The following was written by Phyllis Villec, August 2006
By the 1890s, San Francisco was a bustling, prosperous city of almost 300,000 people, with ranks of society ranging from dock workers and merchants to powerful captains of industry such as the Big Four: Charles Crocker, Mark Hopkins, Collis Huntington and Leland Stanford. Chinatown and Maiden Lane were thriving. Eight lines of cable cars designed by Andrew Hallidie extended 112 miles, permitting mansions to command breathtakingly steep hills. Sherman Clay was in the piano business at Kearny and Sutter Streets and music teachers were much in demand in a city that already had welcomed symphony concerts and Italian opera.
On the second day of March, 1897, seven San Francisco music teachers gathered to sign Articles of Incorporation for the Music Teachers’ Association of California, a private corporation formed by citizens and residents of the State of California . They had been meeting since 1892 and were currently headed by Volmer Hoffmeyer, a Dane from Copenhagen, a conservatory-educated musician as well as an engineer. Hoffmeyer carefully compiled a constitution to support:
- The promotion of the science of teaching music and the protection of the said members of the said Corporation in their vocation.
- Cultivation of a taste for high class [sic] music; encouragement of musical composition by the members, and bringing meritorious works to the notice of the public.
- Issuance of diplomas to competent instructors of music, and promotion of the employment of such instructors by the public.
It is remarkable that today, over a hundred years later, these ideals remain the foundation of the work of the Music Teachers’ Association of California. MTAC’s 2005-2006 Directory lists the Mission Statement and Goals:
- To promote the stability of the music teaching profession,
- To maintain the high professional standards of our members,
- To maintain exacting qualifications for membership in the organization establishing the active member as a qualified, accredited teacher, and
- To promise the development of musical potential and ability in students.
By the turn of the century twenty or more members met regularly at 26 O’Farrell Street in San Francisco to plan recitals and conduct Association business. The City and County of San Francisco became the headquarters for the active group. Initiation fees were $1.00. By October of 1905, the association had sponsored forty-eight concerts, some in the Association Hall of the Y.M.C.A., corner of Mason and Ellis Streets.
In January of 1906, Theodore D. Herzog became president, and a month later a concert date of May 9, “to save clashing with Lent—or Grand Opera dates” was set. These records of the Association were miraculously salvaged from one of the greatest natural disasters ever to befall a major American city, the earthquake of April 18, 1906 . The next minutes in the archive describe the first meeting of the music teachers following the upheaval, a remarkable document of May 1, 1906 from a meeting at Loydd [sic] Gilpin’s house at 1060 Fulton Street, necessary because their usual meeting places in downtown San Francisco were charred ruins.
Membership plummeted to eleven teachers whose lack of self-pity was remarkable. What was their concern? Their May recital. Their students were back at their lessons and prepared to play. Charter Member Ellen Coursen-Roeckel reported that of necessity members discussed the earthquake, but wished their students to play in the planned concert. The concert was held at Kohler & Chase’s Hall in Oakland on June 12, 1906 . It was duly reviewed by Loydd Gilpin in the Musical Review.
As San Francisco rapidly reinvented itself, the Music Teachers’ Association entered a period of growth. Felix Raynaud, the president in 1910, formed a committee to formulate convention and festival plans in San Francisco in 1911. Other counties were now invited into the organization and prospective members no longer had to be approved by a committee, but could be recommended by a member and simply pay $2.00 yearly dues.
In 1911 President Louis Eaton carried convention plans forward. Here was a man who modestly billed himself “one of the very best organists in the United States .” July 5, 6, and 7 of 1911 were the convention dates, and membership zoomed to a hundred.
Under Eaton the momentous decision to invite the Southern California Music Teachers’ Association to join forces was made. Los Angeles already had a population of 350,000 and soon Mulholland was to solve its water problem. The entire roster of the Southern California Music Teachers’ Association became members of the Music Teachers’ Association of California and a date was set for the second annual convention to be held in Los Angeles in 1912 at the Gamut Club. The opening reception featured an all-German program. By 1914 the Association had an official song, “The M.T.A. Song” to the tune of “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee.”
War and Depression
In 1917, during the confusion of World War I, the Association endorsed a Bill No. 816, which would require all teachers in California to face a board of examiners and be licensed. It was defeated. They also wrote to President Wilson offering any help he wished in wartime efforts, and wrestled with the problem of performing the music of Bach and Beethoven during the war against Germany .
In the twenties, efforts to standardize teacher training and promote music in the public schools continued, and in 1923 Bill 128 to finance music instruction in the schools went before the state senate. It also failed. That year, with 650 members, to help cope with the mounting paper work, the Association purchased an addressograph at the cost of $25.65 from the Rapid Addressing Machine Company In 1925, more new technology was discussed at the convention, “The Radio Engineer and the Radio Performer.” However, Rose Ireland of the Stanislaus Branch wrote about the deadly influence of radio on music study and vowed to “fight it as best I can.” Ivar Melander of Riverside later wrote about “How to Create an Interest in Bach Instead of Boogie-Woogie.”
CalPlan and Certificate of Merit
Despite the austerity of the Depression, when dues were forgiven and a Benevolent Fund established to help struggling members, two of the Association’s most powerful educational programs were established. In 1934 the first Certificate of Merit awards were made at that year’s convention. In 1941 the California Plan to educate teachers was implemented.
World War II
The second world war brought a need to cope with wartime shortages and the inability to use hotels for conventions. Dues were waived for members in service. In 1943, Olga Samaroff Stokowski was the keynote banquet speaker, her subject “The Reason for Music During the War.” That year saw the first performance of Certificate of Merit students at a convention.
