Creating connections through the arts and across cultures

Girlhood mentor led a writer-to-be to love music (by Mary E. Trimble)

Mary and I met through Women Writing the West. Through an email conversation with my father (Erwin A. Thompson), I found out about her musical education in childhood. I'd love to know how her lessons in tone on her clarinet might have influenced her writing.


Music with Hugo Schneider
by Mary Trimble

I began clarinet group lessons in the fourth grade. My teacher “roved” from one school to another, teaching instrument lessons. One day my mother was at our group class, at his request. After the lesson he drew us aside and told us his budget allowed him to have a few students to teach on an individual basis and, since he saw promise in my playing, he requested that I become one of his individual students. We continued that until the end of the school year, when he again asked my mother to come to school.

“I’ve taken Mary about as far as I can,” he said. He was really a trumpet player and, although I thought he was good, he felt he wasn’t doing me justice. But he thought he could talk Hugo Schneider, a retired Seattle Symphony player, into taking me on as a student.

Apparently Mr. Schneider did not like the idea–he had no students and didn’t want any. He was a gruff, old German fellow, happy to be left alone puttering in his shop. But, as a favor to his friend, he agreed to at least give me an audition.

My mother and I took the two buses to his home across Seattle. His gruffness scared me, but I made myself assemble my clarinet together and get out my music. He scowled. “Well, let’s see what you can do.” I glanced at my mother, she was as nervous as I.

I played the music my previous music teacher and I had worked on. Mr. Schneider sat forward in his chair. After finishing, he handed me a page of sheet music. “Here, play this.”

This was the beginning of a long and lasting relationship. Mr. Schneider would only accept $1.50, the hourly rate at that time, but I was usually at his house for two or three hours. He encouraged me to bring my music from school–I eventually held first-chair clarinet in both the high school band and orchestra. In my junior year, I auditioned for and was accepted into the Seattle Youth Symphony. I’ll never forget Mr. Schneider’s whoop of joy when I phoned and told him I’d been accepted. We worked on that music, too. He’d join in and we’d play duets. When I thought my lip would fall off, I sat back and listened to him. He could play anything–classical, jazz, anything. But he was more than my music teacher–he was like a grandfather to me.

One of Mr. Schneider’s greatest emphasis was “tone.” A woodwind player can be technically correct but still not have that something special that is recognizable as a good instrumentalist, unless the tone is good. When I first started, Mr. Schneider wrote exercises for me. Once he found one single note that met his “tone” requirement, he wrote more music for me, coming back to that note time and again, until all the notes had that certain quality. Forever more, I received compliments on my tone. I would pass these remarks on to Mr. Schneider. “Of course,” he would say.

One day while at school, my B flat key broke during orchestra practice. I panicked–it was a serious problem. That evening was a Seattle Youth Symphony concert. I called Mr. Schneider from school. In his mind, there was no question what had to be done. He would meet me at Gruber’s, the only shop he would consider having instruments repaired. I left school, took the two buses across town and sure enough, there he was, waiting for me at Gruber’s.

Mr. Schneider watched with a careful eye while the repairs were being made, then had me try my clarinet out to be sure all was in order. He was a professional and would settle for nothing less. He paid for the repairs. Of course, my parents repaid him, but that’s the kind of man he was.

I am so thankful I could participate in music. It helped me gain poise and self-confidence. In addition to orchestra, band and Seattle Youth Symphony, I gave solo performances and actually enjoyed doing so. Mr. Schneider was a vital part of my youth–he was my mentor, my friend, my grandfather.


Mary E. Trimble writes mainstream and coming-of-age novels with contemporary western settings. Her recently released novel Tenderfoot is a romantic suspense novel with the sub-plot of the Mount St. Helens eruption of 1980. Her coming-of-age books Rosemount and sequel McClellan's Bluff have been met with wide acclaim, with McClellan's Bluff receiving an EPIC award. She lives on Camano Island, Washington with her husband Bruce. Their four children also live in the Northwest.

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5 Responses »

  1. Janet,

    Thank you for allowing me to share an important part of my childhood on your interesting site. It's hard to say, isn't it, how much good mentoring such as I received from Hugo Schneider accomplishes. I can't imagine my childhood without music. Looking back, I know I took Mr. Schneider for granted--he was just there. But now I know what a treausure he was and how much he had to do with my sense of self.

  2. Mary,

    Yes, we often don't know the influence we have on the lives around us. I'm sure your musical training shaped some of your writing rhythm. There is so much cross-over between art forms that are so subtle we aren't aware of them.

    Thanks for sharing your story.

    Janet Riehl

  3. Dear Mary and Janet,
    This is a delightful story and I like Janet's reference to how music helped shape your writing rhythm, Mary. Voice is where it shows, also. I wish my piano teacher hadn't been a "dirty old man" or I would have stayed longer and gained a better rhythm!

  4. Arletta is right -- it's a delightful story. I played French horn, and although different from reed instruments, that "tone" is also required. Did it help me write? I don't know. But I think that both music and good writing can communicate more than just meaning, they can communicate beauty and life.

  5. Mary Trimble's latest novel, Tenderfoot, is a finalist for the Western Writers of America Spur Award!

    For those unfamiliar with the Spur Awards, here's a quote from their "WWA Awards Program"

    The Spur Awards, given annually for distinguished writing about the American West, are among the oldest and most prestigious in American literature. In 1953, when the awards were established by WWA, western fiction was a staple of American publishing. At the time awards were given to the best western novel, best historical novel, best juvenile, and best short story.

    Since then the awards have been broadened to include other types of writing about the West. Today, Spurs are offered for the best western novel (short novel), best novel of the west (long novel), best original paperback novel, best short story, best short nonfiction. Also, best contemporary nonfiction, best biography, best history, best juvenile fiction and nonfiction, best TV or motion picture drama, best TV or motion picture documentary, and best first novel (called The Medicine Pipe Bearer's Award).

    Winners of the Spur Awards in previous years include Larry McMurtry for Lonesome Dove, Michael Blake for Dances With Wolves, Glendon Swarthout for The Shootist, and Tony Hillerman for Skinwalker

    Hey, Mary! Big Shout out.

    Janet Riehlo

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