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What Do Bands Mean to America?

From a Conference with FRED A. HOLTZ
PRESIDENT OF THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF BAND INSTRUMENT MANUFACTURERS, 1933-1939

Secured Expressly for The Etude Music Magazine 
By WILLIAM ROBERTS TILFORD

OCCUPYING THE FOREMOST POSITION in the band instrument manufacturing industry in America, Fred A. Holtz takes pride in the fact that he is just one of the many who, seeing a horn displayed in a music store, became ambitious to master that horn and play with a band. As he recounts, it was a second hand low grade imported slide trombone carrying a price tag of five dollars. His weekly pay at that time (he was fourteen) being just two dollars, he finally ventured in and made a deal to buy the horn for a one dollar down payment and fifty cents per week. Four years later, shortly after becoming eighteen, he was proudly marching in the front rank of the U: S. Military Academy Band at West Point, among the other trombonists in that famous organization. Then followed two years with an Army Band in the Philippine Islands and several years with circus bands, “opery house” orchestras, dance bands, and so on, until in 1912 he joined the sales department of one of the largest lime producing companies in the United States. In 1920 he entered the sales department of The Martin Band Instrument Company, becoming Sales Manager, and later, in 1931, he was elected President of the company, as well as President of each of the two affiliated companies, The Pedler Company (manufacturers of clarinets and other reed instruments) and The Indiana Band Instrument Company. In 1933 he was elected President of the National Association of Band Instrument Manufacturers, Inc.; and, at the last Music Trades Convention, held in Chicago in August, he was re-elected to that office for the sixth term.—Editor’s Note.

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A Mighty Musical Phalanx

“That instrumental music, and particularly band music, is a tremendous and powerful force for individual benefit to young Americans, girls as well as boys, can no longer be denied by anyone. On every side we see and hear marching and concert bands, which perform classical as well as martial music with all the assurance and all the technical proficiency which characterize the performance of professional organizations and, during the winter concert season, we hear school symphony orchestras whose performance is almost unbelievably excellent, considering the youthfulness of the members. There must be somewhere between eighty and one hundred thousand musical organizations, not considering vocal groups, in the schools of America, ranging all the way from twenty to one hundred or more pieces. If we consider the average membership as forty or fifty, quick computation will indicate that from four to five million youngsters in all parts of America are blowing cornets, clarinets, saxophones, trombones, and so on, or playing the various string or percussion instruments.

This rapid development during the past fifteen years, of musical organizations in our schools, and particularly bands, which we have described, has been due to the indisputable fact that the movement had everything to recommend its development with
nothing that any opponent of the program (should there by any) could offer in objection to more music in the schools. There have been parents who, misunderstanding the proposition and considering it vocational rather than cultural, have objected to the participation of their youngsters, because they did not want their children to become professional musicians. The prime purpose of the movement, apart from the physical, mental and moral benefits which the young musicians derive, is to make it so that the merchants and manufacturers, doctors and lawyers, engineers, and so forth, as well as the wives and mothers of the next generation, will, because of their own participation in band and orchestra work during their school years, be devotees of music, interested and active promoters of more and better music in the lives of their children and their children’s children.

The Band Appeal

“The greater popularity of school bands over school orchestras is obviously due to the greater opportunities for outdoor performance, thereby “selling” the band to citizens of each town who seldom, if ever, hear their school orchestras. No high school or college football game would have its present glamour, were it not for the marching, maneuvering and playing of the bands with the strutting drum majors, gay uniforms and carefully conceived and perfected band exhibitions which delight the eyes as well as please the ears. Therefore, the school band goes hand in hand with school athletics and, in many schools, such as Elkhart (Indiana) High School, for instance, when there is a home game, we not only see and hear our fine concert band of one hundred pieces but also an almost equally fine “Regimental” or Marching Band, made up of reserve players who step into the first, or concert, band as vacancies are created through graduations.

“The first ‘national’ high school band contest was held in Chicago just sixteen years ago, in 1923. There were no preliminary elimination contests, and any band with the desire and means wherewith to get to Chicago and participate was welcome. Gradually the country was organized into districts and divisions, with only state winners eligible to participate in national contests; but these national contests became so large that we now have the United States divided into ten regions, each of which has its own ‘national’ contests or tournaments, the organizations and soloists taking part in these ‘regional-national’ tournaments having qualified by previous performance in district and state tournaments. The 1938 tournament in Region 3, comprising the states of Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and Indiana, was held in Elkhart, and we had some seventy bands and several hundred unattached musicians who took part in the solo, quartet, sextet and similar events. Considerable management was required to handle properly the affair; but the Elkhart Chamber of Commerce did an outstanding job, to the satisfaction of all visitors as well as to the considerable pecuniary benefit of the downtown merchants in our very progressive community.

