Let music ring at the Sanderson Museum

By Linda Banks, Special to The Times


A young Chris Sanderson, violin in hand.

Often, in an uncanny coincidence, visitors to the Christian C. Sanderson Museum bring experiences with them that dovetail with topics I have already chosen for my monthly articles. Three recent October museum visitors logged in with moments that Chris would have appreciated.  The first two guests were musicians scheduled to perform in Newark in the evening.

How like Chris to pack multiple activities into a day that included his own music performances in a broad, sustained range.  The third visitor was the sister of a man whom Chris had impressed years earlier.  Her mother had once offered “carless” Chris a ride during which Chris struck up a conversation with the young girl’s kindergarten brother.  Chris promised to mention the lad on his weekly radio show, and to the youngster’s great joy, Chris (of course) remembered.  “Brief Encounters of Great Meaning” could be the title of Chris Sanderson’s biography.  “Music to My Ears” could be the subtitle. 

In the heart of autumn, hayrides, hoedowns and square dances flourish.  All hearken back to the events in the very full music career of Christian Sanderson.  From the spring of his youth to the end of his years, Chris was filled with a passion for all kinds of music.  He was only seven years old when he took his first private violin lesson from John Deisher in Phoenixville.  Classmates clearly identified the figure of the young lad by the violin case and briefcase he carried wherever he went.  The violin (or fiddle) were so essential to Chris’s identity and routine that little mention is made of his steady musical progress, but in his first month away from home he wrote to his mother to tell her of a daring impromptu concert at college.  He and a new friend “played waltzes in the hall during study hour and got chased hot and heavy.”  Chris was so busy immersing himself in the people, lectures, and activities of college life that music was only one of many languages he found for expression — both serious and playful.  Spontaneous occasions blended easily with more rigorous traditional orchestra performances.

Though money was tight, adventures were many.  He thrilled to a John Phillip Sousa concert.  Chris marveled when the owner of a Philadelphia music store let him try out a 300-year-old violin.  At $2000, it made music that Chris claimed he could “never again expect to make.”  In 1901 Chris allowed himself to by hypnotized and while under he performed a difficult piece which he hadn’t attempted in three years and which he thought he would never be able to play for “any sum of money.”

Beyond college, Chris organized an orchestra from scratch at the Oak Grove School where he was both teacher and principal.   In 1932 he formed the Pocopson Valley Boys.  They (Bow Brown, guitar; Walter Meckley, banjo; Charles Brittingham, banjo; Harold Taylor, drums; and Chris, fiddle) performed on his radio show on WDEL, at the First National Folk Festival in Washington, D.C., at barn dances and square dances and holiday dances.  Posters for these events cover the walls at the Sanderson Museum.  Chris’s fiddle and craggy voice introduced square dancing to thousands of children who still recall his joy.  He performed at the Academy of Music and at the Fiddler’s Picnic in open fields.  He performed alone, with his band, and with Dinah Shore, Harry James, George Murphy and others in Philadelphia.  He brought great invention and vigor to every performance.

Music was also a major factor in Chris’s private life.  When he and his mother moved from their home of ten years, he played a somber “Home Sweet Home” on his violin to punctuate the memories they had created there.  He tenderly played his mother’s favorite song,”Sing Her to Sleep,” at her funeral (and vowed never to play it again after that day).  The Henderson High School band recognized Chris in an elaborate tribute in 1963.  In 1966 this band ushered his funeral through the city with a stately “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Learn much more about Chris Sanderson, his music and his many other interests by visiting the Christian C. Sanderson Museum located at 1755 Creek Road, Chadds Ford, PA, just north of Route 1.  Look through his music room and extensive autograph collection (Sousa, Kate Smith, Johann Strauss, Shirley Temple and hundreds of others) there from March through November, from Thursday through Sunday, from 12 to 4 P.M. or by appointment.  Admission is $5.00 for adults and free for members and children under 12 when accompanied by an adult.  You can also reach the museum at (610) 388 – 6545 or at www.sandersonmuseum.org.

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