Dr. Harvey Samuel Whistler Jr. (1907-1976): An Influential Pedagogue and Researcher in Music Education

Article excerpt

Instrumental music education in U.S. public schools developed gradually in the Northeast and Midwest around 1896. Over the next thirty years, the instrumental movement gained strength through the organization provided by the development of the Music Supervisors National Conference and through the advocacy efforts of music education innovators such as Will Earhart and Joseph Maddy. By the end of the 1920s, instrumental courses were being accepted into public school curricula; (1) however, as with any new development, concerns arose. School administrators supported the new wave of musical innovations in the curricula, but they struggled to provide the economic and logistical means to sustain such programs. (2) Likewise, new programs required new instructional materials. Teachers needed appropriate pedagogical resources to help them structure their programs more effectively. As a result, an abundance of pedagogical innovations were initiated. (3)

One such innovator was Dr. Harvey Samuel Whistler Jr. As a violinist, pedagogue, and researcher, Whistler influenced the advancement of instrumental music education on many scholarly fronts, leaving a legacy of methods, collections, compositions, arrangements and other documents for band and string orchestra. Despite his sizeable output, little is known about his life and work aside from folklore and single-column biographies, many of which conflict or contain errors. (4)

This study has a threefold aim: (1) to write a detailed and accurate biography of Whistler that clarifies inconsistencies found in tertiary sources; (2) to discuss and assess the impact that Whistler's pedagogical contributions had on music education; and (3) to evaluate the impact that Whistler's research had on music education.

Methodology

Most of the primary biographical data regarding Whistler's personal life were procured from Whistler's personal records and the oral recollections of Mrs. Georgeanna Kathryn Beaver Whistler, his wife and widow. The personal records I reviewed consisted of letter correspondence, authored articles, books and drafts, photographs, documents related to professional obligations, financial documents, and other personal memorabilia. The oral recollections of Mrs. Whistler consisted of three interviews. Each one lasted approximately one hour and consisted of a broad, rather than specific, array of questions.

Other data were gathered from primary source newspaper articles, Selma-Union High School annuals, a Charles W. Eliot Junior High School newsletter, and articles from the Music Educators Journal and Music Educators National Conference yearbooks. Whistler's authored texts, articles, master's thesis, doctoral candidacy exams, and dissertation were also reviewed.

Data were compared from interviews and Whistler's autobiographical documents with other personal records and the primary source documents described above to determine their veracity. Noteworthy discrepancies appear in the footnotes. Data were compiled thematically and then chronologically into historical narrative.

Early Life and Formal Education

Harvey Samuel Whistler Jr. was born on September 7, 1907, in Fresno, California. His earliest musical training consisted of piano lessons with his mother and trips to local symphony concerts with his father. By age seven, Whistler's parents enrolled him in violin and piano lessons. (5) He eventually abandoned his piano studies and began performing extensively on both violin and viola. The evidence regarding when and with whom Whistler studied violin conflicts. According to some sources, Whistler originally studied with professor George Hastings (1916-19), Will C. Hays of the San Francisco Symphony and director of the Fresno High School Orchestra (1919-24), Kornelis Bering of the San Francisco Symphony (1923-24), Carl Grissen of Oakland (1927), Josef Pirastro-Borissoff--a student of Pablo de Sarasate and Leopold Auer--in Los Angeles (1930-c. …