From Memories of Maine Magazine

Winter Edition 2015:

For mid-nineteenth century women, life primarily consisted of raising a family, running a household, and being a supportive but submissive wife to her husband. This cult of domesticity, according to scholar Barbara Welter, required women to uphold the values of purity, piety, domesticity, and submissiveness.

Rossini Club History
Louise H. Armstrong (1891-1969) was a Portland musician and was active in restoring the Victoria Mansion. She was a pianist, and served as the sixth president of the Maine Federation of Music Clubs from 1942 to 1946.
She was also a member of the National Federation of Music Clubs and librarian of the Portland Rossini Club. She was the second president of the Victoria Society, serving from 1951-1959. Collections of Maine Historical Society, courtesy of Vintage Maine Images.

Few outlets were available to women to express themselves, lead without fear, and continue to learn. Music proved to be one of these acceptable outlets. The rigorous upper class education for early nineteenth century girls included a musical element, be it voice or instrumental, with the idea that she will provide a soothing home for her husband. In the 1840s and 1850s, various musical clubs across the United States opened for women. For ladies in Portland, Maine, the women-only Rossini Club offered a place to rehearse with and perform regularly amongst their peers. Now, 145 years later, the Portland Rossini Club still performs, albeit with a more diverse membership, and entertains Maine audiences throughout the year.

Wealthy women made up the majority of the club’s founding members, as they had the most rigorous musical training and the freedom to spend time on their music. Mary Anne Torrey, a noted pianist and wife of famed organist Hermann Kotzschmar, was one of the group’s earliest members. Torrey taught piano and often gave lectures about music to eager audiences. It was said that one could not be a successful pianist in Portland without the aid of a Kotzschmar. At incorporation, the club consisted of 35 members, a mix of vocalists and instrumentalists. The club’s popularity increased so much the press noted how full the Spring Street streetcar was on meeting nights. The motorman often took note of which club members ran late and waited outside their brick residences to take them to the meeting. Another newspaper wrote that the ladies “often wore numerous jewels . . . rich dresses, and lots of enormous chignons.” Elizabeth Harmon, the current President of the Rossini Club, said “women were seldom in charge of their lives back then. Now the Rossini Club is a place for up-andcoming performers as well as those who have not made performing their profession.”

The club’s performances took place in a variety of halls over the years, from that first concert on Middle Street to their current venue of Cathedral of St. Luke. In the late nineteenth century, the ladies tried meeting in the city hall building, however, farmers also showed chickens there. Practicing music over the clucking hens proved to be a challenging task so the ladies met elsewhere. Roberta Baker, past President and a long-time Rossini Club member, recalled that during the 1950s, the club often performed on Friday mornings, around 11 a.m. “The performance hall was full in those days and everyone was dressed up in hats, gloves, and dresses. I don’t think we could get such a full house on a weekday now, but in those days, it was the thing to do. It was such a community event that no one missed. Of course now, there are more people working,” she recalled.

In 1905, the Rossini Club structure consisted of a President, Vice President, Recording Secretary, Corresponding Secretary, Treasurer, Program Committee Chairman, and a Librarian. Elected every year at the annual meeting, officers served a one-year term, or continued until their successors were chosen. The Program Committee, under the direction of the committee chair, planned the club’s concerts and events. The President presided over meetings, appointed sub-committee members (for example, the Audition Committee), and made the announcements at concerts. The Recording Secretary maintained accurate meeting notes and provided the end-of-year report to the Board of Directors. The Corresponding Secretary handled the mail and conducted the Artist Recitals. The Treasurer controlled the clubs funds, collected dues, and paid approved bills. She also reported to the Board of Directors. The Librarian maintained the club’s library of sheet music. Any member could borrow a piece of music but there was a fine for it not being returned in a timely manner. The Rossini Club functioned similarly to a household by managing finances, event planning, and correspondence

