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Arts and Culture

The Father of the MU School of Music Gets His Day

The Deutschheim Verein

If the sounds emanating from Columbia's Stephens Lake Park at this weekend's Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival are a touch too modern for your ears, head West to Hermann for an educational and entertaining homage to the German-born founder of the University of Missouri's School of Music.

It was in 1907 that William Henry Pommer was appointed as the Assistant Professor in charge of music at MU. For his services over the nine-month school year, Pommer was paid $1,500. Within two years, he established classes at MU in elementary and advanced public school music, harmony and counterpoint.

By 1909, Pommer had also established a University Chorus. For his service, he got a raise to $2,000 for the 1909 school year. The MU Board of Curators also appropriated funds that year for an upright piano to assist Pommer in his classes in the nascent MU School of Music. Pommer continued to lead the school through his 1922 retirement. He died in 1937. His wife Sybil donated the family's home to MU upon her death in 1960. A Pommer scholarship is still awarded each year at MU. 

Most of what is known about Pommer and his time in Columbia comes from the dissertation of long-time MU School of Music Professor of Piano Dr. Janice Wenger. Wenger wrote in her dissertation William H. Pommer: His Life and Works that Pommer was born in St. Louis in 1851. Born into a musical family of German and Prussian immigrants, Pommer started musical studies on the piano at 11 and at age 20 traveled to Europe to study at Leipzig's Royal Conservatory. 

During his educational stay in Europe, Pommer studied in Leipzig and Weimar. The future father of the MU School of Music made contacts with noted composers of the era. He studied organ with Anton Bruckner, heard Richard Wagner conduct the German composer's own operas and visited with piano sensation Franz Liszt.

This weekend, Hermann's Deutschheim State Historic Site serves up a weekend tribute to Pommer. Events planned at Hermann's Showboat Community Theatre include a Friday concert "German Comedy is Serious Business" and Saturday lectures on German-American style by musicologists. The focus of Saturday's 7:00 p.m. concert is "German-American Theater in New York."

More information about this weekend's William H. Pommer Concerts and Symposium is online and by phone at (573) 486-2200.

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