WEST VIRGINIA'S STRUGGLE FOR SCHOOL MUSICNOTES DA CAPO - By Clifford Brown
Time was that your Uncle Charlie might have gotten you a job teaching music in the local schools if you wanted it, and if you showed some musical ability. A "special certificate" would have been issued, and you'd have been set for five years - that is if Uncle Charlie were influential in one of the independent districts among the 398 school districts in West Virginia at that time. These independent districts (Wheeling was the first) were established in the cities. They had full control of their schools and obligated themselves to support them. What gradually developed was high educational quality with teachers well paid in the independent districts, and low educational quality with teachers poorly paid in the rural schools. Although this was the era of the "common school," the independent districts were adding four-year high schools when the rural districts had none. The same thing happened later when junior high schools were introduced.
Throughout the 1920s committees from the Music Section (which later became the WVMEA) of the State Education Association were actively promoting music as a curricular subject in the public schools. Nelle Shirkey of Beckley; Lydia ffinkel of Morgan- town; Mrs. D.C. McCoy, Dale Haven, and Lucy Robinson of Wheeling; and J. Henry Francis of Charleston spoke, wrote, and conferred about the lack of music in the schools. The first step was to get music into the curriculum. The next step was to establish requirements that would prepare elementary teachers to teach music, and then recommend more extensive requirements for music supervisors and high school music teachers. This opportunity came when Robert Clark, Supervisor of Teacher Training, initiated the change from the examination to the credential method of certification. In 1927 numerous committees from the teacher training institutions were requested to propose their recommendations for certification requirements.
The college representatives on the music committee for elementary teacher requirements were Hannah Cundiff of Marshall, Mrs. H. Wardner Davis of Salem, Marie McCord of Shepherd, Mary B. Price of Fairmont, and May E. Taylor of Glenville. Their proposals ranged from 6 to 16 credit hours of music for the elementary teacher. Sixteen hours were unrealistic, being one-fourth of the total required for the two-year normal certificate, so the final document included 4 hours of music in the two-year course and 6 hours in the four-year course. Another committee of music teachers made recommendations for the "first-class certificate" for high school music teachers. This committee included Lydia Finkel and Minerva Lawson of West Virginia University, C.C. Arms of Clarksburg High School, Pauline Kirk of Fairmont Normal, Ruth Parker of Morgantown High School, and Lucy Robinson of Wheeling High School. The recominendations, which were adopted, provided flexibility within each institution involved, but set a new high minimum of technical music hours.
After two years of serious effort and widespread participation by teachers at all levels and in all academic fields, the new certification requirements became effective 1 January 1929. This marked the fust statewide, organized plan of standardizing teacher certification. It had a direct effect on the various curricula in those colleges with teacher preparation programs. Just four years later, in 1933, the legislature adopted the county unit plan, making the county school system responsible for the teaching of music in the rural elementary schools as well as in the cities. It was not until 1937 that the State Board of Education issued a regulation making music a required subject in the elementary schools.
While music was finally recognized as a required subject, that didn't make it a reality. It would take years to implement the county unit plan in providing the facilities and equipment, supervisory personnel to organize and assist, and administrative motivation to carry out music instruction. With music still treated as an extra-curricular activity in most high schools, and with music personnel among the first to be cut in a budget squeeze, there was little incentive for musically talented high school graduates to devote four years earning a degree in Public School Music. Since there were few fully qualified music teachers available, administrators had no alternative but to accept some teachers with minimal preparation who could obtain a "special certificate." Fortunately, many of these teachers utilized their abilities to the maximum, upgraded their certification, and ultimately became outstanding teachers.
When the certification study was being made during the years 1927-1929, that ambitious group of teachers in the Music Section of the State Education Association exercised an influence for school music far beyond their own realization when they organized the first All-State (High School) Orchestra, Band, and Chorus. After 1933 another development that generated public interest in music was the county music festival in which massive groups of elementary children participated. One must conclude that the music teachers during this period were developing the interest and support of the two most powerful segments of society - the children and their parents.
Tacet ... for now.