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This is an interview with Mr. & Mrs. Thurnauer, Marie & Bill, on February 23, 1984 at their home, 628 N. Forest Drive in Teaneck.
(I) Marie and Bill, since moving to Teaneck over thirty years ago, you have been active in civic affairs and the arts. In addition, your home itself has a particular and important position in this town. Would you tell us about this extraordinary blend of art and architecture?
(B) Well, when we though about building ourselves a home and when we were looking for a place where to build it, at the same time we were reading modern architecture, and we came across a home which had been built in Long Island which impressed us particularly and we looked at the architect who happened to be Edward Durrell Stone. We, at that time, had no idea that he was a famous man. In fact, he became much more famous later on but we were impressed with what he had to say and we asked him to design our house for us. We had no idea of building a showplace or building anything that was particularly unusual. We just wanted to have the most beautiful house that we could and the most comfortable that we could think of and, as it turned out, it did become a landmark in Teaneck and it became something that really made our lives something quite different from what we had ever had before. It made, and I am not talking about status, I am talking about the how homelike it was, how warm it was, how it made us feel people were comfortable in when they came here, and I can't say how much that house has done for us.
(I) Could you describe some of the unusual features of this house for us?
(N) Well it is a little hard to do because it is so different from other houses. All our living is on one level with a central atrium which has a skylight and all the rooms are grouped around it. It is not a one story house because the lower lever you see, where the extra rooms are, the guest rooms, the garage and the furnace and so forth, but it is not really a basement, it is a street level and our living quarters are on the upper floor which is on a level with our backyard. What is, I am sorry, there is something I meant to say and I can't think of it.
(I) The particular feature of the atrium intrigues your guest
(N) Yes it has a skylight and all the rooms open on it and it serves as sort of the family room where, we called it a playroom because our children lived there most of the time. What I meant to say before is that the house has a lot of privacy because the rooms all face on the backyard and not, only sort of the back of the house faces the street. The kitchen and the bathrooms. And again the landscaping and the planting was so arranged that the planting is mostly on the perimeter of the property and so that even though it is not a large property, it gives us a great deal of privacy.
(I) You also have a considerable to display your art collection.
(N) Well the walls are all natural materials because they are brick and they are wood paneling. Cyprus paneling. And art collection is something that developed very gradually. We really never considered ourselves art collectors but we just acquired a few things that turned out to be nice.
(I) You also have that charming little pool in the atrium. And the stepping stones.
(N) Yes, the stepping stones. Well, this was one of the ideas that our architect had and when somebody asked us why do you have a pool here, we say we don't know but it looks sort of nice.
(I) You have a lily pond outside?
(N) We had a wading pool for the children when they were small and when we built the swimming pool, we turned pool into a lily pond.
(I) And the house has functioned as a fund raiser for several civic groups and has been in national magazines, newspapers?
(N) Again, when we built the house, we had no idea that we would be entertaining large numbers of people because that was not really our style of doing things. But it turned out that we were to have concerts here, not necessarily for fundraising but sometimes for just for having a concert and we found that with slanted chairs, we could seat sixty five people in our living room and sometimes larger numbers if some of them were outside where they could listen but they couldn't see.
(I) We will get back to the concerts in a moment but you became involved with education at a very early stage. What was your participation in the educational process on the town?
(N) Well all right. They way I get involved at first really had not much to do with education. It was that when I came here and I saw there were people involved in the community, and since came from the city, from New York City, we just didn't know about this kind of involvement and I wondered in those days, how does one get involved. I didn't realize how east that is to do. But since our children were doing fairly well in school, and the principal of the school, of Whittier School, Alice Hoak , was interested in having presidents of the PTA who wouldn't interfere with her too much, and therefore she always had men as presidents. So without knowing anything about the PTA or ever even having attended meeting, I was asked to serve as president of the PTA. And I thought this was an opportunity for me to find out how community organizations run and that's how I got into education originally.
(I) And as a new president of the PTA, what did you find were the prime concerns in the field of education in Teaneck?
(N) As president of the PTA, I didn't really find out very much. What happened later on where the controversies about finding a junior high school, that was really the first involvement with some of the older people in Teaneck didn't want to go to the expense and instead they wanted to change to an eight year elementary school with a four year high school and a group of people got together to try to build a junior high school. That's where I first got involved. The group was called at that the The League for Better Schools. And that first attempt was defeated buy a couple of years later, the another referendum came up about a junior high school. That second one was, resulted eventually in building the Benjamin Franklin Junior High School. Then the same thing happened again with the Thomas Jefferson School and I got involved in these referendums and in trying to get people to vote for them. Subsequent to that, there were what happened was that some of the school budgets were beginning to be defeated, something that had never happened before in Teaneck and again some of the parents got together and at that time, we formed the Teaneck Citizens for Public Schools.
(I) And you were an active participant?
