It was an old, cool, church-like auditorium with high stucco walls and an arched roof. In the audience sat 500 Mexico City high school girls wearing blue school uniforms. On stage were five Harvard students playing chamber music.
As the quintet played the four movements of a Mozart divertimento the girls buzzed. At the end of each movement they applauded loudly. After playing some Hindemith, the quintet demonstrated their instruments and let some of the girls try them. Then the quintet finished with Ibert and the San Antonio chorale of Haydn.
The dark-eyed girls responded with an uproar. They clapped wildly, shouted, jumped out of their seats. When their teachers stilled the pandimonium, the girls sang Mexican folksongs under a fiercely gesticulating director. But as soon as the songs were finished, the girls thronged the quintet, seeking autographs, asking about the music, asking about the musicians.
The happy recipients of this adulation were members of the Harvard Woodwind Quintet, an off-shoot of the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra. On a grant from the American Embassy in Mexico City they gave 16 concerts during 20 days in Mexico last month.
During the summer of 1962 the members of the quintet--Gerald O. Grow '64, clarinet; Pamela Campbell '63, flute; Glenn Sproul '65, French horn; Carl Schlaikjer '61, oboe; and David Klauser '63, bassoon--took part in the HRO tour of Mexico.
Playing together one morning in a park, they were heard by a representative of the Mexican-American Cultural Institute which arranges cultural exchanges. She came up and asked them to tour Mexico themselves next summer.
After labyrinthine negotiations, the quintet arrived in the busy steel town of Monterrey Aug. 21 for a television concert. Then they flew to Mexico City.
Besides playing at the girls' school, the quintet gave concerts at four other high schools, at the University of Mexico, and at the Cultural Institute Building. The Institute concert drew a noisy, warm, formal audience and received good notices in the Mexico City press.
The school and university concerts were more unconventionally rewarding. After the quintet's performance at a boys' high school, a tall wiry cheerleader bounded on stage to lead a lusty, "Rah-rah-rah Harvard." Then the boys sang the Mexican National Anthem.
The quintet reciprocated by singing the "Star Spangled Banner" to a slow piano accompaniment in five somewhat off-key parts. As they left, the quintet were given water-colors, silver key-rings, and diaries made in the school shop.
In all the schools the quintet received effusive introductions and baskets of flowers--either real or plastic. But the response to the music was even warmer than the introductions.
The format of all five school concerts resembled the one at the girls' school. Demonstrations of the instruments--most of which the students had not seen before--took up a quarter of each program. The demonstrations included brief talks in Spanish by quintet members.
After each concert came cheering and a crush of autograph seekers. "I guess I signed a thousand autographs," Gerald Grow said.