As the International Society for Music Education celebrates twenty-five years since its formation in 1953 it is appropriate to reflect on the beginnings and development of this now firmly established international organization and to review the extent to which it has fulfilled its aims and ideals. I will attempt to do no more than present a sketch of the main events for which ISME has been responsible, but I would suggest that a close analysis of these accomplishments would reveal that ISME has never wavered from its primary responsibility of stimulating music education throughout the world as an integral part of general education and community life and as a profession within the broad field of music. I also believe that there is ample evidence that ISME activities have always been in accord with that highest aim of UNESCO of bringing about a world unity of mankind through friendship, cooperation, and mutual understanding.

Prior to the founding of ISME there were, I believe, at least two other moves to establish, at the international level, cooperation between persons involved in music education. The first was through a conference of music teachers organized by Percy Scholes in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1929. The second emerged from decisions taken in Prague in 1934 and resulted in the First Congress for Music Education in that city in 1936. The theme of that historic meeting was general problems of music education with particular attention to teacher preparation. The materials of that conference were published in Prague the following year. A further congress was held in Paris in 1937 to discuss concerts by and for youth and, in 1938, meetings in three Swiss towns—Zurich, Berne, and Baden—discussed music education for handicapped children. More European than truly international, these conferences could not be continued in subsequent years owing to the Second World War of 1939-1945.

In 1953, however, there was held in Brussels an International Conference on The Role and Place of Music in the Education of Youth and Adults. This was the outcome of close collaboration between the newly formed International Music Council and UNESCO. From 1949 onwards UNESCO had been engaged on an extensive program to determine the place of the arts in general education and their importance in the formation of personality. The aim of the Brussels Conference was to study in their entirety problems connected with non-specialized music education and to define the methods best suited to school education, adult education, and the training of music teachers. One especially important purpose of the conference was to bring together in large numbers specialists in music education at all levels from throughout the world.

Important as that conference was for the persons from some forty countries who took part in it and for the valuable report which was subsequently published and widely distributed, a more important and lasting outcome was, undoubtedly, the decision of its participants to establish the International Society for Music Education. In taking this step they planned to strengthen and to give permanence to the international bonds that had been established at Brussels and, by becoming a member body of the International Music Council, ISME allied itself with a group of international organizations constituting the Council. Each of these covered a special field of musical activity such as those representing composers, musicologists, music libraries, and musical youth; but among these organizations ISME must be seen to have had the most far-reaching mission, since education is fundamental to any growth in the musical life of any country.

At this point I should mention the name of one man, one of the most respected men of music of our time, that of Charles Seeger of the United States. His pioneering achievements as a musician and scholar are manifold, and ISME is but one international cultural organization to have benefited from his initiatives. It was at the Brussels conference that Charles Seeger submitted formally a proposal to found a democratically organized International Society for Music Education. Charles Seeger had been involved, with others, in the drafting of the statutes of ISME which provided for three standing committees—( 1) for music in general education, (2) for education of the professional musician, (3) for education of the scholar or musicologist. These architects of ISME did not see the organization as a control or a pressure group but rather an interest group whose members have most to learn from each other.

Since the inaugural Brussels meeting major international conferences have been held in the name of ISME and in cooperation with national organizations or institutions in Lindau (Germany) and Zurich (Switzerland)—1955; Copenhagen (Denmark)—1958; Vienna (Austria)—1961; Tokyo (Japan)—1963; Budapest (Hungary)—1964; Interlochen, Michigan (USA)—1966; Dijon (France)—1968; Moscow (USSR)—1970; Tunis (Tunisia)—1972; Perth (Australia)—1974; Montreux (Switzerland)—1976; and London (Ontario, Canada)—1978.

In addition to these large-scale conferences, regional seminars in conjunction with UNESCO have been held in Stockholm (Sweden)—1970; Buenos Aires and La Plata (Argentina)—1971; Tokyo (Japan)—1974; Hanover (Federal Republic of Germany)—1976; Lisbon (Portugal)—1977; and Poznan (Poland)—1978. ISME Research Seminars, a most important element in the life of ISME, have been held in Reading (England)—1968; Stockholm (Sweden)—1970; Gummersbach (Federal Republic of Germany)—1972; Christchurch (New Zealand)—1974; Graz (Austria)—1976; and just recently in Bloomington, Indiana (USA)—1978.

From this survey it will be seen that the venues of ISME Conferences and seminars have achieved a most extensive world coverage geographically extending to Europe, Asia, North and South America, Africa, and Australia and New Zealand.

The themes of the programs of these assemblies have covered all aspects of music education and have enabled information to be disseminated and musical experiences to be shared through live performances. Today many countries can admit to enjoying benefits in their music education which have derived, through ISME, from the achievements of other countries. ISME events have contributed to international understanding to say nothing of the warm personal friendships that have been established. From the outset ISME took the broadest view of world music and avoided the "comically narrow and provincial view" (as an ex-ISME President, Gerald Abraham, called it) to which occidentals have been so prone, that their music was the only music that mattered. Increasingly, in its attempts to seek the truth concerning the world's musics, ISME has given attention to the rich musical cultures of non-Western communities.

Inspiration for ISME's work has come from many individuals within its ranks. Among these are three distinguished musicians of world stature who have honored the Society as Honorary Presidents. Firstly, the Israeli Leo Kestenberg, a great stimulator and reformer of music education; secondly, Zoltan Kodaly whom his fellow countryman Bartok called "the greatest composer-educator that Hungary has produced"; and, thirdly, Dmitri Kabalevsky, one of the foremost present-day composers whose attitude regarding music for young persons particularly is a great example to us all.

The list of persons who have served on the ISME Board over the past twenty-five years is too long to be detailed here; but were these persons all present today, I am sure they would unite in acclaiming the long and faithful work of the late Vanett Lawler, ISME Treasurer for some seventeen years, and then of Professor Dr. Egon Kraus, ISME Secretary General for fifteen years, President for four years, Foundation Editor of the International Music Educator for eight years and of the ISME Year Books since their inception in 1973, and Editor of several UNESCO/ISME publications.

Reference has been made to ISME conferences and seminars and to ISME publications. Other means by which ISME has pursued its aims have been through its own commissions representing special fields of music education (Research; