(The following interesting article on Ypsilanti's pioneer teacher of public school music, a man whose musical influence extended through many states, was written for Ypsilanti Chapter D.A.R., by Miss Abba Owen, the granddaughter of Prof. Foote, herself one of Ypsilanti's favorite musicians and a teacher in the Normal College Conservatory of Music. It is published by the request of the Members of the Chapter as a valuable contribution to Ypsilanti history.—Editor Record.) dated October 21, 1915.
Ezra Meade Foote was born in the town of Shoreham, Vt., January 19, 1820. When three years of age, his parents moved to Cornwell, Vt. His father, Russel Foote, besides having one of the finest brick houses and largest farms in that vicinity, was the first man to own 1,000 fine-wool sheep. Prof. Foote often spoke of the large fireplaces this house contained, and the long-handled warming-pan his mother passed between the sheets before the children got into bed. At the age of sixteen, after becoming familiar with farm life, Mr. Foote started out to carve a fortune for himself and settled in Lockport, N.Y., where he studied medicine for two years. Then he decided to turn his attention more particularly to music, in which he had taken great delight from early boyhood. He studied in Boston, voice culture, harmony and thorough-bass with the foremost teachers of the time-—B.F. Baker, Lowell Mason and others.
At the age of twenty-five, he married Sarah S., daughter of Judge Lothrop Cooke of Lewiston, N.Y. In 1845 I find his name in the catalogue of the annual convention of teachers of music in Rochester, N.Y. under the direction of the professors in the Boston Academy of Music. In fact, I find him returning often to ‘Boston, the center of musical life at that time, to perfect himself better in the art of music. From 1845 to 1858, he resided in Lockport, having charge for many years of the First Presbyterian church choir, giving private music lessons, concerts and musical conventions in many parts of the United States.
In looking over his old scrapbook, with its hundreds of interesting notices from all the leading cities, towns and villages, one realizes more and more what a great and wonderful influence he had upon music through the whole country. At the time it was said of him: “The qualifications of Prof. Foote as teacher of this high art are equaled by few and surpassed by no other individual.” (The Buffalo Advocate says of the Musical Convention at Williamsville: “There were about 150 members of the class composed of gentlemen and ladies of much talent and experience in musical matters. There was much of science and good taste in the convention. We noticed Prof. Webb and other eminent musical characters from Buffalo were there. The musical exercises of the convention were under the direction of Prof. E.M. Foote of Lockport as conductor. His capacity and tact, his urbanity of manner and gentlemanly deportment won and invited the golden opinion of the whole class. He seems both by nature and education peculiarly adapted to systematize and bring into harmony of feeling and action a mass of strange singers who have never practiced together. May blessings be upon his clear head and warm heart!” The Tiffin, O., paper says: “We really believe that Mr. Foote could take a collection of boys and girls from the alleys and woods, and in a dozen days call out encores of applause from the most fastidious audience. As it is he has opened the eyes of our citizens to the fact that we have rare musical talent in our midst.”)
For several years Prof. Foote took charge of the music at the commencement exercises at Oberlin College. While there in 1855, he sought an accompanist to travel with him. Prof. Frederick H. Pease, then a young man of sixteen, applied for the position and was accepted. He traveled and made his home with the Foote family until his marriage five years later; in fact, he was associated with Prof. Foote for eight years, in which time he received his first instruction in vocal music and chorus directing. In later years he often said to Prof. Foote: “It was one of the most anxious moments of my life when I awaited the decision after playing an accompaniment for Miss Jennie Pierce.” Miss Pierce was a noted soprano, a pupil of Prof. Foote, who traveled with the Footes on these concert tours. During the many conventions that he held in in Jackson, Michigan, Prof. Foote always made it a point to visit and sing for the prisoners. The warden said that there was something strange about it, but that Prof. Foote would not be in the city more than a few hours before the prisoners would know it and watch for his coming. They presented him with a beautiful inlaid wooden box, made by a life convict, containing the following letter:
“Prof. E.M. Foote:—-
“Sir, in behalf of our convict choir, I present to you this small box as a testimony of their high esteem for you and an expression of their gratitude to Almighty God for his preserving care over yourself and those who assist you during another year since your last visit to this place, and in permitting you to come again to cheer our hearts with your pleasant voice and cheerful smiles. Also as an expression of our gratitude to you, Sir, for your kindness, both a year ago and at the present time, in coming to our abode of suffering, to sing for us as no other man has sung or can sing, allowing us to be the judges. We appreciate your kindness and your music, and thank you sincerely for these visits, hoping they may be repeated annually while we are so infortunate as to remain in this tomb of blasted hopes and broken hearts, where poor, unfortunate, depraved humanity comes to know the truth of the Scripture saying, Viz.: “That the way of the transgressor is hard.” Please accept this small token as the largest gift our present limited means will justify us in presenting to you, and please remember us kindly as you may from time to time open this little keepsake and call to remembrance the scenes of this Sabbath morning. We also feel grateful for the assistance you have had in rendering your music, so soul-stirring and heart-cheering, as has been the case in both instances, especially this day. If you should never visit us again, while we remain in this abode of misery, we hope to see the day when we shall meet you and hear you sing under circumstances widely different from these, when there will be no drawback upon our joys, experienced in the contrast between our condition and your own. In taking our leave of you today, we bid you Godspeed in your vocation, and hope you and those who travel with you as your assistants in this glorious work, may long be preserved in life and health, and may you many times ere going hence to be on earth no more, make glad the hearts of others, as you have ours today. Farewell.
