HOW JUNIOR BACH CAME INTO BEING

By Tirzah Mailkoff, founder

One afternoon there was a knock on my door. A very nice lady introduced herself as Mrs. Easterbrooks. She said "I know that you do music with young children and I would like to talk with you. May I come in? This is the story that I heard. “I have A daughter, Joan, two and a half years old. She was a 7 months baby, and born blind. She has done nothing but cry since. I have heard about the music classes you give for young children and I was wondering if you would start a new class for 2 1/2 to 3 years old to have all the children new at the same time?  My answer was yes, but I told her that I had never worked with a blind student. She assured me that when the time came I would know what to do. So----- I blindfolded myself for 3 days to see if I could learn some of the things I would need to know. Fortunately, I had a long waiting list of children and I put a class together in about 2 weeks. In class Joanie cried for about 2 weeks and then stopped completely.

This group stayed together until they were ready for either kindergarten or first grade. Again, Mrs. Easterbrooks came to me and asked me please to keep the group together, as it was Joanie´s only chance to be with regular children. After asking myself where we went from there, as I had never had a group of older rhythm-band students, but loving uncharted waters, I undertook the project with enthusiasm. Our singing became songs with parts, the rhythm-band became syncopated, and I introduced the children to the lives of the great composers and to the history of music. We always sat on the floor in a circle with Joanie on my right side.

Then came that special day when one of the students, Nancy Proto, eight years old, brought a picture of Bach to class. Nancy´s aunt was on the mailing list of the Carmel Bach Festival and Bach´s picture was on the flier from the festival. It was passed around the circle so each student had a good look at it. When it got to Joanie I had to explain it to her. Joanie remarked that I had said  that Bach´s picture was on the outside, but "What is on the.inside?"   So then I told them what a festival was, and which pieces would be played, the different places where programs would be given, and many more things. All the children had smiles on their faces and Nancy Proto asked: WHY COULDN'T´T WE HAVE A FESTIVAL OF OUR VERY OWN?

Why couldn't we? I could find no reason. So we did. Our very own Junior Bach Festival started the week after school closed and ran for six weeks until the end of July, 1950

We sang Chorales, listened to various works- the first recording was the Third Brandenburg Concerto I read to them the life of Bach by Wheeler and Deucher. One student asked "why couldn´t we play act?" Again, "why not?". The students chose the Marchand competition, which was to have taken place with Bach in Dresden in 1717. Joanie was the only student in the group who could play an instrument so she had to be Bach. The only piece she knew at the time was the first movement of the C Major Clementi Sonatina. We had a doorman to greet the imaginary guests, all dressed in imaginary finery. Joanie said to me that she was concerned. When I asked her about what ,she said that it was not about her piece but she was concerned about how she would be able to surpass her self which was what Bach had to do when Marchand did not show up for the Competition. The boy who was the announcer tapped the floor 3 times with a stick and said "everyone please rise, Sir Bach is entering. Joanie entered, bowed, sat down at the piano (unaided), Her feet found the pedals, her right hand came up to establish middle C and she played the Clementi very well, indeed.

From a teaching standpoint, the whole six weeks of the festival was an all time high, for me. I had never experienced anything so fantastic in all my years of teaching. A few days after it was over, I began to wonder if we should do it again the next year.

Maybe we could enlarge it and take it across the street to the Hillside Auditorium in Berkeley. I finally decided that it must be live music.

By the time I reached this point personal tragedy reared its head.  Our son Greg had been working at Lake Tahoe for the summer. On the 15th of August, his 15th birthday, we received a telephone call from Camp Richardson that he had come down with polio He was a fine pianist, but lost the use of his right hand and arm. Junior Bach was, of course, put on the back burner, but it was never turned off. I really needed much time to think the whole project through. After a year or two of Greg’s recuperation, Junior Bach demanded and received the attention it deserved. I had reached the point where I realized that the project could cost a lot of money and I just couldn't afford to finance it alone.  I needed to find out what I could do about it and what I should do about it.

One evening in 1952, some friends, Lyn and James Todorovic stopped by. I just happened to tell them about the Junior Bach Festival we had had, and how I would like to enlarge it with live music, making it so that others could participate. I told them that I could not be liable for all that could occur. Mr. Todorovic, a lawyer said we could legally make it into an association, incorporated, and then I would not be liable.

And so, before too long and after a tremendous amount of work, we had a JUNIOR BACH FESTIVAL ASSOCIATION INCORPORATED, and then the real work began. The telephone rang off the hook. There were multiple interviews and requests to attend, not to speak of selecting judges and auditioners and volunteers.  The Junior Bach Festival as we now know it opened on June 15, 1953.