Wilson, active during his entire career as an archivist of the performing arts, is best known among music educators for his work as curator for the MENC Historical Center at the University of Maryland. He retired in 2004 as Head of the Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library at that institution. Wilson studied music education at the University of MIchigan in Ann Arbor, where he also earned undergraduate and graduate degrees, including a Ph.D. in music education.
Asked why music education history must be preserved, Wilson said, “If there is something to learn from our research, it is that we never stop evolving music education.” Wilson expanded on that thought in the first part of his interview.
During the recent interview he shared some additional thoughts on music education history, his career and MENC leaders:
Q: How did you get interested in the field of music education history?
A: I originally got interested history as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan. I would plow through the music collections and that made me aware of the writers who had come before me, the pioneers who paved the way. I think we always need to keep reminding ourselves, ‘We didn’t invent the profession.’ Others before us did.
Q: Why is MENC history significant?
A: That goes back to people as well. I was always interested in the people who created the organization, how it developed, how decisions were made.
I have always had an interest in oral history as well. That curiosity led me to a project several years ago where I recorded interviews with all of the past MENC presidents who were living at the time. I learned something about each of them and each of them shaped the organization [MENC] in their own way.
Marguerite V. Hood [president from 1950-52] worked to get teachers involved on all levels, from local to state to regional. She encouraged the idea of bottom-up leadership. Wiley L. Housewright, [president from 1968-70], was a great thinker but he also encouraged music educators to take a look at popular music and consider ways it could be incorporated into a more traditional music education.
Q: The founding statement of the Hall says: “The Music Educators Hall of Fame was established in 1984 to honor those music educators who, by virtue of their contributions, are of such significant stature that they are considered to be among the most highly regarded professional leaders in American music education.” What does that mean to you in personal terms?
A: I believe we, as music educators, must be proud of what we have accomplished. The Music Educators Hall of Fame lets the outside world know that we are honoring our best accomplishments, that we have a historical class of pioneering people who made a difference, for music, for education. It is very important that the world know what music education really is.
Q: On a personal note, your music training was in choral music. What do you most enjoy singing?
A: I am a dedicated choral singer and I have sung in small choral groups such as the Washington (DC) Bach Consort and the Cantate Chamber Singers (Montgomery County, Maryland). I enjoy classical pieces but sometimes I wonder what it would be like to have been a great jazz singer.
—Roz Fehr, May 27, 2010 © MENC: The National Association for Music Education