Young Artist Guild
Shortly after the war, Helen Daun, founder of Certificate of Merit, proposed that students who had been in the Certificate of Merit program for ten years be auditioned for convention performance, and thus was MTAC’s most distinguished program launched. In 1950, with Daun presiding, four students performed a combined recital, initiating the Young Artist Guild.
By 1951, membership stood at 1,450 in twenty-eight branches, and it was obvious that the Association’s valuable history should be preserved. In 1954, a history room was opened in Isabel Stovel’s home on Third Avenue in San Francisco . Not many members availed themselves of the opportunity to visit there. Stovel also proposed the Association’s only venture into real estate. In 1955 two houses in Santa Cruz were purchased at a cost of $13,250 and made available to members at a rental fee of $12.00 a week. That year, Bill 1222 placed teacher certification before the state legislature. Both ventures failed. By 1964 depreciation exceeded earnings in Santa Cruz, so the houses were sold.
In 1954, the inception of today’s composing and improvisation programs came with the authorization of the Composers and Authors’ Committee. In 1960, at the Golden Convention in Long Beach, seven Young Artist Guild students performed. Samuel Rodetsky was chair, and is now remembered as donor of the annual Rodetsky Award. Six teachers graduated from the California Plan under the chairmanship of Eleanor Dalton. That year, two panel auditions for piano students were held for the first time.
In one of many steps toward professionalism, President Gladys Lotter proposed in 1963 that the Association rent an office, purchase an addressograph machine at $2257.42, and hire Gertrude Banta to manage the new office at $3.00 an hour. Banta made out Certificate of Merit forms on a new electric typewriter. Raymond Leonhaeuser, MTAC’s legal counsel then and now, recommended drawing up a list of tasks for Banta, and she also received bookkeeping training. By 1966 a new office was opened at 12 Geary Street.
New Programs for Students
In the late 1970s Helen Adele Daun received the Gurtha Olin Rodda award for sixty years of service and talks began on a possible merger with C.A.P.M.T. and M.T.N.A. Two important programs for students were begun in the seventies: VOCE (Vocalists, Orchestral instrumentalists, Chamber music, Ensembles) and the Piano Concerto Competition sponsored by the Piano Tuners’ Guild. By 1978, 8,600 Certificates of Merit were issued.
New Programs and Possible Merger
By 1980, the first day of the convention was entirely filled with student performances, including a recital by the Young Artist Guild, now led by Earle Voorhies, who had taken over from Juan Hernandez. Panel Honors recitals grew to two, Composers Today programs featured many players, the Adult Seminar was well-established, and there were lectures on pedagogy and musicology.
In 1981 the Contemporary Music Seminar was established by Dr. Bob Bennett. Friends of Today’s music supported an annual commissioned work. Also under the supervision of Bennett (honored with the Gurtha Olin Rodda award in 2006) the membership was brought to a vote on the C.A.P.M.T.-M.T.N.A. merger and this measure was defeated by a vote of 1430 to 531, a decisive turning point in the Association’s history.
In 1983, Richard Wharton became office manager and stayed on until his untimely death in 1989, the same year that Bob Haffenden, editor of The California Music Teacher after Clarice Lincoln, also died.
However, new people such as Presidents Arlene Ellefsen, Viola Brown, Olga Quercia, Barbara Torney, Peter Yazbeck, Deborah Erftenbeck, Linda Johnson, Betty Martin, Ruth Ann Schwan, Lieschen Bierstedt, and Irene Brown, were already active and experienced leaders.
A Notable Centennial
In 1997, at the Sheraton Palace Hotel in San Francisco, members gathered to celebrate the centenary of the founding of the Music Teachers’ Association of California. Honor was paid to the early members, but the convention was also modern and filled with student performances, teacher education, and featured a commissioned work by Samuel Adler as well as professional performances. The history Harmony, Discord and Panache by member Phyllis Villec detailed a century of dedication to the highest musical standards for both teachers and students. A gala ball added sparkle.
A session taught at the Centennial Convention introduced members to the idea of computer registration for teachers of Certificate of Merit students. Lowell Webster, Janet Smith, and Laurel Roberts of the Palo Alto Branch ushered in the future by putting the entire process online, a major step that eliminated old forms, typewriters, and paper trails. By 2001 the database program was in place and 26,000 students were registered online.
In 1998, the office staff, then consisting of Jocelyn Jotie, Rhonda Williams, Robert Garcia, and two part-time employees, took over office management after office manager Liz Walker left. This arrangement has proven successful. In 2005 the office at 414 Mason Street, San Francisco, was closed and a new and larger office in the Bong Building at 833 Market Street was opened.
State Educational Programs in 2006
- Certificate of Merit • Improvisation
- Young Artist Guild • Contemporary Music Seminar
- Young Composers’ Guild • Friends of Today’s Music
- Piano Panel Honors • VOCE
- Improvisation • Adult Performance
- Composers Today • California Plan
- Composers Today Adult Program • Community Outreach
Membership in 2006 : 4400 teachers.
New History Room
In 2006, because of extra space available in the office on Market Street, the history of MTAC finally found a handsome home of its own, fulfilling the dreams of Isabel Stovel, Henry Bretherick, Betty Martin, and others throughout the years.
Founders Volmer Hoffmeyer, Ellen Coursen-Roeckel Davis, and their cohorts bequeathed a rich legacy to present-day members of the Music Teachers’ Association of California. Their vision is fulfilled every day in the lives of the students and teachers of the Association through the efforts of a superb organization, which except for a small office staff, is run completely by volunteers. The mission has not changed in one hundred years and is not likely to change as long as there is music in the universe and people who love it.
Phyllis Villec, August 2006