Background and Education
Largely forgotten, composer and orchestra leader Harry Runkle Auracher was born in Creston, Iowa, on February 21, 1886, to George Auracher, a plumber, and Mary F. Runkle Auracher. Harry's sister Ruth, born just under two years after Harry and also a professional musician, later told a reporter, “My mother was a fine pianist, and she taught my brother and me the foundation of music, the rest I have learned in the world of experience. I started playing for shows at the theatre in my home town when I was a little girl.”
Young Harry seems to have led a similar life because he was nicknamed “the boy pianist.” The November 6, 1914 issue of the Baltimore Evening Sun states that Auracher wrote his first march at 14. As a youth, Harry also traveled and performed locally in Agnew’s Juvenile Band, directed by Frank E. Agnew, who owned a Creston clothing store.
Harry Auracher attended Michigan Military Academy where, according to the Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society, he played tuba in the band. Other sources, including David Jasen, say he played trombone. Michigan Military Academy, Orchard Lake, Michigan, Twenty-eighth Year, September, 1904 lists Auracher among the 1903 graduates.
After leaving Michigan Military Academy, Auracher attended Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois, where he joined Phi Delta Theta fraternity and, according to a 1925 Saratoga, New York newspaper, “thumped pianos at fraternity house parties.” The 1907 yearbook--the year of his graduation--reveals that he sang in the Men's Glee Club and served as accompanist.
Multiple newspaper sources indicate that Auracher caught the attention of Princeton University, said to have recognized his potential for contributing to its music productions. The Catalogue of Princeton University, 1906-1907 lists H. R. Auracher as a “Student Qualifying for Regular Standing,” which may indicate the university had admitted him based on his talent rather than standard academic qualifications.
In April 1907, Pittsburgh's Daily Post credits Harry Auracher and six other Princeton Triangle Club members with writing The Mummy Monarch, an original show then on tour in Pittsburgh. “The performance of The Mummy Monarch demonstrated that while the boys may be getting an education in the classics, they are managing to keep pace with the moderns," the paper declared; “There are men who are responsible for some of the late comic operas given us by the professionals who might go learn of these Princeton undergraduates how to do the thing well. For both the book and music of The Mummy Monarch were composed by the students who presented it, and the opera has more go and fun in it than many a work that has been palmed off on the public as ‘the hit of the season.’”
In the Directory of Living Alumni of Princeton University, 1917, Auracher’s name appears second in an alphabetical list of 1910 graduates, but the volume provides neither an abbreviation to indicate his major, nor a current address, both of which are included for the majority of alumni.
Auracher's Music Career: The Beginnings, 1908-1912
I am a retired community college professor and the great-granddaughter of composer, orchestrator, arranger, organist, and teacher William Christopher O'Hare.
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