“Occasionally we learn of some educator who wonders if music in the schools is not overemphasized. Sometimes we suspect that there might be a bit of envy involved, because of the popularity of the successful band director (Mr. David Hughes, director of the Elkhart High School Band, was awarded a gold medal for the outstanding achievement of the year, a couple of years back) but I believe that if there is any overemphasis it arises out of misconception on the part of sincere and conscientious school music supervisors, and band and orchestra directors, who try to make thoroughly good musicians of all their pupils. All of us, music educators in particular, must remember that school music is not a vocational proposition, and that youngsters who are to-day members of school bands are to be the commercial and professional men and women of the future. Some of them, of course, will develop aptitude and ambition for musical careers; and these find their way, after high school, into the various institutions of higher musical knowledge and, later on, into the ranks of school music educators.

And So a Good Investment

“An answer to the question—‘What does a band cost?’—is very difficult, because of the variation in conditions and circumstances involved. It is becoming a generally accepted practice for parents of youngsters to provide the cornets (or trumpets), clarinets, trombones, saxophones and other small instruments, while the schools purchase and provide the tubas, baritones, bass drums, tympani, bassoons and oboes. Likewise, in the instrumentation of orchestras, schools provide the string basses and other large instruments, with the pupils providing their own violins, clarinets, flutes, trumpets, and so on. If a new band were being organized and all the instruments were to be supplied by the Board of Education, the average purchase price of good instruments would be about one hundred dollars per pupil—small instruments less and larger instruments more. It is well to remember that the lowest priced instrument is not always the best buy. In musical instruments as in nearly everything else, we get pretty much what we pay for, and it is not just the first cost that must be considered.

“Too many times School Boards advertise for bids and consider only price. If the highly proficient professional player requires a fine instrument in order to do justice to his ability and talent, is it not reasonable to assume that the young player, however talented and ambitious he might be, should be given a really good instrument and not be put up against the handicap of an inferior one, selected only because of its low price? Proper comprehension of all benefits and advantages which the young players will derive, both now and throughout the rest of their lives, as well as due appraisal of the credit and enjoyment which they will bring to their teachers, classmates, parents and others, demonstrate that the cost is not too great even though the finest instruments are purchased and placed in the hands of the youngsters.

A Builder of Character

“Not a school band instructor who does not know of at least several boys who were never amenable to school rules, never quite in step with the rest, until they joined the band. A national authority on juvenile delinquency once said, ‘Teach a boy to blow a horn and he’ll never blow a safe’; and, next to and just about on a par with athletics, there is nothing that will attract and hold the interest of the restless, ‘full of pep’ boy in school as will a band instrument and a chance to play in the school band. Therefore, and purely from a hard boiled business standpoint, it is perfectly safe to say that every dollar of public money ever invested in putting or maintaining a band in a school has been well spent.

“A rapidly growing realization of this is evident from the fact that so many school band instructors are now employed on a twelve months basis, devoting their time during the vacation months to the class instruction of beginning players as well as in weekly (at least) rehearsals of the concert and junior bands. This undoubtedly provides an outlet for that restless energy so apt to lead idle youngsters into mischief and keeps them in step with school discipline the year around, with no need of readjustment when schools reopen in September.

“Parents often ask ‘Which instrument shall I select for my boy or girl?’ The answer to that is—‘Don’t.’ I mean that the youngster should make his own selection, this selection to be checked with the school band instructor, who will point out any physical handicap to proficiency on the particular instrument fancied by the youngster. When my oldest son was in his ninth year, I ‘selected’ the cornet for his instrument. He practiced and made very excellent progress, playing solo cornet in the Elkhart High School Band two years before he entered high school and during the four years that he was in high school. But, immediately after graduating and even before, he played saxophone in dance orchestras, studied clarinet and flute, and spent several years playing these instruments in some very fine, nationally known organizations. I also ‘selected’ saxophone for our second son and later on trumpet, but he took up bass when he went into high school and became one of the very finest tuba soloists I ever have heard. Incidentally, neither of these boys is now a professional musician, the elder being Assistant Sales Manager here at the Martin Band Instrument Company, and the other, since his graduation from Notre Dame last June, having been engaged in accounting work with a large utility company. Another son is now playing baritone in the band at St. Joseph’s College, Rensselaer, Ind., and he also has no idea of following music professionally.

“I hope all readers will pardon this personal reference. It is also hoped that what has been written here will help, in some degree, to bring about the greater and more nearly correct appraisal of the importance of instrumental music in our schools. The millions of boys and girls who have already enjoyed the advantages of membership in school bands and orchestras owe a deep debt of gratitude to the superintendents and members of Boards of Education who have made it possible for them to have bands and orchestras with which to play, as well as to their instructors in music. And I am sure they are, without exception, properly appreciative of the opportunities lavished upon them, far in excess of those given boys and girls in any other country on earth.

“Music has been aptly termed ‘the fourth essential,’ only food, clothing and shelter preceding music in importance in a well rounded and happy life. And to participate in a musical performance, even one of mediocre degree of excellence, is ever so much more enjoyable than merely to sit and listen. The progress or retrogression of a nation depends on its home life; and a musical home is a happy home.

“So, in addition to continuing and expanding the program of music in the schools, we should all promote more instrumental music in the home, more informal gatherings of small groups in duets, trios, quartets, and small orchestras.”

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