(N) I started, I was one of the people who started, I started by being the treasurer and the following year, I was made the president of the Teaneck Citizens for Public Schools.
(I) Who were some of the other members of the
(N) Well, Ruth Glick and Harold Glick were the, more or less the moving force right from the beginning. And there we Julian Kramer who since died. Milton Bell. No, wait a minute, sorry. He was involved at another point but he was not part of the TCPS. He was a Presbyterian minister and a very fine man. And then, I think he was the president for the first two years and during that time, the controversy about school integration began and it is something that most of us had never been aware of and it only really started coming up around that time and the proposition of busing black children to other school and so forth. Now the Board of Education was very cooperative but there was a great deal of opposition in the town and that became our main concern. That, together with school budgets.
(I) Those were the concerns of TCPS and you personally.
(N) Let's say TCPS particularly.
(I) Maria, as a musician and photographer, you've had a fruitful and busy career. Would you please tell us of your participation with Friends of Music and some of your other activities.
(M) I had been trained as a concert singer and had given two New York recitals at Steinway Hall and one at Carnegie Recital Hall. I acquired the most wonderful accompanist with my second concert at Carnegie recital who was Carroll Hollister, an accompanist to the most famous singers like John Childs Thomas and Robert Mariter. Carroll had played for me for about twenty five years accompanying me at the many concerts I gave around Teaneck and environs to raise money and simply to give concerts. He played for me, not when I started with Friends of Music, but pretty soon after it and I had been in charge, together with , to run these Friends of Music concerts which were chamber music concerts involving a string quarter, a wind quintet, duo piano team and myself as the only voice. The musicians who played for me were all professionals and did it all for the joy of it. We felt that we pioneered chamber music by doing these Friends of Music concerts and we are very proud of that record that we brought chamber music to this part of the country.
We gave Friends of Music concerts twice a year, first in our house, but when we had overflow audiences, we moved the concerts to Hopkins Women's Club. We gave two a year; in other words, we gave fifty concerts over a period of twenty five years, starting in 1952 and ending in 1977. I have done another concert for old age homes, for churches, for the high school which was one of my favorite projects when I did German folks song program for them and a German program for the high schoolers. About photography, I came into photography more or less when I stopped singing and was very greatly encouraged by Bill who wanted me to be creative artist after I had stopped singing. I have been very happy that I had shows of my portraits of children, mostly children, in many libraries and at the Art Center of Englewood which is a very important institution. I must have had about ten showings of my portraits. I got into child photography not only because I worked at the Day Care Center which is run by Hilda Goldberg of Teaneck where I did portraits of almost all of the children but also when I became a grandma and I am now, after three grandchildren, taking as many pictures of these children to have a record to see how they grow up. I am sorry to say they do not live in Teaneck.
(I) I understand you also do some animal photography.
(N) Oh yes. I do raise money by offering my services to take portraits of people who are involved in organizations and I have raised quite considerable amounts of money by just doing that and I have sold a picture of butterflies, which is one of my favorite shots, and raised money for the Pro Arte Chorale. the volunteer bureau. I took a picture of a favorite cat of a friend of mine which, I am proud to say, brought in $75. I got first prize for the two butterflies by an organization which is called Soil Conservation and I was very proud to get the first prize, never mind the money which was not too very important.
(I) What are some of the other organizations for which you had either fundraising concerts or photography, some of the local organizations.
(N) Well now, let's see, the CAAS Child Development Center which is the children's Day Care Center
(I) Didn't they, they gave you an honor recently.
(N) I have - that was the Girl Scout Council that honored you as a volunteer. But one of the most important things I did when we gave a house concert for the Day Care Center, we had brought in I thing $1,800 with the house concert here and that made me very happy that I can do things with music and with photography to bring in money for people, organizations, who need it.
Yes, well, we had a fund raiser here for the Bergen State, the theater, that was here at one time but you didn't do any singing. We had an acting performance here. We had other concerts not necessarily for fund raising, the YMHA had their candlelight concerts for a while. We had two of them here in the house, things like that. Now, about the Friends of Music, I want to add something to it because Maria is being a little too modest about it. For one thing, when these things started in 1952, there was no such thing as a public performance of chamber music in Bergen County. People, some people, would play music in their homes but there just weren't any public performances. By the time the Friends of Music ended in 1977, that had changed so completely. There is now, you find chamber music all over. But about the Friends of Music, Maria not only started it but she really kept it going and held it together and it took a great deal of not only perseverance but diplomacy to keep all these musicians working and working together and, because it was all for their one enjoyment, there was no one received any pay for it.
(I) Were these local musicians?
(N) They were local, not necessarily from Teaneck. some were from Teaneck but mainly they were from all over the area.
(I) And you yourself are a musician. Did you perform in these Friends of Music?
(N) No I did not and I don't really consider myself a musician. I play the piano and I always say my only virtue as a pianist is that I had a lot of patience and I didn't care how long it takes me to practice the piece and when I played for Maria in some of the nursing homes or senior centers, I would work six months to put together a thirty five minute programs and I didn't mind that.
