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Toy Orchestras, Music Supervisors,
and Itinerant Teachers:

The Evolution of the Elementary Music Program

"Notes da Capo" by John L. Puffenbarger

Fall 2003

The Clarksburg Exponent, in its "Look Back in Time" feature, recently printed a picture of the East View Grade School Toy Orchestra. The photo was taken around 1942 or 1943, showing students dressed in white pants, dark capes, and sailor's caps. The grade level was not noted, but it looked as though they were second or third graders. No instruments, however, were shown in the picture.

Toy orchestras, sometimes called rhythm bands, were very popular in the 1940s and 1950s. Many schools introduced toy orchestras in the first grade. The instrumentation usually included wood sticks, cymbals, tambourines, and claves, and students were selected to conduct. The classroom teacher played songs on the piano to accompany the group. In several counties, music supervisors were invited to accompany the students, while record players were used in other schools.

In addition to the toy orchestra, many schools held spring music festivals. Parents always looked forward to these annual festivals, for which each classroom prepared selections for the program. Recordings were used for accompaniment, or perhaps a teacher would play the piano for each class.

Many teachers used tonettes or song flutes to help teach the fundamentals of music. These instruments were fun to play, and students learned to count and to read music while playing them. In some locations, band directors

visited classrooms to teach tonettes the semester before students started band class. They could observe which students had the interest, desire, and musical aptitude to playa band instrument.

During the1940s and 1950s, music supervisors existed in practically every county in West Virginia. The supervisors traveled to all county schools during the year to assist classroom teachers with music instruction. They sometimes observed the teacher and made suggestions, while other times they taught the class. While many classroom teachers enjoyed teaching music, others felt inadequate. Several times a year, teachers attended after-school training sessions taught by music supervisors.

Another popular event was the county chorus. Music supervisors organized a chorus comprised of students from each school in the county. Conductors were usually college professors from outside the county. The chorus rehearsed during the day and presented a concert to the public that evening. The concerts were always well attended and demonstrated what the students had accomplished during the year.

Many counties began downsizing their workforce in the early 1970s, and over the next two decades, the position of county music supervisor slowly disappeared. There

arose a need for the itinerant teacher - the traveling music teacher. These teachers were music specialists, and they lightened the load of the classroom teacher.

Today, itinerant teachers travel many miles each week to spread the joy of music. They have a large workload, many of them with five or more schools to visit each week and eight or more classes per day. Students are recruited to help carry supplies to and from the classrooms, as well as to and from the teacher's car. Classrooms for itinerant teachers come in many sizes and types. Most teachers do not have a room they can call their own, as classes are held in auditoriums, cafeterias, hallways, and unoccupied rooms.

Keeping track of schedules and plans is a challenge for traveling music teachers. Since they are always in a rush, many stick Post-It Notes on the dashboard to remind them of schedule changes, lesson plans, or items to take from one school to another.

Several years ago, K.B. Kyle, who was band director in Shinnston, finished his class. He picked up the music and papers he needed for his next school and walked briskly to his car. He placed the materials on top of the car and opened the door. He realized that he had forgotten something, so he went back into the school to retrieve the item. He returned to the car, jumped in, and [rove quickly down the hill, as all the music and papers flew allover the street. Such is the life of the traveling music teacher.