Ernest Vincent ‘Ernie’ Matacia-Lehrer
ERNEST VINCENT ‘ERNIE’ LEHRER, b. January 06, 1945. son of ANTOINETTE ‘ANN’ MATACIA and CHARLES JOHN ‘CHOLLY’ LEHRER; Pianist, Organist, Choir Director, Vocal Coach, and Musical Theatre Music Director (MM. Indiana University 1970).
ERNIE’S HARPSICHORD REBORN
In Ernie’s senior year of high school (1962) , he built his own harpsichord, later on selling it to Marc Mostovoy whose Concerto Soloists of Philadelphia used it for many years in the continuo. Marc reports that the instrument was a ‘world traveler’. This year, the a new case was created to house the instrument.
Ernie reported the following on June 12, 2012:
“I was at Freeman’s Auctioneers in Philadelphia today and visited the instrument I built in Joe Chapline’s workshop in 1962. It was bought by Nelson Shanks, a local artist, who lately painted “St. Cecilia and Friends” on the lid interior. Mr. Shanks is displaying it though this week.
In the painting, St. Cecilia plays the harpsichord, the artist himself is the violinist, Mstislav Rostropovich is the cellist and Renee Fleming sings, with a couple of friends and family dog included in realistic portraiture.
The mechanism and sound board are in excellent shape and the instrument has a delicate sound with the newly added plectra. I played it and was taken back to the day. . .
These are the recitals that Chick and Ernie played together at Boston University in late 1964-early 1965, which were requirements for Chick’s masters degree. Ralph Gomberg, principal oboist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, who was Chick’s oboe teacher at the time, was very impressed by Ernie’s expertise as a pianist.
SEE ERNIE PLAY ROBERT SCHUMANN’S CANON IN B MINOR ON YOUTUBE AT:
An Atlantic City Native Remembers
by Ernest Lehrer
My first recollection of the architectural and musical grandeur of Convention Hall was a third-grade trip to this shrine. A classmate’s father, Frank McCue, the hall manager, gave the class a tour of both the Auditorium and the Ballroom, during which we glimpsed the various and wondrous organ consoles. Swept away by these sights, I began piano lessons; however, my plan was to play the organ. A few months later in May 1954, I heard the Auditorium organ during a High Mass, part of an audience of over 20,000. I was sitting in the balcony on the right side forward with a good view of the organ’s kiosk. The man playing and accompanying was being directed by another standing next to him who had a view of a third person out front leading our singing of the Missa de Angelis. The dynamic of this team was fascinating. We sang our hearts out as the sound of the Diapason Chorus galvanized and challenged us. There was an unforgettable physicality in that sound.
As early as I can remember, our family went each July to see the Ice Capades. This five-year-old was amazed at the sight of an ice rink in the Auditorium; and all those follow spotlights! I grew proud of the city with its wonderful hotels, boardwalk and piers. I felt privileged to live in a vacationland with the beach a 15-minute walk from our neighborhood across the Intercoastal Waterway. The sleepy city of the 1950s was desperately in need of a renaissance, but still relied on drawing year-round conventioneers to its meeting places and mild climate; and vacationers seasonally to its large, beautiful beaches: those unwilling to take an air flight to Miami Beach, the lately dreaded rival to the ‘World’s Playground.’
Beginning organ lessons in 1956, I endured nascent, in-the-gut symptoms of that progressive condition, organitis. I practiced and played services on a 10-rank pipe organ in Our Lady Star of the Sea Church’s choir loft. I bought Boardwalk Pipes, my first LP. My older brother, Chick, himself a musician, gave an enthusiastic account of the scene that attended John Weaver’s recital at Emerson Richards’s Boardwalk salon in fall 1957. Meanwhile, I was given access to the Auditorium and Ballroom, as my father worked for Garden State Construction Company which had its offices in the Pacific Avenue storefronts of the Hall. I’d pass the subterranean AC to DC converters guarded by electrician Bill Paxton, a Chelsea Heights neighbor, on the way to the Auditorium to hear Lois Miller or see William Rosser in his atelier. In 1958, Rosser showed me the 10 ranks of pipes from the organ in my church, which he removed to his workshop. Wyand’s Piano and Organ Store had replaced it with a concert model Wurlitzer electronic. It sat there small and inadequate in the large area lately left vacant in the loft.
