By: Sam Moore-Young, State Executive
​Contributions by Craig Skeffington, Jazz Auditions Chair
Historical Research by Bob Modr

PART 1 – This was originally published in the MMEA Magazine (2010)

The following article tells the history of MMEA up to 1966 and is based on research done by retired music educator Bob Modr who has graciously allowed me to edit and add on to his work of 1966. For the sake of brevity, I have left out many details concerning who was elected, treasurers’ reports, etc.

We can’t know where we are going if we don’t know where we have been!

Most music teachers probably don’t know the history of the Maine Music Educators Association and until recently, I would have been one of them. Our parent organization, National Association for Music Education (NAfME) began as a small meeting of 104 music supervisors in Keokuk, Iowa, in 1907 after the 1906 National Education Association (NEA) was canceled due to the San Francisco earthquake. After meeting again in 1909 in reaction to the NEA not addressing the concerns of music supervisors, the group formally organized in 1910 and called itself the Music Supervisors National Conference (MSNC).

In October 1915, at a meeting of music supervisors held in connection with the state Teachers Convention in the assembly room of Portland High School, it was decided that it was advisable to form a closer association of Maine school music teachers. A committee was formed to draw up a constitution. This was the beginning of the first state-level organization of public school music teachers in the United States.

For a number of years, the new organization, known as the Maine Music Supervisors Association (MMSA), met only once a year, at the time of the State Teachers Convention in October. At the October 1917 meeting in Bangor, with forty people in attendance, it was voted to collect dues of twenty-five cents per year.

One of the functions of the new organization was to assist the music supervisor of the host city to prepare music for the State Convention, if desired. In 1919, members provided the Portland host with extra singers for a large chorus he prepared for the occasion. One of the pieces on the program featured a gifted young lady who whistled bird calls.

Another feature of those annual meetings was the presentation of papers written by members. In 1920, one of the papers presented was “How May a Better Prepared Force of Grade School School Teachers be Maintained?” with discussion following.

The report of the 1921 meeting mentions for the first time efforts by the group to work out a music curriculum for the state. This was followed, at the meeting of 1925, by a vote to petition the State education authorities to include adequate training in music teaching in the preparation of public school teachers. There was no mention of the success of the petition.

By 1928, the MMSA sponsored its own state audition type festival. This event was held in Waterville with eleven instrumental groups attending. There is no mention of choruses.

The 1931 meeting—it appears that the group still met annually—was concerned with constitutional revision, something which has occupied the organization over the years. A vote was taken to hold a Band, Orchestra, and Chorus competition in Portland. Another vote was taken to organize a summer music camp, which was held in 1932 in Castine, moved to Hebron, and finally settled at Farmington. (Might this be the beginning of the Maine Music Camp, held on the Farmington campus for many years, and run by Russell Jack Sr. in the 1960s and 70s?)

In 1934, the national organization’s name was officially changed to Music Educators National Conference (MENC) to more accurately reflect the actual makeup of the organization’s membership. At about this time the Maine group became aware of regional and national organizations.A delegate and alternate were sent to the National Conference. 1936 saw the development of regional meetings within the state and 1940 records mention, for the first time, the Northern Festival group. In 1942, steps were taken which led to the affiliation with MENC. This new affiliation helped bring the president of the Eastern Division conference as keynote speaker to the 1946 meeting. It appears that by 1946 MMSA became known as the Maine Music Educators Association (MMEA).

In 1949, the Kennebec Valley Music Director’s Association was formed under the leadership of Dr. Paul Wiggin. Their first event was a band concert in Augusta, January 19540.

March 1951 marked the meeting between our Board of Directors and Music Committee of the State Principals Association. The chairman of the SPA thought that while music teachers were often excellent musicians, they were not always very business-like, not always skilled in human relations, and needed to be more aware of the importance of good public relations. Our people pleaded the cause of the common decencies of professional treatment.

Also by 1951, there was a movement for MMEA to sponsor a Maine All State Festival for the more capable high school music pupils of the state. The SPA formally expressed a favorable attitude regarding the proposed Maine All State Festival. MMEA responded by offering a tentative plan for such a festival and invited SPA’s approval of the plan. In 1952, the SPA stated that the principals were interested in discouraging participation in out-of-state music events such as the New England Festival, and in encouraging state music activities. MMEA’s plan was endorsed for such a Festival and SPA pledged their support and encouragement. The first All State Festival was held in Augusta in 1953. The three conductors were Ralph Schonmaker (Band), Thomas Massi (Orchestra), and Edward Gilday (Chorus).

All State greatly strengthened MMEA by making payment of dues a prerequisite to eligibility in order to qualify for selection. This controversial stand received the full support of both the Principals and Superintendents representatives.

A little experience convinced the leadership that the original method of qualifying participants (recommendation?) was not producing satisfactory results. In 1956 a committee brought in a set of recommendations for the auditioning of candidates in order to participate. These recommendations were accepted by MMEA.

In 1956, Past President Ellen F. Blodgett passed away. She had served MMEA in several capacities, including the first editor of the BULLETIN. She was greatly loved by those who knew her. One of her dreams had been an MMEA music scholarship for worthy students from our high schools. That dream was realized in 1958 with the establishment of the Ellen F. Blodgett Memorial Scholarship.

The records of MMEA over its first fifty years makes it plain that it has consistently presented a good image to the educational world and to the general public. It has always been respected by administrators. One of the group’s greatest accomplishments is its on-going encouragement to in-service professional improvement, and evolving certification requirements.

Past Executive Secretary of the Maine Teachers Association, Clyde Russell, once stated in Bob Modr’s presence, that he considered MMEA one of the best-run and effective professional groups in the State. Not too shabby!