Signed on behalf of the Choir,
R.A. Crawford, Chaplain Michigan State Prison.”
Feb. 22, 1857.
In 1855 Prof. Foote was engaged to teach music and elocution in the Michigan State Normal School. Lockport, N.Y., at that time was called a town; Ypsilanti, like many other small places in Michigan, was called a City. Prof. Foote's small daughter, now Mrs. T.C. Owen of this city, was greatly excited, as children will be, over the thought of moving to a city and staying at a hotel. She could hardly wait to get to Ypsilanti. Judge of her disappointment on finding a city smaller than the town she had left, and insignificant “hotel” called the Soup House. The family stayed at this hotel one week, until their furniture arrived. The only houses available for rent at that time were the old Cole house back of the Cleary College, and the house now owned by Madison Parsons (401 N. Hamilton St.,) north of the Catholic church. The latter seemed altogether too far out of the city, as there was only one other house on “The Commons” as that part of the city was called. So they moved into the Cole house. Miss Pierce and Mr. Pease were with them. Although he had studied harmony, thorough bass, etc., with the best teachers Boston afforded, Prof. Foote, with great insight and pedagogical gifts, realized that this was not the music to teach to our public school teachers, who had but a limited time to devote to their musical studies, as they had many other subjects to study and teach at the same time. The foundation in all music should be to make all proficient in sight-reading, even as our boys and girls read the newspaper. This Prof Foote gave them, a feat that cannot be duplicated by our present public schools. If his method had been continued, the choirs would now be able to sing oratorios at sight, even as the orchestras play them, instead of spending three or four months, with the aid of a piano, in learning them.
Prof. Foote organized the first Normal Choir and was instrumental in procuring the first piano. He also realized that music at that time could be introduced only by appealing to the heart, and his patriotic and descriptive songs, interspersed with the classical music, created an interest never to be abated. The patriotic, descriptive and sentimental pieces mentioned by his contemporaries were always of the highest order--pure and chaste, doing more good often than many sermons. His patriotic songs during the war cheered many a weary heart. These were not at all like the popular songs, ragtime vaudeville or minstrel, that students love to entertain us with today. The Normal boys of Co. E, Seventeenth Michigan Infantry, were noted for their singing throughout the war, and in after years many of them said that they never would forget Prof. Foote's voice calling out to them: “Wake up, boys, Wake up!” when they were singing “We are Coming, Father Abraham, three hundred thousand more.”
His choir was very proficient in rendering choruses from the Oratorios, the “Hallelujah Chorus” arousing great enthusiasm. The choruses from the best known operas were studied and the rendering of chants was considered remarkable. Prof. A.S. Welsh was principal at the time. During his absence in Europe on his wedding trip, his home was occupied by Prof. Foote and family, the house where Mrs. T.C. Owen now lives. At the time of the Normal fire in 1859, he was one of the first to arrive on the spot, his great anxiety being to save the piano. Some men volunteered to help him; they succeeded in gaining the first flight of stairs, but were obliged to literally crawl down again as the smoke was so dense they were almost suffocated.
