Academic journal article Journal of Historical Research in Music Education

Solomon W. Straub (1842-1899): A Self-Made Music Educator on the Prairie

Academic journal article Journal of Historical Research in Music Education

Solomon W. Straub (1842-1899): A Self-Made Music Educator on the Prairie

Article excerpt

Music educators in nineteenth-century America filled multiple roles as teachers, church musicians, conductors, composers, and publishers. (1) George Frederick Root (1820-1895), for example, studied and worked with Lowell Mason at the Boston Academy of Music and the Boston Public Schools before moving to New York City in 1844. In New York, he directed music at the Mercer Street Presbyterian Church and taught at several private institutions. He also composed music and compiled tune books, taught private lessons, conducted singing conventions, and eventually became a partner in the publishing firm of Root and Cady in Chicago. (2)

Most music teachers of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries probably learned through self-study, private instruction, and observing the local singing master. (3) Formal training began in August 1834 when Lowell Mason (1792-1872) and George James Webb (1803-1887) introduced eight- to ten-day teachers' classes at the Boston Academy of Music. In April 1853, George F. Root--with the help of Lowell Mason and William B. Bradbury--extended these efforts by establishing the first long-term preparation course at the New York Normal Musical Institute in New York City. The curriculum included the study of pedagogy, voice culture, music theory, and choral literature, as well as private lessons with prominent musicians and teachers. The institute met throughout the academic year in eleven-week sessions until July 1855, and then reconvened as a summer school to North Reading, Massachusetts, in June 1856. In 1860, the Normal Musical Institute began moving to various cities throughout the country in order to attract new students and provide professional development where similar opportunities were unavailable. The school became the National Normal Musical Institute in 1872 and continued under this name until its final season in Elmira, New York, in 1885.

Root's Normal Musical Institute and similar schools prepared numerous musicians and teachers who contributed to American culture during the mid- to late nineteenth century. (4) Although researchers have documented the lives of the most prominent of these individuals, they often have neglected to examine the contributions of lesser figures who promoted, sustained, and perpetuated the field in their respective times and places. Reasons for this phenomenon may be the common use of top-down research methodology that focuses on events and people deemed most important to a particular field or topic, a lack of source material, or the fact that their work did not represent pioneering efforts in the field. Regardless, the stories of these men and women are necessary for a complete history of music education in the United States. (5)

Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine the life and work of one such individual, Solomon W. Straub (1842-1899), who served as a leader in church music and music education throughout the Midwest during the late nineteenth century. (6) Research questions focused on his life, pedagogy, musical contributions, and work as a composer, conductor, teacher, and teacher educator. Methodology involved collecting and analyzing information from diverse primary and secondary sources including U.S. census data, articles from periodicals and newspapers, tune books, and instructional materials. (7) I then organized this information into a chronological narrative. (8)

Solomon W. Straub

Solomon W. Straub was born December 2, 1842, in Butler Township of DeKalb County, Indiana, and was the youngest among his three brothers (Henry, Simon, Jacob), and four sisters (Susan, Mary Ann, Maria, Barbara Elizabeth). His father Joseph (1801-1860) and mother Elizabeth (1809-1881) were of German heritage and born in Pennsylvania. (9) They operated a farm in Marion County, Ohio, before moving to Butler Township, Indiana, in 1835. In 1842, the family moved to Carroll County, Indiana but returned to Butler Township five years later after an outbreak of malaria. …

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