PART 2 Weather had always been an issue for All State. In April 1970, in Livermore Falls, there was rain and slush. In 1975, the date was moved to May and was held on the Gorham campus of University of Maine Portland-Gorham. 1979 brought another change; the combining of the fall conference and All State into one event which was held at the Bangor Civic Center.

Rehearsals were held at various high schools while the conference and the concerts took place at the Civic Center. In 2000 or 2001, the decision was made to no longer house students with families. There was a liability issue if anything happened, among other concerns. The last time Lewiston hosted, students were housed in dorms on the Central Maine Vocational Technical College. The next year, USM and UMO began alternating hosting duties which continues to this day.

MMEA continued to evolve. All State auditions possibly had the most changes over the years. In 1968, all vocal students from one school would audition for the same pair of judges. If there were not enough students to cover all the parts, some students would audition as many times as needed. The audition piece was an octavo, and even the sight-reading was an octavo. A scale was also sung by all at the same time. This had all changed by 1979. Students auditioned in quartets, with ‘house’ singers from USM covering missing parts. The drawback was that students did not have an opportunity to rehearse with the house singers. Octavos were still used. Sometime between 1980 and 1987, this changed to students auditioning solo with an accompanist provided if needed. The 1990’s brought the biggest change yet – computers. Thanks to the genius of Larry Bean, auditions for the vocal and wind students were scored on Macs except at the northern site where all auditions were paper and pencil. Accompaniment for the vocalists was done with CD’s. Strings still went to the Southern and Central sites to record their audition under the watchful eye of a string teacher. By the end of the 1990’s, string students were auditioning live. More changes came in the form of revamped score sheets, repertoire rotation – Italian Art Songs for vocalists – NO PAY/NO PLAY and NO CHAPERONE/NO PLAY, and the inclusion of strings at the northern site.

Up until at least the early 1980’s, the state was divided into smaller entities loosely based on the rivers. Everything west of the Androscoggin was called Western Maine, from Rumford/Mexico south to York; Kennebec to the Penobscot with a specific list of schools that is still adhered to was KV, Kennebec Valley; Mid-Coast; Downeast, and All Aroostook. There may have been one or two more for central Maine. As southern Maine grew in population, the size of festivals became overwhelming and it became clear that MMEA had to more equally divide the state, thus the 7 districts were formed. Some areas kept their festival names. There has been talk, off and on, of dividing District 1 due the population but nothing has come of it. In 1995, the district boundaries in central/western Maine were redrawn, taking a couple school districts from District 2 and adding them to District 4. Furthermore, in the RSU frenzy, school systems with multiple high schools found themselves overlapping District lines. Thus RSU 10 found itself with one high school, Buckfield, in District 2 and Mtn. Valley in Rumford, in District 4. Unintended consequences. On occasion, school districts petitioned the MMEA board to change districts. This was granted for practical reasons a couple of times but for the most part, the districts remain as is since 1995.

The jazz component of the Maine Music Educators Association is a busy, almost year long process. Events start as early as October for All State Jazz auditions and conclude with the conference workshops at BOC in May. The origins of these festivals and events often are unknown and assumed to “have always been there”.

The All State Jazz Festival that runs in January was not started by MMEA at all, but rather the music faculty at the University of Maine at Augusta in the late 1980’s. Chuck Winfield and Dave Demsey were driving forces behind the creation of the event. Auditions and performances were held there until MMEA assumed leadership in the early 90’s. Standardized etudes, recordings and audition materials were voted on in 1995. It now draws 400+ students to audition and the etude / recording model has been copied (with permission) by several state music organizations throughout the country.

​The Maine State Instrumental Jazz Festival, with it’s seven district festivals, HS, MS and vocal events, had it’s humble beginnings as the Maine State Dance Band Competition in the late 1960’s. The event was spearheaded by then Winthrop band director Frank Stevens. Within a few years the event was renamed to the Maine State Jazz Festival, with day events held in Winthrop and the night finals at the Augusta Civic Center. Due to the infancy of public school jazz education, there was little to no improvisation and it was common for band directors to perform with the groups. Iconic schools and directors of the time were: – Bob Thorne, Foxcroft Academy; David Saucier, Leonard Middle School; Dick Kennison, Presque Isle High School; Terry White, Westbrook High School; Stan Buchanan, Nokomis High School and Jerry Hogan, Old Town High School. In the mid 1970’s MMEA assumed leadership of this activity. Early years of the event were actually broadcast on WCSH radio. As the event grew in popularity, divisions were created to accommodate MS bands and HS combos. The festival ran for many years as a one day event until the size necessitated a move to a two day event in the early 90’s. As the vocal jazz and show choir movement grew, a further change was implemented, separating the events into 3 separate weekends. The most recent change to the event was the realignment of the scoring to a standards based system. This change was received well by the music education community and by the parents / audience members.

Jazz education in the state of Maine continues in a healthy direction, with MMEA’s recent commissioning of large ensemble works for Orchestra, Band, Chorus, Jazz Chorus and Jazz Ensemble. Maine groups continue to travel to New England festivals such as Berklee or the University of New Hampshire Jazz Festival and receive superior ratings. In some ways a far cry from the original Maine State Dance Band competition but in many ways not….Maine students, still given instruction and an opportunity to play jazz!

MMEA’s state publication has been around in one form or another for several decades. In the mid-2000’s, it became clear that publishing and mailing the Bulletin was getting cost prohibitive. It was decided, after much debate, that it was time to explore the possibility of going online. Heidi Anderson took on this task and in 2008, Maine became the first state to publish its state magazine solely online.