Academic journal article Journal of Historical Research in Music Education

A New Look at a Significant Cultural Moment: The Music Supervisors National Conference 1907-1932

Academic journal article Journal of Historical Research in Music Education

A New Look at a Significant Cultural Moment: The Music Supervisors National Conference 1907-1932

Article excerpt

The Music Supervisors National Conference (MSNC) was a product of the Progressive period, a creation of music teachers who were typical Progressives--reform-minded, middle-class, and primarily Midwestern. (2) Public education was growing astronomically at all levels, and this, coupled with a national demand for higher levels of expertise and organization, (3) gave MSNC founders distinct advantages in creating a successful organization.

Yet there were other, more subtle factors that contributed to its growth and success. Among early MSNC leaders there was a sense that something special was happening, a sense that theirs was a time of substantive change, of the dawning of a significant era for music in the schools and for music among the American people. The founders saw music education, to put it in the parlance of the period, as a "gospel"--something that should be available to all the children of the nation, at public expense in the public schools. (4) Conference publications and addresses were characterized by words of optimism and metaphors of evangelism about the cause of universal music instruction for children. (5)

MSNC leaders saw the importance of an organization that could play a role in the musical and educational life of the United States, and work for the larger goal of universal music education. (6) There was peculiar earnestness, as Mark and Gary characterize it, in their efforts for the organization. (7) They viewed music itself in the loftiest terms. Music was more, much more, than a mere school subject. It had become sacralized, an important part of the cultural uplift of society and tied to political and economic improvement. (8) It had central social importance, a part of the "promise of America," as Progressive writer Herbert Croly so aptly described the Progressive cultural agenda. (9) The rise of the MSNC, the push for American musical independence and the rise of musical nationalism, and the need for democratic opportunity were all regarded as proceeding hand in hand. (10)

The Founding and the Founders

The first meeting of the MSNC was at Keokuk, Iowa, in 1907, organized by Philip Cady Hayden, who sent out the famous "call" to music supervisors in his School Music magazine. A hundred or so men and women met, liked the novelty of being together, and decided to develop a permanent organization. Sixty-nine became permanent members. Hayden had sensed the right moment, the right need, and chosen the right people. For decades he would be celebrated as the honored founder of the organization as he served as president, participated in its ongoing activities, and continued to report its achievements in his magazine. (11)

The Keokuk meeting was important for the precedents it set. Early members worked to increase numbers, maintain working relationships, and organize activities that affected teaching, credit, and curricula. A sense of conviviality and unity were high priorities. (12)

The person who stands out at the first meeting was Frances Elliott Clark. At Hayden's request, Clark, who was then vice president of the Music Department of the National Education Association (NEA), presided over the meeting in the absence of NEA Music Department President Hamlin E. Cogswell. As a former Iowan, Clark was well known to Hayden. (13) Both had participated religiously in the affairs of the NEA. (14)

In the coming decades, Clark served the MSNC in several capacities; she was an ardent supporter and highly influential in the organization. Like Tolstoy's "Pierre," she seemed to be everywhere, but unlike Pierre she was not just an observer but a maker of the drama. In the 1920s she was nicknamed "Mother of the MENC." (15) The label is unfortunate, as it clouds Clark's central role in the development of music education and the MSNC. She could be considered the founder of this organization, not only for what she did at Keokuk, but for her vision and efforts in the years following the first meeting. …

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