The San Francisco earthquake and fires on April 18, 1906, inadvertently led in 1907 to the founding of what is now known as the National Association for Music Education (NAfME). The disaster destroyed 500 blocks of the city, set off fires that burned for three days, and left more than 200,000 people homeless.
The National Education Association (NEA) cancelled its annual meeting in the City by the Bay that year. At that time, music supervisors were members of the NEA Department of Music Education, a department that dated back to 1894.
NAfME’s First Conference
As music education evolved, focusing on more detailed teaching methods, some began to advocate for a separate organization to better serve music educators. Philip C. Hayden, the music supervisor for the Keokuk, Iowa, public schools, was among he most vocal.
When NEA rescheduled its meeting for 1907 in another California location, Hayden called for a separate music educators’ association gathering. He invited music supervisors to Keokuk, Iowa, to explore a variety of topics. According to the NAfME centennial book, MENC: A Century of Service to Music Education, 1907–2007, “Over the previous two years he had conducted experiments with a progressive series of rhythm forms used to teach students . . . Hayden called his method ‘Ear Training in Rhythm Forms,’ and he was eager to share his techniques with fellow music educators.”
Hayden contacted “about 30 influential music supervisors in the Midwest,” asking, “Would it be possible at such a time to have a convention of the supervisors of the middle west to last . . . two days comprising of six lessons with a regular program, my ear work in rhythm forms to be given up to problem of general interest, to papers and discussions.”
The answer was a resounding “yes,” and a notice was placed in the publication School Music Monthly drew 104 attendees for meetings April 10–12, 1907, at the First Westminster Presbyterian Church in Keokuk.
Most attendees came from Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Kansas, Colorado, West Virginia, New York City. Frances E. Clark, then vice-president of the NEA’s Department of Music Education, travelled from Milwaukee.
NAfME’s centennial book notes, “Although Clark presided at the first meeting, she was never a president of what would eventually [become MENC]. However, in recognition of her service as well as well as the organization’s first chair, she later earned the nickname ‘Mother of the Conference.’”
Since 1907, music teaching has continued to grow. The original organization was the Music Supervisors’ National Conference (MSNC), a name that changed to the Music Educators National Conference (MENC) in 1934. In 1998 the organization name became MENC: The National Association for Music Education. Since 2011, we’ve been simply the National Association for Music Education (NAfME).
The Association has had 64 presidents, from Keokuk’s Philip C. Hayden, 1907-09, to 2014-16 NAfME President Glenn E. Nierman.
NAfME’s activities and resources have been largely responsible for the establishment of music education as a profession in the U.S., for the promotion of music study as an integral part of the school curriculum, and for the development of the National Standards for Arts Education.
Here are some highlights of NAfME’s history, courtesy of the Association’s Centennial book and other sources.
The NEA Music Education Department met in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1908, and in May 1909, the group met in Indianapolis, which at the time boasted of “some of the best rail connections in North America.”
- Annual meetings of the Music Supervisors National Conference (MSNC) follow in St. Louis (1912); Rochester, New York (1913) and Minneapolis (1914). The 10thAnnual Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1917 draws 786 attendees.
- The popularity of high school bands and orchestras increased. In 1922, the Richmond, Indiana, school district sent a 75-piece band to the MSNC conference in Nashville, Tennessee. The Conference theme is “More Music in Education, More Education in Music.
- In 1920, Association membership was announced as 1,242. It increased to 2,500 in 1924, and to 3.000 by 1925.
- Regional divisions of the Association were established; the Southern Division in 1922; the North Central Division in 1927; the Northwest Division in 1928; and the California/Western Division in 1931.
- MSNC held its first Biennial National Conference in Chicago in 1928. A moment of silence was observed for MSNC’s first president, Philip C. Hayden, who had died that year.
- In 1930, MSNC held its second Biennial Conference in Chicago, just a few months after the stock-market crash that brought on the Great Depression. Even so, more than 7,500 music teachers attended.
- Also in 1930, the MSNC sent a resolution to Congress as to whether “The Star-Spangled Banner” should be named the U.S. National Anthem. An article in Music Educators Journal says the consensus was “that while thrilling and effective, when sung well on occasions of high patriotic fervor, it is not suitable for frequent singing in schools rooms and assemblages of many kinds where a National Anthem is needed.”
