Essentials Have to Be Taught Maurice Taylor

"Notes da Capo" by John L. Puffenbarger

March 1998

In the middle 1950s Charles Gorby invited Maurice Taylor to speak at a bandmasters clinic which he held at his store, Gorby's Music House, in South Charleston. Taylor was the author of the popular band method, Easy Steps to the Band. A few West Virginia music educators such as Saul Fisher, a former band director from Buckhannon and a past president of the WVMEA (1961-1963), still remember this outstanding clinic.

Taylor told the group, "I organized the Montrose, Pennsylvania, High School Band in 1927. Early in my career I noticed there were few band method books, so I began to write exercises down on paper for my students to play. Some of those students wanted those exercises to play at home, so I began to duplicate them to hand out. This gave them the essentials they needed to progress.

"I discovered that the books that were available were either written over the students' heads in language they could not understand, or were beyond the beginning level of musicianship. Even the way they were printed was intimidating."

Taylor is now 92 years old and has been retired from active teaching for more than two decades. He had been a band director for over 67 years, but even in retirement his love for music, education, and people pulled musicians together for community band concerts.

In an article in the Susquehanna County Independent, Elaine Henninger noted that Taylor could not afford to attend college, so he came by his knowledge from firsthand experience. When Montrose High School wanted to form a band in the 1920s, he was asked to teach, since he had already had experience from a community band which he had formed with his brothers and boyhood friends.

He didn't have the required teaching certificate, so he was listed in the school budget as an assistant janitor! He later received a teaching certificate, and in 1980 was awarded an honorary Doctor of Music degree from Susquehanna University.

Taylor developed a method of teaching the whole band from the first time they sat down together. It was difficult to get time to have each section sit down separately to practice, so he had to devise a way to teach them all together. His solution was to write his own book, Easy Steps to the Band. It is estimated that the book, along with 160 others he has written, has helped teach between six and eight million youngsters since it was first published in 1939.

John Schooley, a Montrose High School graduate and now a faculty member at Fairmont State College, states that at least half the woodwind and brass players in the Boston Symphony Orchestra learned from the "Easy Steps" books. Schooley says, "His great strength as a teacher was that he was a master of every instrument. He used to have a cart in front of him when he taught, and if a student had a question, Mr. Taylor could pick up any instrument and demonstrate. There wasn't the luxury of giving individual instruction at that time. He had to teach A students together."

Taylor said that a key to his success was the realization that students learn at different speeds, so a teacher has to be patient in order to bring them along all together. He believed that the essentials have to be taught until they are learned. He realized that for some students this takes time-weeks, months, even years.

Many band directors in West Virginia have used the "Easy Steps" series of books, and they are still in use in several schools. Many successful band programs are the direct result of Maurice Taylor's vision.