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What Music Did for Winfield

from: Good Housekeeping magazine, December 1915.

Scanned and edited by J. J. Banks, March 29, 1999


By Edgar B. Gordon
 THERE has been during the past few decades a growing disinclination on the part of the American people to amuse themselves and a disposition to allow others to provide amusement for them. The professional entertainer holds sway everywhere.

Twenty-five thousand people, sometimes forty thousand, sit on the sidelines and allow eighteen men to do their playing for them-content to take their thrills at second hand. Music and drama are almost wholly monopolized by professionals, and millions of concert- and theater-goers drink in the emotional expression of others with never a thought of the joy they are losing in not having an outlet for their own feelings. Mechanical instruments, such as the phonograph and the player piano, are taking the place of the homemade music that was too often crude, but was soul satisfying and was never second-band. Among the children there even seems to have been an actual decrease in the ability to play. Epidemics of marbles, tops, shinny, and kiteflying are not as pronounced as they were a generation ago, and in many places instructors have been employed to teach the children how to play! The amusements of the older people have narrowed down and become more individualistic than of old, until among many the entire recreational life is limited to card playing and dancing. Of the many antidotes offered to correct these conditions, the movement looking toward the development of community music and drama has appealed most strongly to the writer, for through these two fine arts an almost universal appeal can be made and an outlet supplied for self-expression to an almost unlimited number of persons. Then, too, these two arts are peculiarly social in character a' d belong to the people. There is a communion of soul among those engaged in the production of a fine musical or dramatic work that Is very rarely experienced elsewhere. Community music and musical and dramatic clubs are among the leading activities in t h e settlement houses of the most crowded city slums, their success in suburban sections has also been marked. As a means of showing what may be accomplished in a small urban center, this article was written with the hope that it may help other communities to find themselves far as this form of recreation is concerned.

It is not an " uplift " story that we have to tell. On the contrary, the community about which this is written stands high' in rank among the second-class cities in Kansas, and doubtless the development in community music and drama in Winfield has been due, in a measure at least, to the ideal local conditions. A town with two denominational colleges, a college of music, a real Chautauqua Assembly over a quarter of a century old, an excellent public-school system, with a sympathetic board of education and an able superintendent, surely is a favorable environment for trying out anything having as its purpose the development of community life. Winfield also has several churches, lodges, men's and women's clubs which show a commendable civic spirit, well conducted picture theaters, and the usual social life among young and old. It was in this community I that the writer found himself about seven years ago, after a long residence in Chicago, five years of which were spent as a resident worker at the Chicago Commons, a social settlement. Being imbued with the social worker's point of view, it is not strange that, while going back into what seemed to be strictly professional musical work, he should have sought constantly to give his efforts a turn into a channel having some social significance.

The first opportunity presenting itself was the organization of a community orchestra which was made possible by there being in Winfield a number of earnest young people seriously studying the various stringed instruments. From a splendid band, which had for years been the pride of the town, necessary brass and woodwind players were recruited to make up an orchestra capable of rendering standard orchestral works. Shortly after undertaking this the writer was also given charge of the music in the high school, and it was a natural step to combine these organizations for the production of a choral and instrumental program.

This plan was followed for three years, and then the idea was conceived of presenting a series of programs, to which a season ticket could be sold at a nominal price, the money earned to be used for something of value to the entire community. Thus the beginning of a definite development of community music Winfield was made. It was decided to begin with the young people and children of the schools, and gradually reach out until all the available talent in the community should be utilized. It was also decided that, inasmuch as the enterprise was for the community at large, no compensation of any kind should be paid to those taking part. At first, professional musicians were disposed to regard requests for assistance -is all imposition, but by degrees they came to recognize the difference between the service in which the entire community is the beneficiary and the service which is rendered where only special groups are benefited. In other words, they came to see that the opportunity was being given them to enrich the community life of Winfield.

The public also caught this spirit and responded by their patronage in increasing numbers each year, until, last season, the entire house was sold out for the series of eight programs. From, the proceeds of two seasons concerts a choice collection of reference books on music has been contributed to the local library. These books have aided very materially in the encouragement of the serious study of music. Funds also have been provided for the purchase of over thirty orchestral instruments, which have been donated to the public schools. During the past three years eighteen different programs have been presented to the community entirely by people of the community. In many instances the programs have been given a second time to meet the demands of the public, and again as matinees for the grade-school children who were admitted without cost.

By slow degrees the real significance of the development came to be appreciated and last season, when the idea was conceived of enlarging the plan so as to include some evenings of carefully chosen plays, the possibility of making the venture a real expression of community art was seen. Almost unconsciously the effort had change from a sporadic one, calculated to furnish an outlet for certain school activities into one which had become interwoven with the whole social and recreational fabric of the community to such an extent that it touched almost every phase of life.

One thing which has contributed to interest in the plan is the fact that many of the families of the community are touched personally by having some of their members take part. Fond mamas, papas, uncles, aunts and even neighbors are interested when little Willie is going to "shine." This is one of the great values, socially, of this type of entertainment. The spirit of neighborliness engendered by having children of a neighborhood sing, play, or act together, while the older folk listen from the "front" is very desirable.

