Berkeley’s Etude Club Marks a Century of Music

By KATY WILSON Special to the Planet
Tuesday January 27, 2004

Celebrating its 100th anniversary this month, Berkeley’s Etude Club is renewing its dedication to music performance and appreciation and to the encouragement of young musicians. 

“This anniversary is a testament to the enduring power of music, and it provides a fascinating window on the past,” says Janet Weinstein, club president.  

The Etude Club began Jan. 29, 1904, when six women gave a dinner party and performed a musical program afterwards. Opportunities for women to perform in public were slim at the time, and the evening was so inspiring that the women established a formal group to promote the study and performance of music. Members are either musicians or the ever-important associates, the listeners. 

Today the Etude Club continues, meeting monthly for a program of music performed by members, with tea and conversation following. The club encourages students to continue their pursuit of music and promotes musical development through an annual scholarship competition each spring, open to students in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. 

An Etude Club program today might look like the Feb. 26, 1914 program, which featured works by Beethoven, Mozart, and Mendelssohn. But other pieces heard recently at Etude were actually written during the Club’s lifetime. Among them: Francis Poulenc’s lyrical 1962 Sonata for clarinet and piano; the virtuosic 1939 Scaramouche for two pianos by Darius Milhaud; or Hubert Ho’s Tremble (2003) for flute and piano, performed with the composer at the keyboard. 

Over the past 100 years, Etude Club has felt the brush of history. “Our archives provide a wonderful glimpse into the last century,” says Joan Goodman, Etude historian. The club survived the 1906 earthquake, two world wars, and the turn of the millennium. It saw the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic claim the lives of several members. World War I found Etude Club members active outside music, with a table at the Twentieth Century Unit of the Red Cross making surgical dressings. 

When the 1923 fire broke out in central Berkeley, it happened to be an Etude meeting day. Past president Eda Cooper recalled that the door suddenly burst open mid-program and a voice shouted, “Berkeley is on fire! Go home immediately.”  

By 1931 the club had raised enough money to purchase its own piano, paying the then princely sum of $1,800 to Sherman Clay for a Steinway grand. Many card parties and extra performances were held to pay off the balance. And by 1946 the club was meeting at its current location at the Hillside Club on Cedar Street. Members are faithful, with one 98-year-old member writing this winter to say she regretted she would not be renewing her membership; attending meetings had become difficult.  

Times have changed. “Our members no longer attend in white gloves or arrive by streetcar or horse-drawn carriage,” says Goodman, “but our commitment to music remains the same.” Etude Club will be commemorating its centennial through the remainder of 2004. 

For additional information on joining the Etude Club or attending one of its programs as a guest, call 559-3959.