the car (delightfully animated) was thus totally disembodied. So… I was greatly relieved when we stopped for lunch.
Sir Arthur, too, was ready for a break and first thing ordered a gin and tonic, only to be rather curtly informed by the waitress, “We don’t have no liquor license here.” Dave Hotchkiss and I explained America’s archaic laws governing consumption of alcohol, and Sir Arthur took it pretty well. However, when he ordered, he loudly demanded that he be served a “root BEER”. “
Lady Bliss recalled in the expanded version of As I remember (M501.c.95.361): “Our visit coincided with the last football match of the season, and Arthur’s presence in the stands was of as much importance as was his presence at the seminar for the composition students. The opposing team, the arch-enemy, Lafayette College, had, I think, won every match with Lehigh in the last five years. At half-time the score was even, two goals each; then out came the famous Lehigh band marching up and down the field playing Salute to Lehigh superbly, forming and wheeling with the precision of the Guards in Trooping the Colour. And lo! Lehigh scored the only goal in the second half! We travelled back to base in the bus with the band, the boys singing all the way… That night we all celebrated, and the next day six of the bandsmen [David Hughes was one of them] and their girls cooked a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for us before we flew back to London.”
The presentation of the Sergeant Pepper album took place during the banquet. David Hughes wrote the presentation note on the cover “perhaps hoping that some day someone might find the album and want to know how it came into Sir Arthur’s possession“. The inside cover of the album has the signatures of all the band members, including one posing as Ralph Vaughan Williams! (Bliss detected that the writing actually belonged to Jonathan Elkus). David continues – “…we decided that this was the perfect gift, properly inscribed with a message of greeting…from the officers and members of the Lehigh University Band!”
Jonathan Elkus has happy memories of the event too: “The Sergeant Pepper vinyl was presented…as a kind of “hands across the seas–and across the seas again” kind of gesture, following upon remarks on the occasion by both Blisses. Bliss was delighted with the gift and its presentation: he’d evidently never seen the album cover, and began by saying, “Ah–I see my old friend H. G. Wells … and there’s my neighbor’s younger brother, Aldous Huxley … and my colleague Stockhausen … and of course we all know Marilyn Monroe”–and so on in that vein, all to uproarious laughter. (The band, as Lehigh University itself, was all male then.)”
And so the Blisses left Lehigh; but, as a friendship had formed between the Elkus and Bliss families many years before, a friendship now formed between David Hughes and Trudy Bliss. On a visit to London with his wife some years after Sir Arthur’s death, David was invited to visit Lady Bliss for an evening of music, with an instruction to remember to bring his clarinets:
“I really didn’t want to, because they are cumbersome and tricky to get through customs, but she insisted, and I did as she asked.
When we arrived, she showed me an autograph score in Bliss’s hand. I knew at that time that, during the Great War in 1916 during his convalescent leave following his first wounding, Bliss had composed two pieces for clarinet and piano. These were in honor of his beloved brother, clarinetist Kennard, who had been killed at the Battle of the Somme. Both of these pieces had been lost when Arthur returned to the trenches later in the war. Then, someone had found one of them, entitled “Pastoral” (among a pile of papers apparently unrelated to Bliss), identified it and delivered it to Trudy.
That afternoon I was honored to play the piece for the first time since it was written 60 years before (John Blood, a British composer and friend of Trudy, played piano). I will never forget that Trudy Bliss thought of me to do this or that I could honor the memory of Arthur’s beloved brother in this way. ”
Lehigh’s band is still going strong. Indeed they will be in London for the New Year’s Day Parade 2018. Prior to that they are giving a concert in which Salute to Lehigh will be given its European premiere. Sir Arthur, I’m sure, would have been thrilled.
Many thanks to Ilhan Citak, David Thaler, David Diggs, and John Dressler, and especially to Jonathan Elkus and David Hughes for sharing their memories with me. Lehigh also have a blog, please visit it for more information on their Special Collections – you may even spot some Bliss there…