In planning the programs, great care has always been. Exercised in the selection and arrangement of the various numbers. Only good music and plays have been used, and the tastes of the average person rather than the exceptional one have been kept in mind. Either program-notes have been supplied, or short talks have preceded each program, in order that the numbers might be better understood. To give the variety, some were choral, some orchestral; some had a piano soloist who played with orchestral accompaniment; again, a violinist or cellist contributed solo numbers. On one program Cadman's song cycle, "The Morning of the Year," was sung, while another program was given to illustrate the use of Indian themes and included a selection from Victor Herbert's "Natoma," Cadman's Indian songs, and Coleridge-Taylor's " Hiawatha's Wedding Feast." One of the programs most enjoyed, and yet one which was decidedly educational in character, illustrated the chronological development of music from the early Greeks to the present time.

Since the real hope of the future artistic development of the community lies in the children, special programs have been planned each year for their benefit. Sometimes they were orchestral and consisted of selections within the comprehension of the children. At other times children's plays were performed.

Last season, as a contribution to the spirit of Christmas time, a production of the beautiful English mystery play, "Eager Heart," by A. M. Buckton was given. The interest on the part of both the performers and the audience in the truths of the play was very gratifying. Another occasion last season which was particularly successful was an evening of three, one-act plays. Here the desire was to make three different appeals to the audience. That to their sense of beauty was made by a lovely I i t t I e mythological play, " Demeter and Persephone," by Thomas Woods Stevens. This play has a charming background of incidental music for string orchestra by George Colburn, the play and music making a matchless appeal. As a contrast to this and as an appeal to the heroic and dramatic, the thrilling war-drama, "Allison's Lad," by Beulah Marie Dix, was given. Then, to relieve the tension and send the audience away happy, the delightful English comedy, " Mr. Sampson," by Sydney Lee, was performed. Upon the Winfield Orchestral Club has fallen the chief burden of the movement, for they not only have contributed heavy programs of orchestral music, but they have been called upon to supply accompaniments for choral works, light operas, solo numbers, and incidental music for plays. A wonderful spirit and interest has been shown by these splendid young people, who have met week after week, season after season, studying with painstaking care the scores of the works presented. Without their cooperation, the work would have fallen far short of the standard attained.

To offer dramatic opportunity to a very large number of young people, the work last season was concluded by an outdoor production of the "Pageant of Patriots," by Constance D'Arcy MacKay. About five hundred children and young people took part before an audience of over three thousand. Some weeks after this production, as a part of the child-welfare work of the Winfield Chautauqua, another pageant, "The Pied Piper of Hamelin," was given, with an equal number of townspeople and children. In this, the real mayor and councilmen of Winfield enthusiastically took the parts of the mayor and councilmen of Hamelin.

Another development of last season was the introduction of orchestral training in the public schools as a part of the regular music course. Sixty children of the grades were selected because of musical ability and general fitness, and each was given training on one or another of the instruments of the modern orchestra. This work was conducted under regular school discipline, with examinations, credits, and promotions. The year's work was concluded by a joint recital with a large chorus of children. In September, 1915, another group of fifty children was started, thus making classes in orchestral playing of several different grades of advancement. In this type of work lies the hope of the country in so far as the development of symphony orchestras is concerned. By offering the training as part of their school work, efficient players are produced in such numbers as to make it possible to have real orchestras outside of the great cities-a condition absolutely essential to a universal musical development. Then, too, where the training is started in the grades, the school and community have the benefit of the services of the student-players for a number of years before they leave school.

The plans for the present season include such definite extensions of the work as the use of a women's chorus from the local women's musical club, and a male chorus of college students and men of the community, while for the children of Winfield a rare treat is store Through the courtesy of New York, permission has been granted for the production of the delightful children's lay, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." The children's orchestra are looking forward to a spring concert in conjunction with a group of children, who will produce in costume "The Childhood of Hiawatha," an Indian operetta by Whitley.

Gradually the possibilities of community art-development have unfolded until an almost bewildering number of ramifications present themselves. Where this development ultimately will lead it is difficult to say. That there is a distinct value in it is indisputable. This is attested to, in the case of Winfield at least, by the interesting fact that the town recently won a prize of one thousand dollars offered by the Child Welfare Department of the University of Kansas for the best town in the state in which to raise children. The judges who made the survey of towns stated that one of the significant facts about Winfield was the community aspect of the musical and dramatic work. The significance of our work has also appealed to the national government, and at the request of Mr. P. P Claxton, Commissioner of Education, a bulletin on community- music and drama has been prepared, outlining a plan and supplying a bibliography of material for other communities that may wish to undertake this kind of work. Eight specimen programs are included. This bulletin may be had upon application to the Bureau of Education at Washington.

The general plan as outlined here, with modifications to suit local Conditions, is applicable to both large and small communities. Aside from the addition it makes to the wholesome recreation and artistic education of a community, its greatest value lies in the fact that it offers an ideal opportunity for the development of group consciousness and a disposition to work in conjunction with others-to do team work. In the three years in Winfield. we have seen a remarkable development of esprit de corps, which is attributable in a measure to the emphasis that has been placed upon the idea that it is not only a duty but a privilege to contribute of one's talents and time for the common good.

From this attitude of mind, it is but reasonable to expect a coming generation of good citizens who shall find their chief joy not in what they can get from a community, but what they can give back to it.

Thanks to Joan Cales (Winfield Public Library) and Jack Banks (Winfield's Senior Computer Wizard and Musician) for putting this material together, and for working out the process whereby we will get more!


Cowley County Historical Society Museum