George Frederick McKay
In 1934, at age 18, the Depression had pretty well determined that my subsequent years would be doomed to mediocrity, but my high school music instructor suggested a try for aNational Youth Administration grant, one of FDR's innovations, and if successful, report to Professor George Frederick McKay in the music school. This came about, and Prof. McKay rescued me from leaf raking on campus. He put me to work copying his compositions for publication, for I had previous experience at this. This was an enjoyable job and one from which my musical knowledge grew.
Professor McKay, in my estimation, was a guardian angel, but he didn't know it; his kindness toward me has been often remembered. Sitting in his office, I made musical arrangements for radio programs and did my class assignments. "Find a way to develop that theme" or "the tenors are too high," he would say. When a man came in for a flute accompaniment, the professor would turn the job over to me. When the man came back to offer a painting in lieu of paying, I declined, saying I was glad to do it for free. It later turned out he was Mark Tobey.
Professor McKay wrote the music for the dance drama Epoch in conjunction with the drama school. Its music and choreography portrayed four American poets. I was allowed to do the piano part in the performance. His composition classes gave us experience in writing for voices and various instrumental combinations, which were followed by concert performances.
Since graduating from the University in 1939, my own musical career has been enhanced by my association with Professor McKay. As a church organist, I secured compositions by him that I had copied many years before. Writing arrangements for church choirs followed. On retiring, I directed various choirs and started the Seattle Welsh Choir, from which more arrangements followed. In 1999 my works were sung by the Tacoma Master Chorale and I have recently won a contest in Wales for voice settings. George McKay retired to the Arizona desert to write its music and I have continued to remember him over the years for the kindness, guidance and interest shown to me as a young man, trying to find a way in the world.
Benton G. Williams, '39
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