- 1930 saw MSNC establish its first office in Chicago, and hire its first director, Clifford V. Buttleman, whose title was executive secretary.
- In 1932, MSNC celebrated its 25th anniversary.
- In 1933, Ohio became the first state music educators organization to formally affiliate with MSNC.
- MENC held its first West Coast conference in 1940 in Los Angeles. The Association chartered special trains from New York and Chicago to take members to California. The conference included general sessions, clinics, demonstrations, and more than 150 exhibitors.
- A decade earlier in 1931, the Association argued against designating, “The Star-Spangled Banner” as the National Anthem, citing the difficulty in singing it, among other things. During World War II, however, MENC agreed to work with the War Department to make the song easier to sing. It was part of the “American Unity Through Music” movement. The Association recommended transposing the song from B-flat down to A-flat. In addition, music educators create “The Code for the National Anthem of the United States of America,” which documents the “proper way to sing the National Anthem.” It’s still used today.
- Many music teachers are drafted for mi litary service during World War II, and retired music educators return to the classroom in schools throughout the United States.
- After the war ended, the focus for music teachers became music education “for the good of society.” Written in 1952, MENC’s “A Child’s Bill of Rights in Music” stated, in part, “Every child has the right to full and free opportunity to explore [his] capacities in the field of music and in such ways that may bring [him] happiness and a sense of well-being … ”
- “Music in Education” is the theme of the 1952 conference in Philadelphia. As all areas of music instruction grew increasingly sophisticated, music educators looked to new methods and technologies. In the 1950s, the Baltimore, Maryland, school district experimented with televised music instruction.
- MENC began collaborating with other music education group, including Music Teachers National Association, whose members are largely private teachers. The National Association of Schools of Music was another partner.
- In 1954, MENC held its first Biennial Convention in conjunction with the Interscholastic Music Activities Commission, the College Band Directors National Association, and the Music Educators Exhibitors Association. Representatives from the National Council of State Supervisors of Music also attended the Chicago convention that year.
- In 1956, the National Education Association (NEA) built new headquarters in Washington, D.C., inviting MENC to share office space.
- MENC celebrated its 50th anniversary by joining with NEA to commission “Song of Democracy” by Howard Hanson, “a setting of texts by poet Walt Whitman.” The National Symphony Orchestra and D.C’s Howard University Chorus performed the world premiere of the piece for MENC’s Golden Anniversary Celebration at DAR Constitution Hall. At that time MENC was 33,000 members strong.
- At the Biennial Conference in Los Angeles in 1958, not long after the Soviet Union launched its satellite Sputnik as well as the space race, music teachers begin to express concerns that curriculum was emphasizing science at the expense of funding and support for the arts.
- Early in the decade, MENC members continued thoughtful discussions as to why music education was an important part of the school curriculum. The theme of the 1962 Biennial Conference in Chicago was “The Study of Music: An Academic Discipline.” Other sessions that year explored contemporary music and the study of music through performance.
- Looking for new ways to reach young people, MENC members and other music educators participated in a panel formed by President John F. Kennedy to explore issues music educators faced. That led to a June 1963 seminar at Yale University called “Music Education in Our Schools: A Search for Improvement.” Prominent music educators, including MENC leaders, concluded the scope of music taught should be broadened to include additional types of music, including folk music and jazz. Rock-and-roll still was not deemed ready for classroom study.
- Also in 1963 MENC receives a $1.3 million grant from the Ford Foundation for a project called “The Contemporary Music Project for Creativity in Music Education”; ways to use contemporary music to raise the standards of music performance were explored. It aimed to “increase the emphasis on the creative aspect of music in public schools,” and to “discover creative talent among students.”
- In 1967, the 10-day Tanglewood (Massachusetts) Symposium brought together business and labor leaders, federal and state lawmakers, philanthropists, scientists and sociologists, and music educators, including MENC leaders, to look at the topic “Music in Modern Society.” Among its conclusions were that music teachers should be equipped to teach students, regardless of socioeconomic background or ethnicity, and that the history and literature of music should be included. MENC leaders embraced the Tanglewood Declaration, and its conclusions gave the Association a framework for its future.
1970s to the Present
- In 1975, MENC left its offices in NEA’s D.C. headquarters and moved 25 miles west to Reston, Virginia, a planned community in Fairfax County. MENC, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and other education organizations joined together to purchase a building site, which later was known as the Center for Education Associations.
