So...how did we get here?
If you're a regular reader of this column, you've seen dates in 1934 through 1937 discussed. Like other dates in American history that come to mind (1776 and 1787), we know that there's some calendar space between the birth of a great idea and that fateful date when the details are finally ratified.
1934 was the beginning of a great idea—an effort to organize the music educators across the state. The concept had been discussed for many years before Clarence Best of Webster Groves introduced the idea to a group of St. Louis County music instructors, but finally began to take hold with a meeting at the Tiger Hotel in Columbia on November 25 of that year.
MMEA in 1934? Not quite. About fifty music teachers gathered at the Tiger to take Best's challenge to draw up by-laws for an organization which would work in the best interests of instrumental music for the state. Without a consistent model of other states' organizations to draw from, Best distributed a letter stating the purposes of the National Band Association. Much of the ensuing discussion centered on the need for a comprehensive organization, as many in attendance were responsible for both vocal and instrumental groups. Ultimately, the decision was made to form as a band and orchestra association, with an amendment to link the group's activities with vocal music as well.
The National Band Association constitution served as the organization's original constitution, and the next step was to establish by-laws. Temporary officers included Best as President, T. Frank Coulter of Joplin as 1st Vice-President, Lytton S. Davis of Monett as 2nd VP, and James Robertson of Springfield as secretary-treasurer. (As the MMEA legend goes, Robertson and Best discussed the idea of organizing Missouri's band directors during a golf game at Joplin's Shifferdecker Park course in the summer of 1934.)
Minutes of the next meeting in January of 1935 show that the group met in the Senate Library of the relatively-new State Capitol Building in Jefferson City. The temporary executive committee had already met in December 1934 and formed a working constitution and by-laws, which was debated and adopted by those in attendance.
Less than five months later, the Missouri State Choral Directors' Association was formed, with Coulter as President. Both organizations began to address issues with contests, recommending that each group combine their representatives with selected superintendents and state teachers' college instructors to form a State Music Advisory Committee.
So, are we the MMEA yet? Not quite, but on the way. These two organizations recognized the need to consolidate forces during the planning of the first conferences and clinic in Fall 1935. A clinic presentation titled “Cooperation Between Vocal and Instrumental Music In Our Schools” no doubt added to the enthusiasm of the combined efforts of the organizations and brought an eventual merger into discussion. The second joint conference of 1936 was held in Webster Groves, with Best and Coulter still at the helm of their respective organizations.
Members of both associations could easily see the benefits of a united organization and, following the success of the second joint convention, constitutional revisions took place to merge into the Missouri Music Educators Association, meeting for the first time under that name in Kansas City on November 11-13 in 1937. (The 1937 clinic was the first time that the program included the MMEA name; however, the constitution for the new organization and name were officially adopted at that convention. The first OFFICIAL Clinic and Conference under the MMEA constitution was held in Columbia on December 1-3, 1938 on the campuses of Jefferson Junior High School and Christian College...just a few steps from that first meeting in 1934 at the Tiger Hotel.)
And here we are, 75 years later, a consolidated organization of all music disciplines taught on all levels. Tremendous drive and vision have propelled MMEA from infancy to Missouri's advocate for music excellence in education and performance. We plan to celebrate MMEA's history in a variety of ways at the upcoming conference and clinic, and invite YOU to participate. Memorabilia from the MMEA archives will be on display in a special area at Tan-Tar-A. If you have an item or document that is unique to MMEA's history, please contact me. I'd be delighted to help you share it with the membership.
Next issue: Where have we been (literally)? The many locations of the annual conference and clinic prior to Tan-Tar-A. Drop a note if you have a special memory of the first 40 conferences.
(Many thanks to Herman Byrd, Wynne Harrell, and the late Al Bleckschmidt for historical information included with this article.)