From The Early Beginnings
One of only three women to be awarded the Lucius Clay Medal in Germany (Eleanor Dulles in1985, Meredith McClain in 2001, and German Chancellor, Angela Merkel in 2009), Meredith was born in the small Central Texas town of Georgetown, to an inspired father and devoted mother. As a child, she, like her older brother Martin and many young Americans, took private piano lessons. Martin moved on to a chemistry lab in the garage and a trumpet, while Meredith at age 11 bargained with her parents to reduce the piano and take up the flute. Blessed with an outstanding flute teacher, Ralph Jones at Southwestern University, and winning Texas competitions, Rosamond and Will Kelly entrusted their daughter with an excellent instrument and enrolled her in the 1960 Oberlin Conservatory Class in Oberlin, Ohio.
"I know for sure that it was the international aspect of the Conservatory program that got Mother's attention." Oberlin was able to take advantage of the post-WWII economy from 1959 to 1964 and send junior-year conservatory students to Europe—not just to Europe, but specifically to the Mozarteum in Mozart's charming, baroque hometown of Salzburg, Austria. As a valuable prelude, Meredith attended the Oberlin College study-abroad program in Vienna during the summer of 1962, thus arriving in Salzburg to meet her classmates from the USA in an Austrian "Dirndl" and speaking "Austrian"-German. At age 2O, Meredith was launched on her life-long evolution as a bi-lingual musician, fascinated with the differences and similarities between German and English, Germany and Texas. "One of many musical highpoints for me in Salzburg was the honor of winning the 1st chair flute position for Debussy's "Afternoon of a Faun" in the Mozarteum Concert Hall. Playing that opening solo in that setting was simply thrilling."
In the spring of 1964, a solo recital at Oberlin completed her degree in Flute Performance. However, she did not go to New York to audition for a job, but rather went back to Central Texas to the German Department at the University of Texas-Austin, one of the largest and best graduate German programs in America. An audition with the Austin Symphony secured Meredith the 2nd chair, assisting her soon-to-be friend and mentor, flutist Wolf Jessen.
In 1966 Meredith was selected for the one-year academic study exchange position with the Free University in Berlin. There was palpable air of excitement in the German capital city, especially at Berlin Philharmonic concerts with Herbert van Karajan. However, Meredith experienced a depressing frustration at the huge university classrooms where professors read their lectures in rarified German to 300 or 400 students. “Wirklich, gar nicht gut!”
"My conscience really plagued me. I knew that I had been given this wonderful opportunity to study German, but it simply wasn't working for me, while the excitement of each musical performance I experienced in the "Zirkus Karajani," was breath-taking new territory." Without any idea of the "normal”, very long recommendation chain, waiting period and necessary etiquette of approach, Meredith looked up the phone number of the first chair flutist of the Berlin Philharmonic, Karlheinz Zöller, and asked if she could have lessons. Herr Zöller was so surprised that he simply asked what kind of flute she was playing and the proud answer: "An open-holed Powell" got her an audition, then regular lessons, plus concert tickets, a trip to the Dresden Zwinger to hear the first concert by the Berlin Philharmonic wind section, since the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961, and even an invitation to join Zöller's summer master class in Salzburg. “Wirklich, sehr, sehr gut!”
With a completed dissertation exploring the rhythmic patterns of Friedrich Hölderlin's poetry, fueled by Georgiades' insights into Greek rhythm and by the relativity of Heraclitus' Fragments, Dr. McClain was hired in the fall of 1976 by Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas. Her very first summer assignment as Assistant Professor was leadership of the TTU summer program in Vienna. A happy spiral backwards, forwards: The new is the old; the different is the same.
In Radebeul, a suburb of Dresden, where the Karl May Museum is established in May's lovely mansion, there is an intersection at which the street named "Hölderlin" suddenly becomes "Karl May Street." And so it was with the research direction of the new "tenure-track" faculty member on the Llano Estacado. "The desire to connect with my immediate community and discover any trace of German heritage on the High Plains, caused me to meet ranchers and farming people from Slaton to Darrouzett. I was looking for concrete reasons rooted in this region to explain the up-hill battle required to grow an excellent German program in the Department of Germanic and Slavic Languages at Texas Tech. The most influential and lasting proof by example came from my friend and mentor, Georgia Mae Smith Ericson, granddaughter of the first European American settler on the Llano, Heinrich Schmitt."
