In the summer of 1939, Mother (Margaret Inabnit Orvis) played in a small musical group they called the Ladies’ Ensemble. That was a group of musicians from Billings, probably organized by Melville Moss, who was a daughter of P. B. Moss, a prominent and wealthy Billings banker. The Moss family sandstone house was the most elaborate dwelling in our town and is now open for public tours.
Melville played string bass and also harp, but I think she left the harp at home. Other members of the ensemble were Jean Todd, viola, Mary Vaughan, clarinet (if I remember correctly), and Elsie Spencer, violin. Mother was the pianist when they played for tea in the afternoons, and she hastily learned to play the drums so she could be a part of the dance band in the evenings. There was a sixth lady who covered the piano part for dancing: Marguerite Behrendt.The first five women I named are immortalized in a picture I found in about 1998, while researching for Yellowstone Treasures. I was reading the June 1940 issue of the National Geographic in my local library. There on the page was a picture of Morning Glory Pool with eight people, five of whom were members of the ensemble. The one seated to the far right is my mother, next to her Elsie, a good family friend and my sister Joan’s violin teacher. Imagine my amazement in finding my mother in an old Geographic!
The Ladies’ Ensemble did not play from the crow’s nest near the top of the Old Faithful Inn lobby as some musical groups did. Naturally, they could not hoist a piano up there, so they set up near the fireplace. While the musicians rehearsed in the Inn during the quiet time of late morning, Joan and I would sometimes make the halls our playhouse, hiding from each other and trying to be invisible to the maids.
More from Janet’s memoirs in the next post in this series . . . .
The full article “Celebrating an Old Faithful Area Seventieth Anniversary,” was published in August 2009 in The Geyser Gazer Sput, Vol. 23, No. 4, pp. 5-8.
Janet wrote a longer version of these memoirs at the instigation of Park Historian Lee Whittlesey, and they are now preserved in the library of the Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center in Gardiner, Montana.