Greek-American Historical Museum of Washington State

“The Softest Clarinet in the World”
, / 0 0

“The Softest Clarinet in the World”

Nicholas Oeconomacos

8-oenomonocus-pose-b-web1If one saw Nicholas Oeconomacos on the streets of Seattle in the 1920s he appeared as a character from an old, scary Transylvanian movie. Rather, the Greek musician was the principal clarinetist with the Seattle Symphony.

Oeconomacos first joined the Symphony about 1910 and was called “the softest clarinet in the world” by then conductor Homer Hadley. Oeconomacos made two world tours with John Philip Sousa before settling in Seattle. Sousa said he was the best clarinet player ever to appear in his band. Virtuoso Oeconomacos would walk in downtown Seattle in a black cape, a big fedora using a studded cane and often carrying his caged canary.

clarinet_002As with many performers, the Great Depression had its effect on Oeconomacos. Thus he would often be seen playing on the streets to earn money. He was eventually kicked out of his first home in Seattle’s Cascade neighborhood but somehow managed to stay in the area. The clarinetist’s second home was located in what is now the Mercer Street corridor. The photograph illustrates the unique style and ornate additions on Oeconomacos’ home.

This new home was called the House of the Terrestrial Globe. There were clarinet_003two large circle ornaments on the home. According to Paul Dorpat, “There was a little sidewalk sign near the home that read ‘Enjoy Living Music’ most likely made by Arthur Lingenbrink.” Lingenbrink was a photographer and signmaker who befriended Oeconomacos.

Next to this home, the clarinetist created his Garden of Memories with fluted columns and other classical ornaments that reminded him and his audience that he first practiced in the shadow of the Parthenon. He obtained most of the garden items from second hand and junk stores. The sign in the garden picture on the left reads “living music” and marks the spot where he is reported to have played his last solo concert.

garden       GARDEN PAINTING

NIECEThe oil painting of the “Garden of Memories” was purchased from the estate of Ronald Phillips, long time clarinetist with the Seattle Symphony.

The last photo shows the clarinetist’s niece posing inside her uncle’s home for a Seattle Post-Intelligencer photographer. After his death in 1945, his niece made the mistake of telling reporters that she could not find the $1,500 that her uncle had told her he had hidden in the house. The house was broken into for several months by those searching for the hidden money. It was a sad ending for the flamboyant virtuoso.

By John Nicon, February 2011
1 Nicholas Oeconomacos
2 Oeconomacos with young friends
3 Oeconomacos home
4/5 Oeconomacos’ Garden of memories
6 Oeconomacos’ niece
Photo 1 courtesy of Arthur Lingenbrink; Photos 2 and 3 courtesy of Museum of History & Industry; Photos 4 and 5 sources unknown; Photo 6 courtesy of The Seattle Times
“Now and Then” by Paul Dorpat, Seattle Times, Pacific Northwest Magazine, 2002; “The Lost Clarinetist” by Junius Rochester, Arts and Leisure, Seattle Weekly, November 3, 1982.