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A Look Back over 75 Years

compiled by editors | August September 2020

   The Instrumentalist first arrived in mailboxes in September 1946. World War II had ended the year before and instrument makers were converting their manufacturing back to music after years of defense production. Despite unbearable losses on the battlefield and myriad disruptions to everyday life, Americans felt a spirit of optimism and hope as the new normal began.
   During these uncertain hours, our grandfather, Traugott Rohner, hatched a plan to start a new music magazine. He had published a few articles in an existing trade magazine and liked seeing his byline in print. His teaching portfolio was full even by 1946 standards as he taught and conducted music students at every level from the grade schools of Evanston, Illinois to college students at the Northwestern University School of Music. Despite not needing another project, he put a second mortgage on his house and went to work on the new magazine.
   In notes he typed years later about founding the magazine, he mentioned a futile search to find a crisp, short title for the magazine, similar to Time, Life, and other popular publications of the era. Instead, he ended up with a title so long that its syllables have tongue-tied editors and receptionists for decades. Spelling out our email address for billing clerks trying to pay their awards bills is almost hopeless. After several years with small financial losses, the magazine began to thrive and became essential reading for generations of directors.
   For forty years starting in 1973, our father, James T. Rohner, took the helm. With a strong hand and a clear vision, he led the magazine through many of its finest years. One of the pleasures of putting together this issue has been the opportunity to remember just how many towering figures from the band, orchestral, and jazz worlds generously added to our pages. A particular treat was discovering a charming, late-in-life interview with Benny Goodman in the 1970s. As my sister and I lead the company today, we reflect often on the lessons learned under our father’s firm tutelage. Although we have different editorial ideas in some areas, most of what we know about making good magazines comes from him.
   As we begin our 75th year with this issue, we have taken a deep dive into our back issues and have included a small sampling of memorable thoughts by outstanding musicians over the years. There will be more in the months ahead, both online and in the print issues. Looking through hundreds of dusty magazines, it quickly becomes clear that great music and great teaching don’t change all that much over time. Technology advances, society evolves, and teaching methods develop, but the heart of music education remains great teachers with passion, dedication, and wisdom. We have always been humbled to give teachers some additional ideas and tools to make their jobs easier.
   We want to say a quick word about the many people who have helped make this magazine over the years. Whether staff members lasted a week or a generation, for most, this was their most memorable job. Indeed, it is likely you could put together a top-notch band or orchestra just with the people who never made it past the initial interview. For those who endured, our office always had music – dedicated practicing in the shipping room by a future symphony player, lively Christmas caroling around the lobby piano, and excited conversation about an upcoming gig. We are so grateful to our staff past and present for the late nights and weeks spent refining words and images.
   Although the months leading up to this anniversary issue have been far from normal, we have tried to produce a typical issue with just a dollop of nostalgia. To our alumni, contributors, advertisers, and friends, we offer heartfelt thanks. We look forward to happier days ahead.

James M. Rohner, Publisher
Ann Rohner Callis, Publisher­