And he did very well.
(I) In addition to working with Maria, you've been involved with other musical activities. How have you helped change the musical life in Teaneck and in Bergen County in addition to the chamber music?
(N) Well, our prime activity over all these years has been in running the Civic Music Association. Now we joined this shortly after we came to Teaneck in 1952. At that time, there were two associations, one in Englewood and one in Hackensack, that were both floundering and they tried to consolidate, they decided to consolidate them and they wanted to have someone to help them in Teaneck and Maria and I took that on. It was mainly a subscription drive that we started here in Teaneck. And that turned out to be successful. Now over the years, we became more active in the association. We found that we were able to raise the quality of the performances and the quality of the audience. Let's say I don't know, maybe we flatter ourselves that we educated the audience but maybe what we really did was attract more experience music lovers or more people who were more interested people. It started out as a more or less social thing, association, and I think we have now brought it to where we have a very high quality concert series.
(I) How many concerts are there in the civic music series now?
(N) four to five concerts a year. This year we have five. Next year we should have four and I just want to say that he ended up being president. He ends up being president with everything he does, it seems to me, and I am the secretary and we work all year around to keep this organization going and I would like to say that it is an enormous amount of work that is involved to just run a successful music series.
(I) There are also the North Jersey Cultural Council that you've been
(N) Well Okay. Let me go, let me start with something else. I'll go back to the beginning. Very shortly after we came here, a man who was very active in civic things in Teaneck by the name of Fred Buschner came to visit us to solicit money for the, at that time it was for the Community Chest and we became quite friendly with him and subsequently, he gets me involved in the Teaneck Symphony which is now called the Bergen Philharmonic. It was at that time already going on for many years, I think about 1932 or something. And I became, I got on the board of that Teaneck Symphony. They first made me secretary and then eventually I became president of the Teaneck Symphony. But I quit that when it became my turn to take charge of the civic music association which, again, is something we have been involved in from almost the beginning of our life in Teaneck. And so I've been the president of Civic Music since 1966. We had the concerts in Teaneck for a time at the Teaneck High School and then when Bergen Vocational High School was built, we moved the concerts to over there to Hackensack. Now you had
(I) Approximately how many people, what's your subscription at the
(N) Well the house seats 1,200 and we like to sell more than that because we know not everybody turns up for each concerts and the seats are unreserved so we have had as many as 1,400 but we almost ran into trouble when one of the artists we had engaged became so popular between the time when we engaged him and the time he performed, which was a year and a half later, that we almost couldn't seat everybody.
This was Itzak Perlman. And we put stage seats on and we were very worried that some people would have to stand but
And eventually there were a few gate crashers and they were the ones really made it, a few people couldn't find seats.
(I) Who were some of the other artists that you've brought to Teaneck?
(N) Well, we've had Rudolf Serkin four times; we are going to have Rudolf Firkusny again this year so this is the third time or fourth time that we have him; we had Gina Bachauer; we had Marilyn Horne; we've had many people - Frederike Van Stade. Many people who were young when we first had them and who became famous since then. We've had Isaac Stern twice; we've had Sigetti; we've had Pincus Zuckerman; many, many people who either were big stars or who became stars subsequently.
One of the nice things happened when we had Marris Martin sing for us and nobody ever had heard the name and since the time she sang for us, which was only two years ago. she had made the Met and people came up to me and say, Mrs. Thurnauer, civic music had a first. We were the first ones to hear her and Bill and I sort of became famous in a little way that people stop us in the street to tell us how wonderful the artists are that we bring in with civic music concerts.
(I) Well it has certainly been a fine contribution to the cultural life of Teaneck and I want to thank you very much for this interview and can you think of any last moment things that we might have missed?
(N) Yeah. You asked about the North Jersey Cultural Council. That was a, well I mean we became part of that as a civic music association which was one of the founding organizations of the cultural council and it grew for a while. It did quite well. We had, one of the important things were an outdoor sculpture show which we had twice in Van Saun Park once, and another one at Bergen Community College on the campus. And it did a good many things. They've had a festival of concerts during the season and a number of, it did any number of things but it somehow disintegrated after a while, it was good while it lasted, and I also at one point was the president of that for a short period.
I told you.
(I) Have we missed anything now?
(N) Let me just say this. We have two wonderful children who each have studied music and did well when they had the time for it. Our daughter took up the flute and was a fine flutist and played the piano and our son played clarinet and bassoon and they played in the school band and later in college also. Most children don't have the time any more to give to making music but they both love it very much.
And we have a granddaughter who is taking up playing the flute. I mean she has been at it for about a year now.
(I) And you are quite satisfied with your life in Teaneck.
(N) Oh, we love Teaneck. We wouldn't want to have it any other way.
(I) Thank you very much.
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