Reminiscences of Oscar Leon Moore
January 1, 2005
The eldest of eight siblings, Oscar Moore was born in Christiana, Lancaster County in Pennsylvania on November 30, 1913. His parents, Oscar H. (the H did not stand for anything) and Jane Zimmerman Moore, had deep ancestral roots in southeastern Pennsylvania. The Moore family can trace its ancestry back to Andrew Moore who arrived in New Castle, Delaware in 1701. Andrew immigrated from Ireland, but his family was originally from Scotland (Scotch-Irish). He migrated west to Atglen where he made wooden tubs and buckets (a cooper). The Moores were orthodox Quakers. Oscar's father was an insurance agent. His mother, Jane Zimmerman Moore, was raised a Mennonite on her parents farm. Her mother was related to Milton Hersey of the chocolate fortune. Later in their lives Jane's parents stopped supporting the Mennonite church and attended a Presbyterian church.
The Moore family raised their eight children in the Quaker faith. The eight were Oscar, Newlin, Caroline, Bob, Bill, Charlotte, Jane and Herbert. As of January 1, 2005 five of them still survive. Of the eight children only Oscar and Herbert exhibited obvious musical talent. Herbert became a good trumpet player. Oscar played the piano, tuba, trombone and cello. He became the premiere piano tuner in Chester County.
In 1923, when Oscar was not yet ten, his family moved to 811 Madison Street in the western portion of Coatesville. Madison Street and Eight Avenue in the eastern part of Coatesville would become benchmark locations in Oscar's life. Madison Street parallels Valley Road. The Moore family was located near the western boundary of Coatesville. It was shortly after the family had moved to Coatesville that Oscar started piano lessons. His teacher was Howard Thompson, and he charged one dollar for a one hour lesson. As Oscar recalls, Mr. Thompson did not need the money and was interested primarily in his students learning their lessons expertly.
By the time Oscar was in ninth grade in Coatesville he had stopped taking piano lessons because he had decided to play a band instrument. At first he wanted to play the saxophone, but Mr. Fred Orth, the Coatesville High School music director, needed a tuba player. This shows that by the time Oscar was in the ninth grade that his musical talent was apparent and appreciated. Although he took only a few lessons, he quickly learned how to play the tuba. Reading music was no problem because of the experience he had with the piano. His junior high school was located in the west end of Coatesville, so he was not able to play in the high school band while in the ninth grade, but the next year he entered senior high school, which at that time was located between Fifth and Sixth Avenues on the Lincoln Highway, and joined the high school band. During his senior high school years he played in the high school band in the school year. During the summer he played in the Downingtown High School band which was a bit like a community band of today. They paid him three dollars for each performance as well as picking up the trolley fares for the rides between Coatesville and Downingtown.
While in high school he noticed, but did not really meet Jean Marsh, his wife to be. She commuted by train to Coatesville High School from Gap and arrived early because of the train schedule. Oscar would be at school early for band, so he would see her waiting for classes to begin.
In 1931 he graduated from Coatesville High School and enrolled in the music program at West Chester State Teachers College (now West Chester University). It was a four year program, and his family could only afford to send him for one year. During that year he received another year of piano instruction.
Around this time he bought a trombone which he taught himself to play. Playing that trombone and pianos with dance bands enabled him to earn enough money to get through the Great Depression. About fifty years later he would get a bass trombone and finally get instruction from a professional, Lee Southall.
The Lukens Band entered Oscar's life around 1929 while he still was in high school. In that era the Lukens Band had few jobs - about half a dozen a year. The band rehearsed on the top of the Lukens Store on South First Avenue. Later in the 1930s the band rehearsals were moved to the top floor of the Eagles Building on North First Avenue. Later the rehearsals were held on the third floor of the Knights of Malta building at Fifth Avenue and Lincoln Highway. Carroll Mullen was conducting the band when Oscar joined. Carroll was followed by Charles Gates. His first concert with the Lukens Band was at Glenmoore and ended prematurely due to thunder and lightning. The band was playing the Poet and Peasant Overture.
The premier band in Coatesville was the Star Band. He attended some of their rehearsals but never played on a job with them. His recollection is that they rehearsed at the Washington Fire House between Third and Fourth Avenues on the Lincoln Highway. The Star Band conductor was Fred Orth (Oscar's former piano teacher). There was a problem with money in the Star Band, and it folded around 1935 leaving Coatesville with one adult band, the Lukens Band.
By 1938 Oscar was operating a gas station at Ninth Avenue and the Lincoln Highway. In his capacity as a manager he gave a high school student by the name of Earl Mayberry a job. Mayberry graduated around 1940, went into the armed forces of our country during World War II and then studied music at West Chester State Teachers College following the war. He graduated and began teaching in the Oxford, Pennsylvania school system. Mayberry succeeded Charles Gates as the conductor of the Lukens Band. The current conductor, Bob Herr, succeeded Mayberry.
Late in 1931 Oscar was invited to accompany Jean Marsh on a date with another couple. By this time both of them had graduated from high school - she in 1930 and he in 1931. Jean studied elementary education at Millersville State Teachers College and in two years earned a teaching certificate. At that time it was permissible to teach the lower grades after two years of college. Jean got a teaching job in Salisbury Township in Lancaster County and taught there for four years. On November 29, 1935 Jean and Oscar married. When the school administrators discovered she was married, she was compelled to relinquish her job because married women were not allowed to teach. After his marriage, Oscar joined the Methodist Church and for years has belonged to the Olivet Methodist Church in Coatesville.
