Saturday, May 30, 2015

Josef Konecny - The Bohemian Virtuoso

As I have said a couple of times before, my great-grandmother Rosemary gave me the genealogy bug. She had this way of giving just enough details in a story to have you hooked but leaving so many details out that you had no choice but to try to investigate the rest of the story. This post is about one of those teaser stories she told me.

When I was in middle school, I started playing in the school band. I had been a rockstar on recorder in elementary school (as much a "rockstar" as anyone can be on recorder), and I wanted to continue my musical pursuits into sixth grade.

My first choice for an instrument was violin. I had been fascinated by it for as long as I could remember. The first music class I remember was in kindergarten, and we learned all of the instruments' names and sounds. Of course, being a "Disney" kid, I had already known most of them thanks to the movie "Fantasia," but that didn't matter. I had decided the violin was my favorite.

Well, we didn't have a strings program (yet) at my school, so violin wasn't an option. I went with my second favorite instead. I decided to learn flute.
My sixth grade school photo. We were supposed to bring something that was
important to us to have in our photo with us. I brought my flute, and I dressed in my concert band shirt.
Personal Collection of Brittany Jenkins
When I met my great-grandmother in 9th grade, I told her about my musical adventures. Since my parents were not musical, and I only knew my grandmother to play a little piano, I thought I was the first person in the family to really pick up any kind of instrument. My great-grandmother corrected me. She said we had other musical talents in the family. She said we had a "virtuoso" in the family.

That was it. That was all she said. She didn't say who. She didn't say what kind of music. She didn't say what instrument. Just "virtuoso." It was several years before I found out who he was.
A pamphlet or brochure about Josef
Found in the University of Iowa Digital Archives
Josef Konecny was born in Vienna, Austria on 5 March 1883 to Johann and Anna Konecny. He immigrated to America with his family in 1890 at the age of 7.

While I'm unsure when Josef first started playing the violin, it is clear that he studied with Bohemian instructors. Otakar Sevcik, who was a professor at the Vienna Imperial Conservatory, is the man most associated with being Josef's tutor. This leads me to believe he started learning violin before he immigrated to America.
Clipping from Perry NY Herald, issue dated 3 December 1913
I know very little about Josef's young life, but I do know that he enlisted for the United States Army for World War I as a touring musician overseas for the troops. This seemed to jumpstart his touring stateside. He seemed to tour actively until about 1920 (that's when he starts showing up in newspapers less).

Sometime before the 1930 census, he married his pianist, Mary A. Tris. They stayed in Illinois through the 1940 census. I'm not sure what really happened to them after WWII (though I do see them in a couple of city directories in Illinois up until 1950), but I find Josef listed in the California Death Index in 1976.

I don't think Josef and Mary had any children, but I am still investigating their lives as a married couple, so it is still possible.
Taken from Josef's 1920 passport renewal application
  • 1900 Chicago, Cook County, Illinois U.S. Federal Census (accessed on Ancestry)
  • 1930 Maywood, Cook County, Illinois U.S. Federal Census (accessed on Ancestry)
  • 1940 Creve Coeur, Tazewell County, Illinois U.S. Federal Census (accessed on Ancestry)
  • "Baraca Enterainment Course: Josef Konecny & Company," 3 December 1913, Perry NY Herald, Perry, New York (accessed on Chronicling America)
  • Josef Konecny brochure (accessed at Iowa Digital Library)
  • "Josef Konecny: The Bohemian Violin Virtuoso," 29 September 1920, Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune, Wisconsin (accessed on Chronicling America)
  • Passport applications and renewal applications (accessed on Ancestry)

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