Academic journal article Journal of Historical Research in Music Education

Joseph A. Labuta and His Life in Music Education: An Oral History

Academic journal article Journal of Historical Research in Music Education

Joseph A. Labuta and His Life in Music Education: An Oral History

Article excerpt

Oral history is a relatively new technique in historical research. Some of the first efforts in oral history (of former slaves and poor rural white populations in the southeastern United States) were sponsored by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s. (1) Allen Nevins started the oral history program at Columbia University in 1948, (2) and in 1966, the Oral History Association was formed. (3)

A primary purpose of oral history has been to document memories and reflections of past events as seen through the eyes of a particular person. Oral history differs from a traditional autobiography in that the interaction between the interviewer and the interviewee serves to draw out memories and clarify issues provided by the interviewee. (4) The result of this process is the creation of a primary source document that can be used by other historical researchers.

Several oral history projects have been conducted in music and in music education. Musical figures such as Aaron Copland, Charles Ives, and Charles Leonhard have been studied using these techniques. (5) One of Charles Leonhard's former students was Joseph Anthony Labuta, who followed his mentor's example and also became a leader in the music education profession. He is the focus of this oral history project.

The purpose of this study was to create a preliminary biography on Dr. Joseph A. Labuta, one of the major figures in American music education during the second half of the twentieth century. Labuta's recalled memories were used to explore selected aspects of music education history during that period.

Labuta, professor emeritus of music education at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, has written four well-known music education textbooks that are still currently in use, as well as influential articles and monographs. (6) He has been a leader in the field of music education in the United States, holding a number of offices at the state and national levels of MENC: The National Association for Music Education.(7) Over the course of his career, Labuta has left a legacy of more than 900 music education and conducting students who have benefited through his teaching. (8)


Labuta was contacted by the study author and agreed to participate in the project. Dates for the face-to-face interviews were set, and Labuta provided the researcher with preliminary written material to assist in the preparation of the interviews.

Oral history "life interview" techniques were used to create the materials for this project. (9) A series of autobiographical interviews were conducted with Labuta, focusing on a variety of topics related to his career. Bennett's 1992 oral history project on Charles Leonhard served as a model for the selection of interview topics. (10) The list of topics below was agreed upon by the researcher and Labuta.

1. General Life Overview

2. Public School Teaching

3. University of Illinois

4. Central Methodist College/Shepherd College

5. Leonhard and University of Illinois

6. Early Articles

7. Wayne State University, 1967-1977

8. Wayne State, 1977-1987

9. Wayne State, 1987-present (retirement)

10. Courses

11. Books: Teaching Musicianship in the High School Band

12. Books: Basic Conducting Techniques

13. Books: A Guide to Accountability in Music Instruction

14. Books: Music Education: Historical Contexts and Perspectives

15. Articles

16. Journal of Research in Music Education (JRME) Editorial Committee

17. Professional Activities (officer, clinician, conductor)

18. Student Accomplishments

An open-ended format was used, based on the outline prepared for each interview session. (11) Neutral, open-ended questions were used to elicit responses from Labuta and were organized either by chronology or by general topic area. …

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