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One Woman in a Hundred

Edna Phillips and the Philadelphia Orchestra

Mary Sue Welsh

Publication Year: 2012

Gifted harpist Edna Phillips (1907-2003) joined the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1930, becoming not only that ensemble's first female member but also the first woman to hold a principal position in a major American orchestra. Plucked from the Curtis Institute of Music in the midst of her studies, Phillips was only twenty-three years old when Leopold Stokowski, one of the twentieth century's most innovative and controversial conductors, named her principal harpist. This candid, colorful account traces Phillips's journey through the competitive realm of Philadelphia's virtuoso players, where she survived--and thrived--thanks to her undeniable talent, determination, and lively humor._x000B__x000B_Drawing on extensive interviews with Phillips, her family, and colleagues as well as archival sources, One Woman in a Hundred chronicles the training, aspirations, setbacks, and successes of this pioneering woman musician. Mary Sue Welsh recounts numerous insider stories of rehearsal and performance with Stokowski and other renowned conductors of the period such as Arturo Toscanini, Fritz Reiner, Otto Klemperer, Sir Thomas Beecham, and Eugene Ormandy. She also depicts Phillips's interactions with fellow performers, the orchestra management, and her teacher, the wily and brilliant Carlos Salzedo. Blessed with a nimble wit, Phillips navigated a plethora of challenges, ranging from false conductors' cues to the advances of the debonair Stokowski and others. She remained with the orchestra through some of its most exciting years from 1930 to 1946 and was instrumental in fostering harp performance, commissioning many significant contributions to the literature. _x000B_

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Series: Music in American Life


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pp. 1-5

Title Page

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p. 6-6


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pp. 7-9


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-13

“The men,” was the term symphony orchestra administrators used well into the last quarter of the twentieth century to describe their players. The term came from a crystallized cultural tradition that made men musicians and women teachers and amateurs. Breaking that mold fell to harpist Edna Phillips, a small-town girl...

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. xiii-xvii

“Today girls’ eyes glaze over when they hear about my being the first woman in the Philadelphia Orchestra, but they wouldn’t be so blasé if they knew what it was really like,” Edna Phillips said with a wry laugh in 1990, when she asked me to work with her on the writing of her memoir. By that time, I had known Edna for ten...

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1. In the Lions’ Den

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pp. 1-19

Leopold Stokowski wasted no time on idle words in his rehearsals with the Philadelphia Orchestra. By the fall of 1930, he was forty-eight years old. He had taken over the orchestra in 1912, when he was thirty, and within a few years transformed what had been a stiff, undistinguished ensemble into one that enraptured audiences in Philadelphia and beyond with its striking...

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2. A Formidable Arena

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pp. 20-34

Of course, playing well enough to be chosen for the Philadelphia Orchestra would be a tall order even with all of Salzedo’s talk about Edna’s musicalité. This wasn’t just a major orchestra. This was one of the greatest orchestras in the world. Critics, audiences, and musicians raved about its virtuoso players and the magnificent...

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3. The Little Goat

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pp. 35-46

Phillips didn’t hear another word about her audition for over a month. Then, toward the end of February 1930, she got a call from the office of Arthur Judson, manager of the Philadelphia Orchestra, telling her to report to his office immediately after her Curtis Symphony Orchestra rehearsal. Sitting through...

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4. Keeping Up with the Speed Kings

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pp. 47-57

Back in Reading, Phillips’s mother had decided that her daughter wasn’t up to facing her entrance into the Philadelphia Orchestra on her own. Anna had lost too many loved ones to the scourge of illness to take lightly Edna’s bout with quinsy. Moreover, Edna was embarking on the career of her mother’s dreams. She wanted to be right there in Philadelphia to prop...

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5. “One Step Ahead of the Sheriff”

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pp. 58-72

On the Friday afternoon of her first concert, Phillips had no choice but to “head down the track without looking left or right, like a racehorse with blinders on.” There was nothing to do but steel herself and go forward. Much to her surprise, she made it through the concert without any gaffes. She didn’t come in at a wrong place or get lost or lose...

