A Musical Mason in Boston–and Cincinnati

Lowell Mason has been called the father of American music education. In 1838, he convinced the Boston School Committee that music should be part of the curriculum for all students.

Turns out he had a kid brother. Timothy B. Mason may have brought music to the Cincinnati schools even ahead of his famous sibling.

In the first half of the 19th-century, Cincinnati was known as the “Boston of the West.” According to NAfME members Terri Brown Lenzo (doctoral candidate, music education) and Craig Resta (assistant professor of music education) at Kent State University, citizens in both cities “were offered comparable musical and cultural opportunities.”

As the American public school movement was being launched in the 1820s, Cincinnati boasted proponents of music education, both in the academic and the business worlds. Piano studio owner William Nixon argued for the development of public school music education in a speech to the Western Literary Institute titled “Address on the History and Moral Influence of Music.”

It seems that brothers Lowell and Timothy did some very similar things in two different cities, with similar results. Both got public support for their rather progressive views and proceeded to make music part of public education in their respective cities. And Timothy may have beaten his brother to the punch: By the time Lowell put Boston Schools on the music track, two music teachers had been active in Cincinnati since at least 1837.

Lenzo and Resta conclude: The parallel developments in music education in Boston and Cincinnati are apparent … [advocacy speeches, the activities of the brothers, and school board actions] … In each area, Cincinnati followed Boston by a year or more … ”

Except “in the area of instruction, where teachers were active in Cincinnati even before Lowell had been given permission to begin his Boston experiment. Cincinnati students performed a large public concert two months before the often-studied concert of the Hawes School students of August 1838.”

Adapted with permission of Birch Browning, editor, from “Two Brothers, Two Cities: Music Education in Boston and Cincinnati from 1830–1844” by Terri Brown Lenzo and Craig Resta, published in Contributions to Music Education, 2011, Vol. 38, No. 1, pp. 27–43, a publication of the Ohio Music Education Association.

The Hugh A. Glauser School of Music  at Kent State University offers areas of study in performance, music education, musicology/ethnomusicology, and theory/composition. Undergraduate and graduate degrees are available, along with the recently updated Ph.D. in Music Education.

Ella Wilcox, January 23, 2012, © National Association for Music Education (nafme.org)