History of Music Education in the United States

| May 10, 2011

18th century

After the preaching of Reverend Thomas Symmes, the first singing school was created in 1717 in Boston, Massachusetts for the purposes of improving singing and music reading in the church. These singing schools gradually spread throughout the colonies. Reverend John Tufts published An Introduction to the Singing of Psalm Tunes Using Non-Traditional Notation which is regarded as the first music textbook in the colonies. Between 1700 to 1820, more than 375 tune books would be published by such authors as Samuel Holyoke, Francis Hopkinson, William Billings, and Oliver Holden.[6]

19th century

In 1832, Lowell Mason and George Webb formed the Boston Academy of Music with the purposes of teaching singing and theory as well as methods of teaching music. Mason published his Manuel of Instruction in 1834 which were based upon the music education works of Pestalozzian System of Education founded by Swiss educator Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi. This handbook gradually became used by many singing school teachers. From 1837-1838, the Boston School Committee allowed Lowell Mason to teach music in the Hawes School as a demonstration. This is regarded as the first time music education was introduced to public schools in the United States. In 1838 the Boston School Committee approved the inclusion of music in the curriculum and Lowell Mason became the first recognized supervisor of elementary music. In later years Luther Whiting Mason became the Supervisor of Music in Boston and spread music education into all levels of public education (grammar, primary, and high school). During the middle of the 19th century, Boston became the model to which many other cities across the United States included and shaped their public school music education programs.[7] Music methodology for teachers as a course was first introduced in the Normal School. The concept of classroom teachers in a school that taught music under the direction of a music supervisor was the standard model for public school music education during this century. (See also: Music education in the United States)

Early 20th century

In the United States, teaching colleges with four year degree programs developed from the Normal Schools and included music. Oberlin Conservatory first offered the Bachelor of Music Education degree. Osbourne G. McCarthy, and American music educator introduced details for studying music for credit in Chelsea High School. Notable events in the history of music education in the early 20th century also include:

  • Founding of the Music Supervisor’s National Conference (changed to Music Educators National Conference in 1934, later MENC: The National Association for Music Education in 1998) in Keokuk, Iowa in 1907.
  • Rise of the school band and orchestra movement leading to performance oriented school music programs.
  • Growth in music methods publications.
  • Frances Elliot Clark develops and promotes phonograph record libraries for school use.
  • Carl Seashore and his Measures of Musical Talent music aptitude test starts testing people in music.

Mid & Late 20th century

The following table illustrates some notable developments from this period:

Date Major Event Historical Importance for Music Education
1950 The Child’s Bill of Rights in Music A student-centered philosophy was formally espoused by MENC.
1953 The American School Band Directors Association formed The band movement becomes organized.
1957 Launch of Sputnik Increased curricular focus on science, math, technology with less emphasis on music education.
1959 Contemporary Music Project The purpose of the project was to make contemporary music relevant in children by placing quality composers and performers in the learning environment. Leads to the Comprehensive Musicianship movement.
1961 American Choral Directors Association formed The choral movement becomes organized.
1963 Yale Seminar Federally supported development of arts education focusing on quality music classroom literature. Juilliard Project leads to the compilation and publication of musical works from major historical eras for elementary and secondary schools.
1965 National Endowment for the Arts Federal financial support and recognition of the value music has in society.
1967 Tanglewood symposium Establishment of a unified and ecletic philosophy of music education. Specific emphasis on youth music, special education music, urban music, and electronic music.
1969 GO Project 35 Objectives listed by MENC for quality music education programs in public schools. Published and recommended for music educators to follow.
1978 The Ann Arbor Symposium Emphasized the impact of learning theory in music education in the areas of: auditory perception, motor learning, child development, cognitive skills, memory processing, affect, and motivation.
1984 Becoming Human Through Music symposium The Wesleyan Symposium on the Perspectives of Social Anthropology in the Teaching and Learning of Music” (Middletown, Connecticut, August 6–10, 1984). Emphasized the importance of cultural context in music education and the cultural implications of rapidly changing demographics in the United States.
1990 Multicultural Symposium in Music Education Growing out of the awareness of the increasing diversity of the American School population, the three-day Symposium for music teachers was co-sponsored by MENC, the Society for Ethnomusicology, and the Smithsonian Institution, in order to provide models, materials, and methods for teaching music of the world’s cultures to school children and youth.
1994 National Standards for Music Education For much of the 1980s, there was a call for educational reform and accountability in all curricular subjects. This led to the National Standards for Music Education introduced by MENC. The MENC standards were adopted by some states, while other states have produced their own standards or largely eschewed the standards movement.
1999 The Housewright Symposium / Vision 2020 Examined changing philosophies and practices and predicted how American music education will (or should) look in the year 2020.
2007 Tanglewood II: Charting the Future Reflected on the 40 years of change in music education since the first Tanglewood Symposium of 1967, developing a declaration regarding priorities for the next forty years.

Music course offerings and even entire degree programs in online music education developed in the first decade of the 21st century at various institutions, and the fields of world music pedagogy and popular music pedagogy have also seen notable expansion.