Monterey Herald GO! Magazine
Thursday July 3, 2014

Barbara Rose Shuler, Intermezzo

Book pulls back curtain on women behind Bach Fest
Dene Denny and Hazel Watrous a huge influence on Carmel
by Barbara Rose Shuler

Book CoverAuthor and lecturer David Gordon has poured his prodigious talents into an important new book about the lives and influence of Dene Denny and Hazel Watrous, whose partnership inspired an artistic Renaissance in Carmel in the early part of the last century. These two amazing women are best known as the founders of the Carmel Bach Festival and the Carmel Music Society, but only scattered information has been available about them until now.

Many of us who have connections to the Carmel artistic scene have yearned to know more about these entrepreneurs. Where did they come from? What education did they have? How did they meet? Why did they come to Carmel? How did they achieve so much as women in a male-dominated society?

In the midst of the Great Depression, as Gordon says, they founded the Carmel Music Society and the Carmel Bach Festival, ran a repertory theater in Monterey and a concert series in San Jose for two decades. They also designed Carmel's first art gallery and three dozen of its early houses, among their many accomplishments. Gordon's account is a rich and detailed investigation into the Denny-Watrous legacy and their prominence in the cultural history of 20th century California. As a writer, scholar and esteemed dramaturge of the Carmel Bach Festival, Gordon is the ideal person to have undertaken this biography.

"I think the things I want to express in this book include elements that I did not expect to encounter," he said in an interview. "I went into it naively thinking I was researching the history of a couple of musical organizations. But it became clear that the big theme is that no one in this story did what they did alone. And that everyone was in partnership with everybody else.

"The second question is: Why did Hazel and Dene's organizations survive; how did they set them up differently? They set them up so that people cooperated with each other. ... They brought harmony to the community."

Gordon said that as his research unfolded, he realized most of the movers and shakers in the story were women.

"The women of Carmel showed how important and influential they could be in the arts," he said. "And the organization that survives is built on grass roots so that the desire for what's happening comes from the people. And not from somebody above who wants to fix things. That's the case in human life always, especially in small towns."

Gordon said the Carmel Music Society came into being by bringing people together and gently moving aside those who wanted to take over and establish control, thus creating a consensus atmosphere that eliminated resentment against powerful individuals. This model also formed the basis for the Carmel Bach Festival.

"Organizations thrive because of this approach," he said. "If you build your project so that people get excited and want to cooperate with each other, it works. Hazel and Dene brought understanding and cooperation across all social boundaries, racial boundaries, political boundaries and socio-economic levels. So, for instance, you had wealthy people and a garage mechanic singing in the Bach Festival chorus." In the beginning, Gordon expected the book would focus largely on Bach and the Carmel Bach Festival, but this deeper aspect of collaboration emerged as the main theme.

He writes in the book:

"Dene and Hazel were life-long teachers who sought to deepen people's love of the arts and understand each other and they often accomplished this by offering the community a real sense of engagement in the creative process. For three decades, they partnered with each other, with their colleagues and with their neighbors. Their story shows us that there is strength in partnership; that it's good for people to connect on many levels with each other; and that we can evolve as individuals, organizations, communities and societies if we find ways to work together toward common, uplifting goals.

"Dene and Hazel did their work in the arts but the same principals apply to all of life, and are the true meaning of 'evolution.' It's not a matter of 'survival' or 'winning.' Evolution is about partnering: creating an integrative relationship from which something new emerges, something enduring that we never could have accomplished alone."

"Carmel Impresarios: A Cultural Biography of Dene Denny and Hazel Watrous" includes nearly 300 vintage photos and illustrations and an extensive appendix.

The book may be purchased at Lucky Valley Press at and is on the shelves of the Pilgrim's Way Community Bookstore in Carmel.