- 1993: MENC moved to its current location, 1806 Robert Fulton Drive in Reston, Virginia.
- 1994: NAfME develops the National Standards for Music Education and administers the overall development of the National Standards for Arts Education (1994) under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
- 1994: Music educators revisit the 1967 Tanglewood Symposium with a new symposium, “Vision 20/20,” which explores MENC’s role in the areas of advocacy, leadership, discipline and professional standards.
2005-2007 The National Anthem Project (TNAP) was a public awareness campaign launched in 2005 as an initiative of MENC: The National Association for Music Education. TNAP sought to encourage more singing of the national anthem, and to bring more public attention to the role of music in American schools.
TNAP received support from many corporations, and former First Lady Laura Bush served as honorary chairperson, with the Oak Ridge Boys as the official musical ambassadors. In 2006, the Oak Ridge Boys performed for the World Largest Concert in Branson, Missouri, and in the same year they performed in a concert with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in Salt Lake City, Utah. The event took place during the 2006 MENC Biennial Conference.
TNAP also includes the MENC/TNAP informational bus tour that traveled to nearly every state in the United States, with a grand finale at the Washington Monument attended by hundreds of music teachers and students as well as a Jeep-sponsored appearance by an 18-year-old: Taylor Swift—yes, that Taylor Swift. The grand finale coincided with MENC’s Centennial Year in 2007.
- 2007: Keokuk II: Centennial Symposium for MENC: The National Association for Music Education is held May 31-June 2 in Keokuk, Iowa, to commemorate the founding of MENC. The symposium was presented by the History Special Research Interest Group (SRIG) of the MENC Society for Research in Music Education, with support from MENC, the University of Michigan, and the City of Keokuk. Along with presentations and panels, the symposium include a sing-along of period school music pieces and the dedication of a historical plaque commemorating the first meeting in 1907
The official Centennial Celebration was held in June 2007 in Orlando, Florida. Celebration events included the Centennial Congress, a gathering of arts education leaders along with the MENC National Assembly, the annual meeting of the Association’s state affiliate leaders; and the Centennial Gala Concert, featuring students and teachers from throughout the United States.
Delegates wrote MENC’s Centennial Declaration, which states in part:
“… It is the right of every child to receive a balanced, comprehensive, sequential music education taught by qualified music teachers.
“… In this centennial year of 2007, we reaffirm our longstanding ideals in a challenging context that calls for directed action in curriculum, assessment, research, teacher education, advocacy, and building alliances.” Read the Declaration.
- 2011: On September 1, 2011, the Association dropped MENC from its name and became the National Association for Music Education (NAfME).
- 2011: Give a Note Foundation was established. It has conducted national awareness campaigns and raised funds to support and strengthen music education programs across the U.S. The programs reach millions of parents and students and provided more than $1 million in direct grants to schools.
- 2012: NAfME established the Biennial Music Educators National Conference, a forum for music education researchers, music teacher educators, college students, and PreK-12 teachers. It allows them to share current research and innovations that could shape the future of the profession. The 2012 and 2014 conferences were in St. Louis, Missouri. The 2016 conference will be in Atlanta, Georgia.
- 2014: The Core Music Standards released. NAfME developed the new National Core Music Standards and participated with a coalition of national arts, education, and media arts organizations to develop new Core Arts Standards.The Music Standards emphasize conceptual understanding in areas that reflect musicians’ artistic processes: Creating, Performing, and Responding.
- 2014: NAfME launched its Broader MindedTM initiative, which states: “Music not only impacts academic achievement; it also shapes the way our students understand themselves and the world around them. Let’s think beyond the bubbles™ and educate the whole student.”
- 2014 and 2015: In March 2014, Give a Note Foundation’s Music In Our Schools Tour, featuring country artist Danielle Bradbery, brought local and national attention to five school music programs and provided grants. The March 2015 Music In Our Schools Tour, featuring singer RaeLynn, included stops at five schools, each of which received a Give a Note grant.
Today, music educators, college students preparing to become music teachers, high school music honor society members, music industry representatives, music supervisors, parents and community members all support NAfME’s cause. With more than 160,000 members, NAfME remains the world’s largest arts education association.
Roz Fehr, April 9, 2015. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org).