Pianist Howard R. Haviland began a series of concerts one hundred years ago today at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The show, put on for about 1200 workers and sailors, was the first in a series Haviland performed under the auspices of the YMCA’s National War Work Council. Haviland and the YMCA had set a high bar: to play at every camp in the United States over late summer and fall. Later that same week Haviland played at camps in Mineola and Hempstead, Long Island; Queens; and upstate at Plattsburg. Haviland was a Brooklynite who spent his summers playing in hotels in New Jersey. (Then and now New Yorkers got out of the Big City in July-August if they could.) Haviland had spent July playing at the Hotel Montclair, where he helped the Red Cross raise $100,000,000 for the war effort.
Haviland noted that “the boys” in the camps preferred lighter tunes to the classical stuff and wanted material with which they were familiar. His sets were heavy on light opera, which is a reminder that opera was not always Opera as we perceive it today: as a distant High Art, something for which you pay top dollar and put on a tuxedo to listen to. There was a time, not that long ago, when the genre was very much part of the popular vernacular. Think of the organ grinder and his monkey. Havilland’s tour was a smashing success. By early November he was back in Brooklyn at his parents house on Grand Avenue. Still he continued on with his war work. On behalf of the Red Cross he taught piano to advanced and beginning students alike to raise funds and awareness for the Allied war effort.