Academic journal article Journal of Historical Research in Music Education

American Music Education 1941-1946: Meeting Needs and Making Adjustments during World War II

Academic journal article Journal of Historical Research in Music Education

American Music Education 1941-1946: Meeting Needs and Making Adjustments during World War II

Article excerpt


In 1939, many Americans were still feeling the effects of the Great Depression as concerns mounted over Hitler's actions and activities of war were initiated and multiplied throughout Europe. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, America was thrust into the war somewhat unprepared, and the societal changes that occurred over the next five years were felt in every facet of the nation. These societal changes were shaping educational policy and practice even as American music educators attempted to continue their programs in the face of material shortages, large numbers of teachers leaving the profession to join the service, and governmental restrictions on travel.

As contemporary American music educators confront the challenges of teaching in times of world tensions, a reflection on events of the past may provide some perspective as to how the profession may function and remain strong during periods of social and political crisis and hardship. Historically, drastic changes in the economy brought massive societal transformation, and educational policies and programs were affected by these changes. Voices from the past, such as that of music educator Lillian Baldwin in 1943, are reminders of contemporary events: "What about the children caught up in this net of forced brutality, the youngsters who hear and see and sense the violence and cannot rationalize it?" (1) While many Americans then and now share this concern, music educators commonly hold the belief that young people's involvement in musical experiences may help alleviate a fear of the seemingly illogical events of wartime and world tensions.

An examination of the Music Educators Journal (MEJ) from 1941 to 1946 provides a unique reflection of the response by music teachers associated with the Music Educators National Conference (MENC) to the political and societal changes during World War II. Articles and letters published in the MEJ reflect the perspectives of music educators at home as well as those who had left their positions to serve their country in musical or non-musical positions. Advertisements presented a picture of the growing interest in patriotic music and materials for use by many different types of performing groups, in general music classes, and at community singing events. (Non-music items such as war bonds and stamps were also advertised in the MEJ through these years.)

First, this paper presents an overview of the chronology of significant events and movements within MENC related to the war. Wartime educational policy is briefly noted, and a report on developments in curricular practice directly related to music education is offered. Postwar predictions made by leaders in music education as well as effects of societal changes on music education just following World War II are revealed in order to draw conclusions concerning revisions in music education policies that were influenced by wartime events, policies, and programs.

A Strong Organization in Action: MENC During World War II

"American Unity Through Music"

The theme of "unity through music" was adopted at the MENC Board of Directors' meeting in October 1940 and by early 1941 a committee on "American Unity Through Music" had been formed with personnel from MENC (including Fowler Smith (2), Lilla Belle Pitts (3), and Vanett Lawler (4)), the Music Teachers National Association, and the National Association of Schools of Music. The article "American Unity Through Music" (a report by the Committee on American Unity Through Music) was published in the MEJ in March/April 1941 and began with a rationale for the theme:

   Music is a vital factor in building a state of mind and heart which
   is essential to American spirit and morale, to worthy pride in
   things which are American, and to the confidence and assurance
   necessary to full appreciation, protection and maintenance of the
   American Way of Life. … 
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