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June 1957 The Silent Statistic, Why the empty choir lofts, tottering symphony societies, and few professional bands?, By Frederick Fennell

The consistently astounding statistics that our country’s ever-expanding research and information centers make available to us paint a formidable picture of the busy musical society in which we work and live. I can’t remember when the magical figure of 50,000 was not used to indicate the number of school bands and orchestras.
   Facts are fascinating. We live by them, and one can hardly make much music without admitting their existence. An overwhelming number of them, stretched alphabetically from a cappella thru zymbel, fill the Harvard Dictionary and tax the facilities of the Library of Congress. With constant revision and inexorable addition the pile grows ever larger while the figures stretch toward the next
   The millions of American school students reportedly engaged in the 1956-57 musical season represent a staggering statistic, but in spite of figures the danger exists that music education is becoming one large and very vague statistic — impressive perhaps, but none-the-less vague and often alarmingly silent.


   Each county, district, or all-state orchestra, band, or chorus fills the air with magnificent music. These organizations are beautiful to see, too – stages filled with uniforms, pastel-colored gowns, dark suits, and eager, interesting faces. The scene is re-enacted everywhere. Most of these young men and women have had a few years of music supervision or instruction and have learned something of the art of ensemble.
   Some may have uncovered a dormant musical talent or interest while sharing social experiences traveling to distant places: some may have felt a touch of great music brush across their cheeks  – been a little closer to the spirit than any other subject in their school curriculum can bring them. As the curtains close at the conclusion of their portion of the festival performance one can justifiably feel that something worthwhile has been achieved!

The Future
   What becomes of most of these young people? What is their future, other than the dismal end of becoming a statistic of past achievements?
   We can fervently hope that this will not be so. But, in spite of the unprecedented participation of hundreds of thousands of young people in school music, a vast majority of our church choirs, for example, cannot even turn out a pumper’s guard for a Wednesday night rehearsal or a Sunday service. Even those who beg, plead, coerce, or pay find none of these (save possibly the last) to be really satisfactory methods for the maintenance of a vested choir that deserves the name.
   How can we who conduct, teach, or administrate honestly ignore the silent statistics of the empty choir loft, the shaky symphony society, or (he almost total absence of the town band? Why do we lose the interest of young people in singing and playing or in supporting and encouraging those who do, if they themselves do not? Could it be that we teach them too much about isolated areas of music’s broad domain, concentrating in the narrow field of what is called a man’s specialty?
   Could it be that we do such a complete job of teaching them to fear participation in non-school activities while they are in school that when they graduate they don’t even know or care that other kinds of music making are open to them? Could it be that those of us who conduct community groups do not know how to maintain attractive social intercourse with those who do volunteer to make music?
   I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I suspect that these and similar conditions, most of which are bred in the secondary schools, must take the responsibility for the empty choir lofts, the tottering symphony societies, and the almost nonexistent professional bands.

Who is to Blame?

   Music in our schools has never been better, but it’s not the music in school that is of concern; it’s the lack of music out of school or after school that is the problem. There are people who are experiencing the bitter recoil of young musicians who feel that they were exploited while in high school groups. These disillusioned young men and women don’t list any musical reference whatsoever when they apply for college entrance: what is worse, they not only fail to support musical activity, they lobby against it!
   An extreme, to be sure, but the condition does exist and all of us, in one way or another, contribute to its presence. It could be that we teachers are long on talent and promotion and short on character and vision; we might be too willing to accept the popular derision of the profession of music as one long underpaid and thankless chore which nobody really appreciates anyway. Underpaid it is, but thankless? Hardly!
   Among the after high school or college instrumental activities that should attract the millions who learn to play at public expense is the community band, which, except in a relatively few isolated instances began a steady disappearance as an adult activity long ago. The community orchestra, however, seems to be increasing across the nation: but, if the present momentum is lost, it may never again be regained. It will not I be lost unless high school string players become silent statistics!
   Music making after high school remains an enigma. Where do we fail in our leadership that breeds not a modicum of respect for music outside the classroom? How can we consistently make music in our little vacuums of personal endeavor while ignoring the world outside of our institutions? And how can we hold to our narrow world of selfishness when it is for the musical and spiritual richness of our fellow men that we should be musicians in the first place?

What to Do?

    When one contemplates the vast public expenditures on behalf of music for our schools, in all fairness he cannot continue to upbraid the school administrator for any lack of material support; these statistics shout! If one accepts as valid the line of reasoning that places the responsibility for apathy or hostility toward these school music program by administrators as the end result of things done or undone by past music educators, we might find ourselves right back to the subject of the statistics, to the ill-gotten gains of vain-glorious “musical” appointees whose legacy of music and education is at once a crime against the one and a travesty on the other
    To those of the colleagues so presently unfortunate as to have inherited so black a position, one can only say, “Stick it out, don’t run, work like a dog, think like a man, sacrifice like a musician, and leave the situation better than you found it.” Help change the silent statistics into second sopranos at Sunday Church, into members of the community orchestra and band. Imbue young people with a sense of the continuing pleasures of a musical life that they can enjoy in the communities where they will one day live, love, and work. For, if pleasure and responsibility must be defined separately, we have by-passed the art of music for the mere cultivation of motor skills, musical athletics, and public relations.
   Teach students to know that this is their country and to love it, that the musical life of it is their responsibility as well as yours: help them to know that music has always led a struggling existence but that it survives in spite of everything. Lead them out of the silent valleys of statistics into the hills of great sound wherein the love, character, and talent of musical educators in the millennium before them have erected for all the world the incredibly beautiful temple of the art of music. 

   Frederick Fennell is the founder and director of the famed Eastman Symphonic Wind Ensemble of the University of Rochester. He has been on the Eastman faculty since 1939 except for a leave of absence from 1943 to 1945 during which time he served as National USO Music Adviser, in which capacity he organized the first All-Service little symphony.