The Importance of Preserving Music Education History

Notes da Capo - By John L. Puffenbarger, Past WVMEA Historian

Winter 2009


One day this past summer, I was sorting through some music in our piano bench. On the bottom was a folder I had forgotten about that contained an eighteen page souvenir program entitled "Sousa and his Band, Lieut. Commander John Philip Sousa Conductor." The band presented a matinee concert at the Fairmont Theatre on November 8, 1923. My mother was a student at Fairmont Normal College that year and attended the concert. She saved the program and gave it to me many years later.


The program is interesting because it lists the selections the band played and the soloists who performed. It also has articles about the Sousa band, advertisements from various companies, and pictures of Sousa and his band. Meredith Wilson, who later wrote “The Music Man”, was one of the soloists. The program cost ten cents.


This incident demonstrates the importance of preserving history. I had no idea that John Philip Sousa performed in West Virginia, let alone at the Fairmont Theatre, until I saw the souvenir program. If my mother had not saved the program, I would not have known about the event.


West Virginia held its Centennial celebration in 1963. Phil Bowers was band director at Clarksburg Victory High School, Dick John­son was band director at Roosevelt-Wilson High School in Nutter Fort, and I was band director at Clarksburg Washington-Irving High School. We decided to celebrate the Centennial by combining our three bands in the United Way Parade that fall.


We alternated the members of the bands as well as the majorette corps. The drum major of the W-I band led the group. The band played Hail West Virginia as it marched down the parade route. I don't remember the exact number, but there must have been at least 300 students in the band. The windows in the stores along Main Street must have rattled as the band broke into its musical rendition. The next week, R-W played W-I in a September football game. Dick and I worked out a combined band half-time show. It was a huge success, and the experience promoted a good relationship between the two schools.


One year, when I was band director at Buckhannon-Upshur High School, our band went to Morgantown for the Morgantown/Buck­hannon Upshur football game. Since we were the visiting band, we went on the field first at half-time. It started to rain while we were playing our last selection. As we ran to the buses, it began to pour. The MHS band marched onto the field and performed their show. I remember seeing that there was a large slit down the skin head on one of their bass drums. Water had loosened the head, and when the bass drummer hit the head, it broke. MHS band director Mike Roberts told me later that he felt his band had to go on the field since we performed our show.


Every music teacher has many stories to tell about past happenings. Those stories are part of our rich musical heritage. Take time to write stories about past activities and performances by groups in your school. Talk to former directors at the school, and include their stories in a printed document. Save programs, pictures, and recordings. Remember: the activities we are engaged in today will be to­morrow's history.


Last year, Craig Lee began a project to document the history of the bands and band directors in Jefferson County Schools. It will be an important historical paper that future musicians in the county will value. As is the case with projects of a creative nature, the method of organizing and writing historical papers is up to the individual.


Saving documents is important for another reason. We can learn from past activities and can make better decisions for the future if we take time to study past actions. If you have taught for a few years, I'm sure you have attended a WVMEA affiliate meeting when someone has brought up a "new" issue, and you probably thought, "We discussed that a few years ago."


The music teachers who have developed music programs in our schools in the past deserve to be recognized for their dedication to the children of our state. I am grateful to the music teachers who helped me during my career (Harold Glasgow, Richard Wellock, Henry A. Mayer, Richard Lawson, and Saul Fisher, to name a few). Music store owner Fred Ross was of tremendous help in the development of an outstanding instrumental program in Upshur County. I am especially grateful to the many college and university professors who took time to as­sist us in advancing music education in the public schools.


WVMEA has a rich heritage of music history, and much of it is recorded in past issues of Notes A Tempo, and in the "Notes da Capo" articles on the WVMEA website. We also have documents from WVMEA and its affiliate organizations on file in the WVU Down­town Library. The records are stored in the West Virginia & Regional History Collection.


(Editor's note: Dr. Clifford Brown served as WVMEA Historian from 1983 to 1988 and wrote eighteen "Notes da Capo" articles about music education in West Virginia before his tragic death in an automobile accident. John Puffenbarger served as Historian from 1989 to 2008 and wrote eighty-five articles.)