Currently, the Rossini Club is made up of a President, First Vice President, Second Vice President, Recording Secretary, Treasurer, Assistant Treasurer, Piano Chair, Candidate Chair, Communications Committee Chair, Social Chair and a Historian (no longer a Librarian or a library). Elizabeth Harmon said the club currently has seven concerts per year with one benefit concert. Previously, men, like Hermann Kotzschmar and Ralph Gould, had only been allowed to be honorary members. In the late 1980s, the club began accepting men as members. Men are also able to hold office, for example, Richard Roberts, Professor Emeritus of Music at the University of New England, serves as the First Vice President of Programs.

The Rossini Club did not simply accept those with just “some” musical ability—members accepted nothing less than the strictest standards of musicality from their performing members. Even 145 years later, the club only accepts the best, holding small auditions throughout the year at the Cathedral of St. Luke. To be eligible as a “performing member” of the club one must audition: an instrumentalist must play three musical selections; each from a different stylistic period and one selection must be played from memory. Vocalists sing three selections from memory including an aria from an opera or oratorio, one art song, and one song in the original foreign language. Organists must play three selections but no memory work is required. Applicants perform their selections before a panel of Rossini Club Judges. Auditions are planned as applicants express interest in the club.

However, not all members of the Rossini club are required to be performing members. Associate Members are those individuals who believe in the club’s mission of providing live music to the public and encourage offering music scholarships to Maine students. Associate Members perform duties such as collecting admission, assisting at post-concert receptions, and volunteering their talents for the club. In 1905, Associate Members paid dues and held offices, except for those of President and Vice President. They are also able to vote at the business meeting. Subscribers also paid dues and received free concert admission but they do not hold office nor do they have any voting privileges. In 2014, Associates and Subscribers are able to vote at business meetings and hold office in addition to free admission to concerts, receive the Rossini Club newsletter and the latest concert information.

In the 1905 report of officers, Performing Members paid $2 in dues while Associate and Student members paid $3. Now, Performing Members pay $40 in dues while Associate and Subscribers pay $30. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Board of Directors implemented a series of fines: ten cents for every late arrival, fifty cents for failure to present the name of a piece to the Program Committee, fifty cents for missing the annual meeting unless the Corresponding Secretary received a note, and twenty five cents for each week of late dues. Today, the Rossini Club does not fine members.

In 1921, the Rossini Club was recognized for being the oldest musical club in the United States. In addition to providing affordable public music, the club also supports “the next generation of classical performers” by offering an annual scholarship competition for vocalists, pianists, and instrumentalists who are furthering their music education. In 1932, the club created the Emily K. Rand Scholarship, available to instrumentalists. A talented vocalist, Rand served as the Rossini Club’s third President for a twenty-five year term. The Lucia A. Wright Scholarship, established in 2001 for pianists, was given as a bequest from Wright, a Rossini Club member for fifty-five years. The Barbara C. Littlefield Scholarship, available to vocalists was created in memory of the Rossini Club’s long-time vocalist and treasurer. To audition, students must perform two selections from contrasting musical periods, totaling fifteen to twenty minutes. Vocalists are required to sing entirely from memory while pianists or instrumentalists must perform at least one selection from memory. In 2013, students from all over Maine where invited to audition for one of these endowed scholarships. The winners each received $1,200 to continue their studies.