By 1938 Jean and Oscar were living in an apartment at 123 East Main Street (Lincoln Highway) when their first child, Thomas, was born. Then they rented a house on Madison Street close to where Oscar, as a teenager, had lived with his parents. After that they rented a house owned by the man who also owned the gas station that Oscar managed. That house was on South Eight Street, a street on which Oscar would live for more than fifty years. While living there, their second child, Jean Ann, was born.
In 1940 Oscar stopped managing the gas station and got a job with Lukens Weld which was a subsidiary of Lukens Steel. The job paid fifty cents an hour which was enough for him to afford the $25 a month rent for a four bedroom house in Gap. With the advent of World War II he had to get along with a gas ration of three gallons of gas per week. No longer could he commute from Gap to his job in Coatesville. His family moved back both to Coatesville and Madison Street. This time he bought a row house for $2800. Their daughter, Susan, was born there in 1947. In 1948 or 1949 they sold the house on Madison Street for $6500 and moved into a house he had built at 40 South Eighth Avenue in Coatesville. They lived there until near the end of 2004. They now live in a ground floor garden apartment at 505 First Montgomery Boulevard in Thorndale.
It is fascinating how World War II changed the way schools viewed married women. In a short interval of time the country had gone from a labor surplus to one of extreme labor shortage. During the war Jean was asked to teach on a temporary basis in Coatesville. Soon this became a permanent job. She worked until she retired at the age of 65.
Another interesting aside is that while at Lukens Weld Oscar advanced from swinging a sledge hammer as an apprentice assembler to a safer and better job in estimation. In the estimation department one of his superiors asked him if there were any people he would recommend for estimation work. He suggested Charles Mast. Charlie Mast was a few years younger than Oscar, a good semipro baseball player and a clarinetist. He had joined the Lukens Band in 1932, about three years after Oscar had. Charlie Mast was offered a job and remained there until he retired about forty years later. In addition to a successful career at Lukens Weld and later Lukens, Charles Mast managed the Lukens Band for more than thirty years. Under his management the number of jobs the band booked steadily increased until it reached about 100 in a year.
In 1943 he joined the Masonic Temple and has belonged to that organization for sixty one years.
While all of this was going on in Oscar's life, his interest in pianos was growing into an obsession. By 1946 he was convinced that he could make pianos sound better. To reach that goal he knew that he must learn the piano tuner's trade which meant leaving his job at Lukens Weld and traveling to a piano tuning school located in Clearfield, Pennsylvania. Clearfield is about forty miles northwest of State College, so there was no possibility of commuting from Coatesville to Clearfield. While at the piano tuner's school he worked on his assignments from 7:00 in the morning until 10:00 at night. The long hours of work paid off because he completed most of the six month course in three months. Al Rockwell, the head of the school, told Oscar that all he needed to do to get his diploma was to attend a few lectures on theory near the end of the school term. So Oscar went back to Coatesville and quickly got all the piano business that he could handle. He did return to Clearfield for the piano theory lectures and received his diploma. Complementing the training he received at the piano tuner's school he learned more about the repairing of pianos at a piano store in Lancaster. For a while he was able to sell pianos at that store and for each new piano that he sold he would receive a commission of about $80. This was more than he had been earning in a week at Lukens Weld. Life was improving! He stopped working for the company in Lancaster when he started selling pianos as well as tuning them as part of his own business.
An interesting observation is that Oscar has never heard a piano that sounds completely right. Even in the best pianos there are some little things that cannot be corrected. A piano tuner listens for very low beat frequencies that identify the difference between two frequencies that the tuner wants to be identical. He can count beat rates up to eight beats per second and makes adjustments to reduce the beat rate to as low as he possibly can. Once in a while Oscar would encounter a piano that simply would not produce these low frequency beat rates. Such a piano was not a good piano, but it always turned out that the owner of such a piano did not care.
For about twenty years Oscar tuned all the pianos at what is now West Chester University. For one important event the University had him tune a special new grand piano that was to be played by a distinguished pianist from Baltimore. He completed the tuning about six hours prior to the performance so that the pianist could rehearse on the new piano. The soloist was not too pleased with the new piano and asked if he could rehearse on a second piano that was nearby. This one had not been tuned recently, but he preferred it to the new piano. Oscar was called in from Coatesville and got to the concert hall about forty five minutes prior to the beginning of the concert. He told them that it was only possible to brush up the tuning and that a complete tuning was not feasible. As people were entering the auditorium, Oscar was underneath the older piano making adjustments. The soloist later praised the tuning work that Oscar had achieved.
In the late 1970s the Lukens Band was searching for a vocalist to replace Eric Hutson who was leaving the area. Oscar suggested Florence Pollock Wilson whose piano he had tuned. She had been the soloist for the Chester City Band and has soloed for the Lukens Band ever since Oscar recommended her.
At the age of a about sixty Oscar knew that he had a heart problem. Open heart surgery took care of the immediate problem, but a change in lifestyle was needed. The change was to become more active. Riding a bicycle was the solution. He began to ride his bicycle around the Coatesville area, the US and Europe. When well into his 80s, he was struck, possibly by a car, while he was riding near his home in Coatesville. No one knows for sure what happened, and Oscar cannot remember the accident. The recovery from that accident was not complete. Also, symptoms of Parkinson's disease began to appear. He returned to play with the Lukens Band, but not with the regularity that he had supported it prior to the accident.
Over the years the bands that Oscar Moore has played in include the Lukens Band, New Holland Band, Tall Cedars of Lancaster and the Shrine Band of Reading. He played the cello in the Senior Citizens Orchestra in Lancaster. The cello is an instrument that he taught himself to play around the age of seventy.
The purpose of this brief biography has been to document some events in the life of a remarkable person whom many of us have known through his association with the Lukens Band. Oscar Moore has helped to guide many of us through musical pitfalls and has contributed substantially to the community of musicians in this region.