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FRIEND OF MUSIC : 34 Years After She Started, Beulah Strickler Is Still Organizing Free Concerts in Fullerton

March 25, 1993|CHRIS PASLES | Chris Pasles covers music for The Times Orange County Edition.

When harpsichordist Beulah Strickler founded the Fullerton Friends of Music, she never expected that the group would still be here 34 years later. But it is.

"I always played music with professional friends and invited people to the house to hear them," she recalls. "Everybody enjoyed it, and I thought it would be a good idea to go public."

Others agreed, so in 1959 she moved the concerts from her home to the Fullerton Public Library (now the Museum of North Orange County). In 1980 she moved them to their present site, the Performing Arts Center at Sunny Hills High School in Fullerton. The Friends will offer a concert there Sunday, and it's free, as are all the Friends' concerts.

The programs are supported by about 200 subscribers, including a special sub-group called the Friends of the Friends who have pledged $500 a year for five years.

"The five years are almost up," says Strickler, "so that might be a problem for us."

That's not the only financial problem that looms. Last year the city of Fullerton, facing its own budget cuts, delivered a serious blow to the organization by cutting off its support, which had started in 1978.

Strickler says "we lost almost $2,000" in city funds--about 20% of the Friends' annual budget, almost all of which goes to pay the musicians. "But our members have been really quite responsive, so we've been able to keep going."

Looking back on it all gives her "a kind of a mixed feeling," she says.

"In some ways, it's easier than it was in the beginning when I did everything and worried about everything. Now I have help on the committee, good leadership and people who are taking responsibility . . . . But the thought does cross my mind that it's taking a lot of time. I think eventually we'll have to get somebody else because I'm not going to last forever."

She declines to give her age. "Just say I've been doing it for 34 years, so I can't be 20 years old."

One thing she refuses to give up, however, is deciding what music will be played.

"I rarely just take a set program," she says, "because I know what we've produced before, and also because people say I have a very good sense of programming. Not everybody does. Sometimes an artist will do something to satisfy his or her own present project or ego. I look at it differently."

In addition to standard repertory works by Schumann (the Quartet in A minor, Opus 41, No. 1) and Barber (the famous Adagio for Strings), she has chosen rarities by Ralph Vaughan Williams and Beethoven for this Sunday's program. Each requires a tenor and a chamber ensemble, a rather uncommon combination in classical music.

Vaughan Williams' "On Wenlock Edge" is an early work that uses six poems from A.E. Housman's "A Shropshire Lad."

"I can't tell you how moving the poetry is," Strickler says. "And it's very ambiguous. You don't know really whether this lad is dead or thinking back on his life or looking forward to dying. It's nostalgic, and it's very sad. The music is quite dramatic and very poignant at times."

The Beethoven Folk Songs are interesting, she says, "because he doesn't change any of the melodies. It's just the straight melodies and the harmonies are rather simple. But he has put a cello and a violin to it, which makes for a charming group of songs. There are about 185 of these. We're doing six, mostly Irish."

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