In addition to scholarships, the Rossini Club administered the Ralph T. Gould award to high school juniors and seniors. From 1949 to 2009, students in greater Portland could audition for a chance to win a trip to New York City and see an opera at the Metropolitan Opera, as well as receive a backstage tour. Often times, the trip would include taking in a performance by the New York Philharmonic and a Broadway show as well. The winners also had a celebratory meal at one of New York’s most iconic establishments like Tavern on the Green. In the early days of the award, four students were chosen with two adult chaperones, but as funds dwindled, two students were chosen along with two chaperones. Elizabeth Harmon and Roberta Baker fondly remember taking students to New York on the Gould trips. Roberta remembered, “The backstage tour at the Metropolitan was wonderful. We got to see the costumes and the sets intimately. It was like no other experience, especially for those students.” Elizabeth agreed, and recalled, “I had a friend who sang with the Metropolitan Opera Chorus, and she often joined us for our meal, where we talked about the professional music scene in New York. The seats at the Met were always good and the folks at the Met were wonderful to work with. In the early days, most students had never been to New York. It was rare. Today, more students are more likely, although one of the last trips we took, one student had never been out of Maine. I think the Gould trips were good for students to learn about music and experience New York away from their parents. There is something special about hearing music and learning about it amongst your musical peers.” Elizabeth also mentioned that many of the winners of the Gould award often went on to successful music careers, in musical theater, opera, and other classical avenues. Although the Rossini Club does not currently offer the Gould Award, the club is considering fundraising and offering a similar award trip in the future.

Founded in 1869 and still performing 145 years later, the Rossini Club provides classical music to the public and seeks to educate young Maine musicians.

(article copied with permission of the editor)


The Portland Rossini Club was founded in 1869 and incorporated in 1871. It has had the distinction of being the oldest active music club in the National Federation of Music Clubs. Committed to sharing their deep and abiding love for music, its members endeavor to express the highest possible standards of performance and musicianship.

The Portland Rossini Club was originally founded as a strictly women’s organization. Male members have been accepted since the late 1980’s.

Click here to see a typical Rossini Club concert program from about 1880, posted at the the Maine Historical Society website. The historical society holds all of the Portland Rossini Club photos, newspaper clippings and concert programs from the 19th century until the 1960’s.

The book, Music and Musicians in Maine, contains over 100 references to the Portland Rossini Club. It includes directories of Maine musicians with information about many Rossini members.

History of the Gould Award

The Gould Award was a competition for young musicians who were high school juniors in the Portland, Maine area. The prize, originally for the four winners and two chaperones, was a trip to New York City to attend the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic, with a back-stage tour of the Metropolitan Opera House. Sometimes included in the trip was a Broadway show and/or a tour of Carnegie Hall. The trip usually occured the final weekend of February vacation, and it included two nights in a mid-town hotel. All transportation costs were paid, as was the cost of the hotel and admission to the performances. As funds dwindled and expenses increased, the number of winners was reduced to two, and the venue occasionally became more local.

For the competition, which occurred in January, students were required to perform from memory about ten minutes of music on any instrument or voice, in the classical idiom. There were three judges: two respected members of the Portland area musical community and one Portland Rossini Club officer.

The award was established and funded in 1949 by Ralph T. Gould, a Cape Elizabeth resident who recognized the benefits of this kind of trip for his own children and wished to share it with other young people who would benefit from it, but might not have the opportunity to do so. He asked the Portland Rossini Club, now the oldest active music club in the country, to administer the competition. Upon his death he left enough assets to continue the trips at least until the award’s fiftieth year, in 1999. There actually remained enough funds to maintain the competition until the award’s sixtieth year, in 2009.

Most who went on the trip felt that it was very worth-while. While more parents may be able to afford to take this kind of trip with their children than could in 1949, few have the time or the inclination. For these talented young people, it was a chance go with their peers to see first hand, world-class music performed in a highly sophisticated environment. They often received a realistic picture of what expectations are for professional musicians, which can be inspiring for some, as well as daunting. Some of these young people went on to careers in music. All, as a result of the trip, would have become more knowledgeable music appreciators.

There is a scrapbook, kept by Ocy Downs, and later, Beth Harmon, containing programs, tickets, notes, and memorabilia, etc. about Gould Award trips at the Maine Historical Society

It is for library use only, so it cannot be signed out. To access it, go to coll folder 2094; then go to Coll 1700 Series 2.

Click here for the Gould Award 50th Anniversary trip.