Academic journal article Contributions to Music Education

The Stamps-Baxter GI School of Music: The Singing School Funded by the GI Bill

Academic journal article Contributions to Music Education

The Stamps-Baxter GI School of Music: The Singing School Funded by the GI Bill

Article excerpt

The Stamps-Baxter Music and Printing Company sponsored singing schools as early as 1926. When World War II veterans began to return home, the company created a two-year school of music in 1947, specifically created for the veterans. Curriculum included music theory, ear training, applied lessons, and other classes consistent with music education, with special emphasis on music literacy. Upon completion of the school, students received a certificate of completion and were trained singing-school teachers. Most students continued to use their education as singing-school teachers, church choir directors, church accompanists, piano tuners, etc. as well as engaging in participatory roles for decades after leaving the school. While the school closed after only six years, the veterans trained by this school made a noteworthy impact on the music education of gospel music in the second half of the twentieth century.

American singing schools existed as early as 1712. By 1721, singing schools had burgeoned in New England and, in that same year, two tune books came out. Penned by John Tufts and Thomas Walter, these tune books mirrored those published in England. By the end of the eighteenth century, more than 154 individual tune books had been published, several appearing in multiple editions. Products of an ever-growing movement, over a thousand tune books were published in the nineteenth century, with the compilers serving as singing-school teachers.

The growth of the American singing-school movement in the nineteenth century peaked in the years before the Civil War. After the Civil War, singing schools became less popular among the general public in the United States, shifting geographically toward the South and, by the twentieth century, becoming a part of the gospel music genre (Britton, 1958; Britton, 1961). American singing schools shared numerous characteristics with the music education practices established in Boston by Lowell Mason, the first prominent music teacher in the American public schools. From 1838-41, Mason served as the superintendent of music for the public schools in Boston (Birge, 1928/1966). According to Allen P. Britton (1989), "The system of music instruction represented by the singing school, its teachers, pupils, and textbooks constitutes the beginning of music education in the United States" (p. 38).

In addition to sharing characteristics with the music education system in the public schools, the singing-school movement interwove business goals with educational objectives. Unlike public school teachers, singing-school masters depended on the community to organize and raise funds to meet the expenses of having a school and paying its teachers. These teachers/entrepreneurs not only received income from teaching classes and private voice and/or instrument lessons, but also earned money from the sale of tune books, which were necessary for participation in the singing school and, therefore, purchased by their students (De Burgos, 1930; Kingman, 1998).

Students who attended the Stamps-Baxter School of Music continued the traditional focus of the American singing schools: to teach people basic note-reading and singing skills to improve congregational singing in the church. Gospel-style music predominated from the school's founding in 1926 through 1974, the year a larger publishing company, the Zondervan Company, bought the Stamps-Baxter Music Company. However, the excellent reputation of the former Stamps-Baxter singing schools continued in the gospel music community. Therefore, in the mid-1980s, Ben Speer and his sister, Mary Tom (personal communication, November 15, 1998), opened the Ben Speer's Stamps-Baxter School of Gospel Music, formerly the Stamps-Baxter School of Music, in Nashville, Tennessee. Continuing into the twenty-first century, this school continues to meet every summer to educate students in gospel music.

The Stamps-Baxter Music and Printing Company contributed significantly to American music education through the company's organization of singing schools and sponsorship of the Stamps-Baxter GI School of Music. …

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