Academic journal article Journal of Historical Research in Music Education

History of the Illinois School Band Association: 1924-1941

Academic journal article Journal of Historical Research in Music Education

History of the Illinois School Band Association: 1924-1941

Article excerpt


The purpose of this study is to document the history of the Illinois School Band Association (ISBA) and the contests this organization sponsored between 1924-1941. It examines questions about the origin, leadership, rules and procedures, impact, growth, and decline of the organization. It also discusses how these findings can be used in modern practice.

The school band contest movement began with the National School Band Tournament sponsored by the Music Industries Chamber of Commerce in Chicago on June 5-7, 1923. This event served as the impetus for state and national contests regulated by the National Bureau for the Advancement of Music and the Committee on Instrumental Affairs--an adjunct to the Music Supervisors' National Conference.

The ISBA was established at the first Illinois State Contest, held in Joliet on May 10, 1924. Its purpose was to promote music education and operate future band contests in the state. As a result of its efforts, the quality and number of school bands increased dramatically and eventually thrived in large and small communities throughout Illinois. ISBA contests were held annually until 1938, when this organization began working cooperatively with the Illinois Orchestra and Vocal Associations to sponsor joint high school competitions and turned responsibility for grade school contests over to the Illinois Grade School Band Association. The ISBA continued to exist in the 1940s as an advisory committee to the Illinois Music Educators Association but was eventually absorbed by this organization.

Illinois School Band Association: 1924-1941

Military and community bands began competing in the midwestern United States during the late nineteenth century. Some of the first contests were held in Portage, Wisconsin in 1876; Port Huron, Michigan in 1877; Chicago, Illinois in 1878; Peoria, Illinois in 1890; Edwardsville, Illinois in 1894; Arapahoe, Nebraska and Palatine, Illinois in 1896; and Ruggles Grove, Ohio in 1899. These competitions continued after 1900 and sometimes included school and juvenile bands as well. (1)

Contests specifically for school bands originated around World War I when these ensembles began appearing in numerous public schools throughout the United States. These events were organized at the local and state levels, and were often held in conjunction with contests between other school music groups. Early examples include competitions established in 1914 at the AllState Music Contest in Kansas and in 1918 at the general high school music festival in North Dakota. (2) Similar events were also organized in Chicago, Illinois in 1919; (3) Michigan, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin in 1920; and in Iowa in 1923. (4)

The Music Industries Chamber of Commerce sponsored the first nationwide school band contest on June 5-7, 1923 during their annual convention in Chicago. Known as the National School Band Tournament, this competition was divided into separate classifications for high school, grammar school, and military academy bands. Cash prizes totaling $6,000 were offered with a first place award of $1,000 in each class. Thirty bands (four grade school and twenty-six high school) competed.

The tournament was held on a temporary bandstand erected in Grant Park across from the Congress Hotel. Each band performed a march and one other selection and was rated on tone, expression, intonation, and precision. Lieutenant William H. Santelmann, conductor of the United States Marine Band, was the only person hired to judge the competition, despite promotional materials advertising an adjudication panel of world-class bandmasters and musicians. First-place winners included the Joliet [Illinois] Grade School Band, under the direction of Guido Mattei, and the Fostoria [Ohio] High School Band, led by John W. Wainwright. (5)

The intent of the 1923 School Band Tournament was simply to promote new markets for band instruments following a decline in sales after WWI. …

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