Operetta Performance at Ramsey Junior High in Minneapolis: 1932-1966

Article excerpt

As we enter the twenty-first century, middle-level music education (grades six through eight or nine) remains in turmoil regarding appropriate curricular offerings for young adolescents. Should music offerings be primarily performance-oriented? Should music be required of every student? What level of performance should be expected of young adolescents? How is musical experience balanced with the developmental needs of students? Are there musical experiences outside of large-group performance experiences that would attract more students to musical learning? As the profession struggles with these issues, it is important to look back at nearly a century of experience with middle-level education for models of excellence to determine the factors that contributed to their success.

One such model was the operetta performance tradition at Ramsey Junior High School in Minneapolis, due in part to the large number of operettas presented, the commitment of two teachers to giving students abundant vocal performance opportunities at the junior high level, and the perceived success of the operetta performances by community members. Between 1932 and 1966, students at Ramsey presented more than sixty-seven operettas in addition to regular choral, oratorio, and cantata performances. The operettas were full-scale productions with lighting, scenery, and costumes, and in the early years it was not unusual for the students to present four operettas in one academic year. Quotes from the editorial staff of the student newspaper, the Ramsey Record, demonstrate the perceived quality of the operetta productions: "The operetta was very much liked by the students, teachers, and parents, and congratulations are given to all those who helped make the performance a splendid success." (1) "The success of the performance was evident as wave after wave of applause swept over the audience as the curtain closed." (2) This paper describes the development of the operetta performance tradition at Ramsey and examines the people and conditions that contributed to its success.

Background

To fully appreciate the conditions necessary for the operetta program at Ramsey Junior High School to thrive, it is important to examine the historical environment in which the school opened. Especially important are a brief history of the Minneapolis public schools, the development of the junior high school movement in the United States, and the implementation of the junior high school system in the Minneapolis public schools.

A Brief History of the Minneapolis Public Schools

The first educational institution in Minneapolis was for children from Fort Snelling and the Mdewakanton Dakota and opened on the shores of Lake Harriet in 1834, about twenty years before Minneapolis was incorporated in 1854. (3) As more settlers moved into the area educational opportunities continued to develop. By 1874 there were six school buildings in Minneapolis with an enrollment of 2,907 pupils, and four school buildings in St. Anthony (part of Minneapolis since 1872) with an enrollment of 900 students. The first school board met in 1860 in the village of St. Anthony. (4) In 1878, legislation merged the two school boards of Minneapolis and St. Anthony into one Board of Education to manage all of the public schools in Minneapolis. Through the early-twentieth century Minneapolis and its schools continued to grow, and by 1933 the city served more than 85,000 students in its school system.

Development of the Junior High School Movement in the United States

The junior high school movement in the United States traces its history back to 1872 when the Kalamazoo Decision by the Michigan State Supreme Court first mandated tax-supported secondary education. (5) Secondary education evolved unevenly over the next twenty years, with inconsistent requirements among school systems. In the early 1890s, the National Education Association (NEA) Committee of Ten recommended standardization of the high school curriculum to prepare students for college entrance, and high school evolved into a six-year program. …