Past Times

Symphony conductor was a man of many talents

Lamar Stringfield had an appreciation for all types of machines.
Lamar Stringfield had an appreciation for all types of machines. Lamar Stringfield Photographic Collection, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, UNC-Chapel Hill

A historical marker on Person Street near the Governor’s Mansion honors Raleigh native Lamar Stringfield. A Pulitzer Prize winning composer, Stringfield helped organize the North Carolina Symphony and served as its first conductor. He also composed the music for Paul Green’s “The Lost Colony.” In 1949, writer Mae Finch visited Stringfield in his Charlotte home/workshop and found quite an interesting character.

There is probably not another shop in the whole world like Lamar Stringfield’s flute-making shop in Charlotte.

The casual visitor would scarcely believe that amid the clutter of unorthodox tools and apartment furnishings lives the world’s third greatest flutist. Such, however, is the reputation of Raleigh’s native composer, flutist and symphony conductor.

Stringfield’s shop is so sandwiched in between big businesses with bigger outside signboards that it is hard to find his name in small letters on an uninviting door that leads to his workshop-apartment.

The dullness of the clutter is offset, however, by the liveliness and enthusiasm of this musical genius. Ordinary plumbers tools, scissors, dental forceps, letter openers, crochet hooks and women’s curling irons make up part of his tools for fashioning tone-perfect flutes.…

Proud of his shop, Stirngield says he can make anything, from a fountain pen to an automobile. He displays pens he made especially for writing music. He keeps every machine perfectly cleaned and oiled. Dental supplies and tools are in evidence among his electrically powered precision lathes, grinders and polishers. Whatever he lacks in tools, he fashions with the tools he has. When the photographer’s camera broke down on this assignment, he made a screw to fit it.

He lives in his shop, tools and household furnishings being impartially mixed in every room.

“I live like a dog,” he says. “I sleep when I’m sleepy, I eat when I’m hungry, I observe no hours nor schedules.” His interest in food is simply to sustain energy. When hunger pangs say it’s mealtime, he whips up his favorite, Greenwich Village spaghetti, or an omelet.

Eating in his shop saves the time it would require to dress to go out, and besides he admits that he “can cook better than any of the people in the business.” He keeps a big lathe in the kitchen opposite the stove because he can “turn a flute and whip up an omelet at once.” He often eats standing up.

His work day is as irregular as his eating habits. He goes to bed anywhere between 9 and 11 and gets up at midnight for three or four hours of work, “when every one else is asleep.” He sleeps again from dawn until mid-morning. About 1 p.m., he takes another snooze, “when everybody else must be at work.” The intervals in between naps are jam-packed with work.

Sometimes he is teaching, sometimes composing, sometimes engraving music plates, or whatever he prefers. With it all, he enforces six hours of daily practice on the flute.

He cannot seem to get along without his flute for long. Even when talking, he usually has the flute in his hands, running his fingers through the scales and touching it silently to his lips.

He fills stacks of notebooks full of reminders – when to go conduct his Charlotte Symphonette, which he organized or when to give one of his frequent flute concerts – and he never refers to the notes again. Merely writing engagements down helps him remember them, he says, and reserves his mental effort for other things.

He neither drinks nor smokes. He is not opposed to tobacco, he says, but declares that he lost three years “taking time out for a smoke.”

He continually races to make the most of time. He is writing two books, one on “The Simplicity of Advanced Orchestration” and the other on the history of the organization of the North Carolina Symphony. He perfected the organization plan in 1927-35 and says it has become a standard for organizing civic and state orchestras across the country. It was the most workable plan in the Federal Music Project, he asserts, until that movement was “ruined by politics.…”

He says his interests require a lot of work, but “work ceases to be work when it becomes a first pleasure.” The N&O May 22, 1949

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