Tennie Webster
(1915 - 2009)

April 29, 1935

Tennie Myrtle Webster was an accomplished horn player and a member of the Woman's Symphony Orchestra of Chicago during the Great Depression. She was born in Waukegan, Lake Co., Illinois on September 19, 1915, a daughter of Robert Coe Webster (1891 -1957) and Tennie Francis Myrtle (1895-1987).  While attending Morton High School Miss Webster studied the horn with K.L. Higgins for three years. 1  Mr. Higgins was a student teacher at the time and subsequently recommended her to Max Pottag, who later called her "my most talented pupil and student." While attending Morton High School, Miss Webster was one of very few girls in the school band which placed first in the district and state contests in 1932 and 1933, as well as the national contest of 1933,  in which the judge noted of her playing "excellent French horn in the solo passages!" Her horn quartet also took first place in the district, state, national contests in 1931, 1932 and 1933, but it was in the solo competitions that she really stood out, taking first place in district, state, and national in 1932 and 1933.  For her performance the first movement of a Mozart horn concerto (probably K. 447) in the National Solo and Ensemble Contest, adjudicator, Frank Simon, director of the Armco Band, commented "You have no weak points. You are a beautiful horn player." Max Pottag called her an "Outstanding Winner", Frank Erickson wrote "Special - 1st Prize", and Joseph Mourek noted "1st Place Winner, most outstanding player, a remarkable talent, high notes very fine, unusual technique."

Morton High School Bandsmen Greet Sousa, May 23, 1931
Seated: Jerome Novotny, James E. Locke, John Philip Sousa, Edward Klunder
Standing: Harold Cigler, Frank Chlumsky, Edward Sudway, Philip Young, Francis L. Filas,
Rudolph Plocar, Edwin Goltermann, Tennie M. Webster, Bohumil Malek, Walter Bombard

One of her friends at Morton was Charles "Chuck" Misare. Over his photo in her 1931 yearbook he wrote "If you keep on practicing you will be national champ next. Yours, Charles Misare." Mr. Misare went on to become a professional horn player in the Kansas City, Baltimore, Chicago, and Denver symphonies. 

Following high school, Miss Webster continued studying with Max Pottag who became "like a father" to her. Beginning with the 1933-34 season she became a member of the Woman's Symphony Orchestra of Chicago.2 That season the horn section comprised Elsie Englemann Blank, Helen Kotas, Laura Sexton, Tennie Webster, and Florence Andrews.

The following season she joined the Chicago Civic Orchestra conducted by Eric DeLamarter, associate conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Frederick Stock. The Civic Orchestra was the training orchestra for the Chicago Symphony. She was also an acquaintance with "Phil" Farkas. 3  

On October 19, 1935 Ebba Sundstrom, conductor of the Woman's Symphony, sent a note to Miss Webster stating that she had wanted her to play first horn in the coming season but noted that Miss Webster had a conflict with Friday rehearsals with the Civic Symphony. Miss Sundstrom particularly wanted her to play first on a piece by Rameau. As a result, Helen Kotas resigned as first horn from the Woman's Symphony.

On September 1, 1938 Miss Webster was featured in "Landlers for Two Horns" by Tryner.4with Helen Kotas on a concert by the Chicago Woman's Concert Band, conducted by Lillian Poenisch. 5

High School

Conn catalog ca. 1935

Woman's Symphony Orchestra Program, 1934

Theatrical Chicago, Ebba Sundstrom, conductor.

Tennie Webster (left) and Helen Kotas (right). The other players are unidentified.

Tennie Webster (second from left) and Helen Kotas (right)

Special thanks to the family of Tennie Webster and Charles V. Foreman for providing photos and biographical information.  

1.  Kenneth Lloyd Higgins was born in Vancouver, British Columbia on November 15, 1911, a son of Bartholomew William Sidney Higgins and Lulu Bianca Crow. In September, 1923 he and his mother, two brothers, and two sisters came to the U.S. to be with his father who had preceded them to Chicago. While attending Proviso Township High School in Maywood, Illinois, Mr. Higgins was a member of the school band, orchestra, and chorus, and performed with the National High School Orchestra. He also earned several medals for horn solos in state competitions. Following graduation from Proviso, he attended Morton Junior College and was a student teacher at Morton High School. According to his son, Elliott Higgins, Mr. Higgins was a teacher of Philip Farkas, although that has not been verified. While a student at he Morton began studies with Max Pottag and then entered Northwestern University. Upon graduation from Northwestern, Mr. Higgins moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico for health reasons. There he found employment as Teacher-Director of the Band Instrument Department of Kastning Music Store and Studio and in the public schools. In 1959 Mr. Higgins and his wife, Wanda, founded the Hummingbird Music Camp, which is still very active today. Mr. Higgins died in Albuquerque on November 24, 1996, his family has continued his legacy at the Hummingbird Camp.

2. The Woman's Symphony Orchestra of Chicago was organized in

3. Exactly how Tennie met Mr. Farkas is not certain, however they probably crossed musical paths as talented young horn players in Chicago. He was a year older than she and impressed her "as being such a clean cut fellow."  Philip Farkas (1914-1992) was born and raised in Chicago and attended Hirsch Junior High School and Calumet Senior High School. He played in the school band and orchestra as well as the All Chicago High School Orchestra, and in 1930 was admitted into the Chicago Civic Orchestra. In 1933, while still in High School, he signed a contract to play in the Kansas City Philharmonic where he played principal horn until 1936. That summer he returned to Chicago to assume the position of principal horn with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, an event noted in one of Tennie's letters to Charles Foreman: "This morning Chuck [Misare] and  Phil Fargus [sic] were at the Civic  rehearsal listening in on all our blue notes. Phil has just signed a contract with the Chi. Symphony for the coming season. The way things stand now he'll be playing first horn  [Pelligrino] Lecce has definitely left and is playing  now with the Metropolitan in New York."

4.  Probably either Charles Tryner, who had been a member of the Chicago Symphony horn section in 1925-1927, or Frank Tryner, who was a composer and arranger for the Innes Band and Kryl's Bohemian Band.

5. Lillian Poenisch.

Linda Dempf, "The Woman's Symphony Orchestra of Chicago",  Notes, Second Series, Vol. 62, No. 4, pp. 857-903, Music Library Association, 2006

Nancy Jordan Fako,  Philip Farkas & His Horn, A Happy Worthwhile Life, Crescent Park Music Publications, Elmhurst, Illinois, 1998

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