Upon Prof. Welsh's return, Prof. Foote purchased the house next east of the Welsh place, which was his home so many years. After severing his connection with the Normal School in 1863, he traveled extensively through the south. From this time until his permanent settlement in Ypsilanti in 1881, he was difficult to keep track of, as he to be everywhere. Fifteen years before coming to Ypsilanti and eighteen years before returning here to take change of the music in the public schools here, thirty-four years in all, he traveled almost continuously through New York, Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois. Ohio, Missouri, Kansas, Kentucky, Tennessee and Michigan. He held conventions in every city of importance in Michigan, not only once, but several times. He is referred to by many as the pioneer of public school music in Michigan.
In 1863, while Prof. Foote was holding a musical convention in St. Joseph, Mo., the following was printed in the St. Joseph Herald: “Yesterday afternoon. Mr. Ferguson of the Missouri Packet Line, invited the entire company, including Proof. Foote, his daughter, Miss Anne Foote, and party, to dine on board the magnificent steamer “Denver” which was at the wharf. We were present and found General Fisk and staff. Provost Marshal Dwight, Col. Haywood and lady, and several others enjoying themselves hugely. The dinner was superb, and after the removal of the cloth, toasts and songs were the of the day.” Prof. Foote sent to the Sanitary Commission at St. Louis the proceeds from concerts given his amounting to $8,000 to be needed for the Civil War sufferers. He gave a concert at Lockport, N.Y. at which $1,100 was raised, making the amount necessary for George Coins, a colored man who had been working very hard to buy the freedom of his family. During the war. too, Prof. Foote and his assistant; Prof. F.H. Pease, visited the camps near Baltimore and sang to the Michigan soldiers there, which included some from Ypsilanti and vicinity.
About 1865, he went to Chicago. One of the Chicago papers said: “We are much gratified to state that Prof Foote, the celebrated teacher of music and conductor of musical conventions, has made his arrangements to settle in Chicago. He brings with him an established reputation and bespeaks for him a cordial reception and trust that his superiority as a teacher will be
will be appreciated by our citizens. His services are by the First Baptist church of the city to teach music and build up a large choir, Already he has a pupils, which meets every Monday evening in the lecture room of this church. He also has a good class at the University of Chicago and one at the Bryant and Stratton College.” Besides this he had a studio for private lessons, and he was also connected with Root and Cady, the largest music publishing house in the west; and still he continued giving concerts and musical conventions in the larger cities. The New York Musical Review said: “The Northern Erie County Musical Association held its second annual convention in Williamsville, N.Y., continuing four days, and closing with a concert. A larger number of singers of more imposing array of musical talent we have never known assembled in western New York. Many eminent musicians from abroad were present. The exercises were under the direction of Mr. E.M. Foote, whose ability and tact for the management of classes we think rarely equaled. The exercises were varied by choruses, quartets, solos, etc., all of which were of a highly classic character and reflected great credit upon those concerned. It demonstrates the great utility of such conventions, not only by the interest which they arouse in the science of music, but also by the consequent benefit they bring to those engaged. All present were strikingly impressed with the great wealth of musical talent hitherto unknown or at least not understood, to exist in this delightful section of the country.”
These conventions usually lasted from two to four weeks, and ended with a large concert or the cantata of “Esther” or “Belshazzar's Feast.” The latter was dramatized by Prof. Foote just prior to the Chicago fire. All the books were burned except one copy which he had taken with him the night before. At the time of the fire, services were bring held in the First Baptist church, and Prof. Foote often told how the minister was saying in a very dramatic voice: “What if we should be consumed by fire at this present moment?” As he repeated the question, a policeman rushed in and screamed: “Run for your lives! The city is burning!” “Belshazzar's Feast, or the Fall of Babylon” was a dramatic cantata in seven scenes. The singers were dressed in full Jewish Chaldean costumes, thus giving a truthful representation of the sacred story contained in the Book of Daniel. The Lawrence paper says: “Our abounding home talent capped the climax of its achievements last night with the most brilliant entertainment Lawrence, (Kansas), had ever witnessed. Prof. Foote has had a large list of our best artists in training for three months, preparing the dramatic cantata of ‘Belshazzar’. Neither time, effort or expense were spared to enable them to thoroughly reproduce the gorgeous scenic and costume effect. The protracted voice training those engaged in its production have undergone, has had a marked effect upon the quality of those singing. The hall was crowded by an appreciative audience and will be packed again tonight. In the complicated scenes contained in this cantata, Prof. Foote has successfully combated the difficulties encountered and achieved a most pronounced success. Prof. Foote, as Belshazzar, the King enacted the part to perfection. His fine figure, venerable aspect, gorgeous robes and trained bass voice, combined with natural dramatic ability, made it an easy task for him.”