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6. A Season of Firsts

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pp. 73-90

Six weeks after Phillips joined the orchestra, she faced a thundering giant who struck fear into her heart—and also into the hearts of her colleagues. Arturo Toscanini came to town as part of a highly publicized maestro exchange between the Philadelphia Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic that had been set up by Arthur Judson, manager of both...

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7. “Answer Yes or No”

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pp. 91-107

For eight steamy weeks, night after night, with conductors coming and going and mosquitoes crawling up her arms, Phillips played that summer under the stars in Fairmount Park. Taking part in the summer concerts provided good on-the-job experience, she knew, but coming at the end of an exhausting first year, it was taxing. The entire enterprise was an experiment started...

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8. “Mortally Wounded”

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pp. 108-114

Now it was Edna’s younger sister’s turn to be the center of the Phillips family’s attention. Peggy had waited patiently, somewhat on the sidelines, as Edna struggled to maintain her position in the orchestra. Not that she didn’t have her own fun, zipping back and forth to college in her roadster and just being the happy, sunny person she was with lots...

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9. War on Broad Street

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pp. 115-130

“Don’t leave. Don’t go home.” Marshall rushed to stop Phillips as she left the stage after the first rehearsal of the 1933–34 orchestra season. “Ya gotta go back.” Puzzled, she turned around and stepped back onto the stage, whereupon Maestro Stokowski gave the downbeat for the Wedding March from...

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10. Honor among Women [Contains Image Plates]

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pp. 131-140

After the previous year’s unpleasantness, the reconstituted board of directors set out to establish a happier tone in their relations with Stokowski in the 1935–36 season. Sprucing up the Academy of Music’s shabby stage furniture was one step, and it became Sam Rosenbaum’s job to procure new chairs and music stands as well as a new podium. Although stage...

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11. A Month Out of School

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pp. 141-150

At the end of the regular season in 1936, the orchestra had a date with RCA Victor and the Pennsylvania Railroad that would fulfill a long-held dream of Stokowski’s. Finally, the Philadelphians were to embark on a transcontinental tour, the first ever taken by a symphony orchestra. Thanks to generous funding from RCA Victor, they would visit twenty-seven cities across...

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12. On to Fantasia

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pp. 151-169

A formidable lineup greeted Eugene Ormandy when he stepped into his role as co-conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra in the fall of 1936. The players were a proud group who had been with Stokowski for years. They included virtuosos like Tabuteau, Kincaid, concertmaster Alexander Hilsberg, principal trumpet Saul Caston, the great timpanist Oscar...

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13. A Silent Exit

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pp. 170-182

Ever the teacher and developer of young talent, Stokowski had long dreamed of gathering together a group of highly qualified young people and forming them into a first-rate orchestra. But it wasn’t until war began to overtake Europe in 1939, and German and Italian influence threatened to take hold in South America that Stoki’s All-American Youth Orchestra finally got...

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14. Cajoling and Seducing Composers

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pp. 183-192

With Stokowski gone and Ormandy completely in charge, the Philadelphia players carried on as the professionals they were, still committed to performing at the highest levels and still proud to be members of a great orchestra. It was what professionals did. Phillips took on another project at this time in addition...

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15. War Stories

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pp. 193-204

Sam had been right when he urged Edna to take advantage of Stokowski’s offer to join the AAYO for the South American tour. “We’re going to get into this war sooner or later,” he had said, and, of course, the United States did get into the war. The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and Hitler and Mussolini declared war on the United...

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pp. 205-210

Edna Phillips’s original plan for her memoir was to keep its focus on her years in the orchestra, and I have stuck to that plan with her biography, but she and Sam accomplished so much in their lives that I would be derelict if I didn’t give at least some attention to their many achievements later...


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pp. 211-219


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pp. 221-229


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pp. 231-233


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pp. 235-241

E-ISBN-13: 9780252094545
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252037368

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Music in American Life

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Phillips, Edna, 1907-2003.
  • Philadelphia Orchestra -- History.
  • Harpists -- United States -- Biography.
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