Researcher McClain knew she was onto something when she discovered that Heinrich Schmitt was born in the Bavarian village of Rossbrunn in the same year as the Republic of Texas was created, 1836. Even more portending was the fact that Hank Smith, as he called himself in America, died in 1912, the same year as Karl May, the most published writer in the German language and second only to Louis L'Amour in world fiction. Here was the personal connection she had been looking for to link her professional life as German teacher and writer with her passion for German culture and history. The academic documentation of Heinrich Schmitt and Karl May as "Doppelgänger" expanded to "European Fascination with the Llano Estacado" and "Karl May's Llano Estacado and the Reality Today" ("Doppelgänger: Parallel Lives" in: Vistas, Summer 2004, Vol. 12, No. 2, pp. 40 - 45)
All of her research strands came together in an 11-panel traveling exhibit "German Texans and the Llano Estacado Connection," created in time for the opening of The International Karl May Symposium, held in September of 2000 in Lubbock (3 days in the Civic Center during the National Cowboy Symposium and Celebration, and on the Tech campus—4 days in the Southwest Collection and International Cultural Center), followed by a week-long "Winnetour" over the Llano Estacado to New Mexico for 42 German members of the Karl May Society attending the symposium.
A copy of the exhibit travels throughout Germany from its home base at the Karl-May-Haus Museum in Hohenstein-Ernstthal. The original exhibit is on permanent loan to the Crosby County Pioneer Memorial Museum in Crosbyton, Texas. The Karl May Society also created a "special edition" catalog of the entire exhibit in German, enriched with introductory articles by the Society's President, Dr. Reinhold Wolff, who considered the history of German Immigration to Texas to be a lost chapter in the large book of Karl May Studies. Thanks to a nomination from the very influential Karl May Society, supported by many other Germans, Dr. McClain was awarded the German Cross of Honor for her tireless efforts to connect Germans and Americans and promote friendship and understanding between the two cultures. (Awarded 2002 in Houston.) TTU news sources reported the two awards to the public: Daily Toreador, 2001 (the campus newspaper); Texas Techsan, 2002 (the university's alumni publication); and the CMLL Newsletter, 2002 (Department of Classical & Modern Languages & Literatures).
The success of the Karl May Symposium, reported on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, "the first in North America," as the Karl May Society members like to say, was given highest marks by the international participants. Dr. McClain, instigator and main organizer, was encouraged and supported by Tech's President, Don Haragan, and by Provost, John Burns. Dr. Haragan even made a trip to Germany in the summer of 1998 to meet Dr. Wolff in person in Berlin and officially deliver the invitation to the Karl May Society to come to Lubbock. Dr. Burns suggested the creation of a Karl May Archive in the Southwest Collection and that announcement caused all ten of the leading directors of Karl May establishments in Germany to be present for the symposium. Nobody wanted to miss that event! He also helped with in-kind funding advice so that without any funds from the College of Arts and Sciences, the seven-day event, plus following tour, all expenses and guest reservations and transportation were handled according to a budget from the account of the Southwest Center for German Studies, which Dr. McClain had created in 1983 to facilitate her "extra-curricular" activities with the Texas Tech German Dancers.
"The Texas Tech German What?" you ask. Yes, German dancers.
Lucius Clay Medal
Awarded 2001 in
Oberlin Conservatory Jr. year abroad
Capital of the Llano Estacado
Georgia Mae Smith Ericson
Queen of the Llano Estacado
Wall Street Journal
Front Page Article
March 11, 2001
Karl May Birth Haus Museum
Crosby County Pioneer Museum, Crosbyton, Texas
Dr. Reinhold Wolff
President of the Karl May Society
Special Edition Exhibit Catalog published by the KMS in German, "Deutsch Texaner und Ihre Beziehung zum Llano Estacado"
German Cross of Merit
Awarded 2002, Houston, Texas