This same company coordinated the largest Baldwin Organ installation in the east in St. James Church at North Carolina and Pacific. British organist Gerald Gerard played the dedicatory recital, the first organ recital I ever attended. As a freshman coming home from high school one day, I was surprised to find a 1940s vintage Hammond B2 sitting in my music room. With its ancient Leslie towering seven feet, Dad said that he ‘bought it for a few bucks from the Morton Hotel Quarterdeck Theatre, where it was stored in a closet.’ I never connected the instrument with Lois Miller playing it until I read Jack Goodman’s article in Issue 10 of The Grand Ophicleide.
My brother, Chick, fueled my enthusiasm for going to Atlantic City High School. It was a short walk from our Chelsea Heights neighborhood. I loved the school’s stately setting on terraced lawns, its dark hardwood interior appointments. The focal point for several of us–our raison d’etre at ACHS–was the Midmer-Losh organ in the high school auditorium. We would gather there before first period to play for each other. A neighbor recalled that in the late 20s, Marcel Dupré played this organ, asking for musical themes from the audience from which he improvised symphonically. I have a large Hess photo depicting the auditorium stage with orchestra and chorus, conductor, announcer and Arthur Brook standing by the console, taken during a radio broadcast, a single spring-suspended microphone in their midst.
I spent some Saturdays in that auditorium with Harry Young, the assistant principal, repairing whatever was most needed. A lot of the wiring and relays appeared in disarray. Some pipes were missing or deteriorating. Yet the organ was played for assemblies and accompanied the school chorus and orchestra. Whatever deficiencies in volume the two stage organ chambers presented, the Trombone Chorus surely made up the difference. We loved frightening the freshman. During assemblies they sat in the right balcony in front of the Trombone Chorus which was housed in a case that looked to be no more than a closet set against the wall, up behind the top row of seats. We’d take any opportunity to introduce a song with–at least–the big 8-foot reed. The opening of the National Hymn with its triplet triads was our favorite intro.
Sometime in my freshman year and out of the blue, I called up Senator Richards and introduced myself. He asked me to visit him in his new home on the Boardwalk at South Carolina Avenue. With a storefront at Boardwalk level (at that time, rented to Rybas Fudge), the mansion sprawled at second story level with a white marble and gold trim exterior. I was met by Mrs. Richards and presented to her husband. The rooms were spare, appointed with good furniture, but no organ. We sat in the sun porch on overstuffed sofas. The room’s motif was tropical. He spoke slowly with some difficulty and he smiled. I learned no secrets to pass on to the faithful reader. After an hour, he took me to his studio in which featured a skylight above a large worktable. He was designing a principal chorus and showed me several metal disks, samples of each rank’s diameter, metal and thickness for the same note. On the table was a blueprint for the chorus. He may have been trying to find out the extent of my knowledge of organ design, as he talked about the dilemmas that confronted him on that table.
I first played the Kimball Theater Organ in Convention Hall Ballroom in late 1959. It was in fine mechanical order, sounding as it had on the Elmore recording. I recall those hours at the instrument as an epiphany in my musical life. In September 1960 I became organist of Church of the Ascension at Kentucky and Pacific with its large 1916 Möller, a job I kept until leaving for college.
I met Lois Miller in 1963 while I was practicing for high school commencement on the ballroom organ. As I was finishing practice–the ballroom filling with conventioneers–Lois came up to me and introduced herself. We hit it right off. I was excited to meet her and she was her perky, personable self. Time was passing and she wanted to get on that bench! As I sensed this I gathered my things, but thought to leave my score of the Star Spangled Banner up on the rack for her to start the show. She responded, “Oh sweetie, I don’t need music; I’ve been playing that so long, I could do it in my sleep.”
We arranged to meet at the ‘kiosk’ in the Convention Hall Auditorium, possibly later that day. I stood next to her at the Midmer-Losh; she played light favorites, show tunes and marches, many from memory. I remember her soloing where appropriate on what sounded like a repeating glockenspiel. She played at loudest mezzo forte as conventioneers milled about exhibits. I was impressed with her absolute detachment from the sound of the music that was coming at us as she chatted about every little thing. It was the first time I had seen a musician on autopilot, playing flawlessly while, with another part of her brain, talking to me. “Don’t ask me anything about how this instrument works. I rely on Rosser for that. I don’t want to know. I’d only be worrying about the mechanical problems and become distracted from my playing.” Short of a magnitude 10 earthquake, I can imagine nothing that might have distracted her.
I went on to a musical career. My Atlantic City pipe organ adventures put me on the path. When I talk to colleagues about the Atlantic City that I knew, it is difficult to convey the impact that music-making had on me in a town they can only lately picture as a scene from Bertolt Brecht’s Mahagonny. I look forward to the day when music from the newly-restored Boardwalk Hall will call me back to that city of my dreams.