Academic journal article Notes

Eastman's Ruth Watanabe

Academic journal article Notes

Eastman's Ruth Watanabe

Article excerpt

Strange as it may seem, Ruth Watanabe struggled with her career decision until age thirty-one, when "Uncle Howard" made it for her. During high school she considered social work to help the struggling Spanish-speaking people in Southern California. Then, in her early years at Rochester, when she was head resident of the women's dormitories, she investigated the counseling curriculum at Columbia University. In 1947, she decided upon a teaching career at the Eastman School of Music and met with Director Hanson to discuss it. The upshot of that encounter was Ruth's appointment as librarian of Eastman's Sibley Music Library. More about that later.

Ruth Taiko Watanabe was born in Los Angeles on 12 May 1916. Her father, Kohei, was an importer of Asian art materials. Her mother, Iwa (Watanabe) Watanabe (1) was a graduate of the Toyko conservatory now called the National Institute for the Arts. Because of her mother's frail health--she had a tubercular infection on her spine--the family moved frequently in search of a house with lots of sunshine, good air, and a garden in which her mother could work. By favorable living conditions, her mother almost doubled her life expectancy. The frequent moves meant school changes for Ruth who was always pushed ahead in a new school so that she reached both high school and college very young. (2)

Ruth enrolled at the University of Southern California for a bachelor of music degree with a major in piano. By the time she graduated she had become interested in theory and had nearly a second major in theory. Beginning in her sophomore year she taught piano students: "It was clear I wanted to be a teacher." (3) About the time of her graduation with the B.Mus. in 1937 (4), a chance remark by a faculty member led her to consider continuing her education, this time as an English major.

  I never had so much fun in my life! I really was very, very happy
  there.... Also, the thing that made it more interesting for me and
  more enjoyable was that I was with people my own age. Previous to
  that I had been so much younger than the others that I did not have
  the kind of confidence one would have socially if one were in company
  with one's peers. (5)

After the A.B. in English, 1939, she completed a master's in English, studying music in Elizabethan dramaturgy excluding Shakespeare. She became interested in musicology and the historical study of music and took the seminars offered by Pauline Alderman at USC. Ruth completed the M.A. in English in 1941, and the M.Mus. in musicology in 1942. She decided to pursue a Ph.D. in English.

That plan was interrupted in April of 1942 when she and her parents were evacuated from the West Coast because of the war with Japan. First, the Watanabes were sent to a "reception center" hastily constructed at the Santa Anita Racetrack. Some evacuees were housed in the stables, which were very crowded. The Watanabes were billetted in rough barracks built on the parking lot of the racetrack. There they lived behind barbed wire awaiting relocation to permanent quarters for the duration of the war.

The Watanabes had enough warning of the relocation to put a lot of their furnishings into storage--they could take with them only what they could carry. Ruth's father did not have time to sell his business; he simply had to abandon it, his assets frozen. At their last meeting before the evacuation, Pauline Alderman, Ruth's professor at USC, offered advice she hoped Ruth would never need: As long as you're alive, there's nothing you can't live without. Many years later Ruth said it was Pauline's influence that kept her spirit alive. (6)

The grandstand at Santa Anita was equipped with a sound system so that events could be held. Sunday afternoons, after all the religious services were over, Ruth offered musical programs for four to five thousand attendees. Speaking extemporaneously without books or notes, she played records--brought to her by non-Japanese friends--on equipment provided by the Army. …

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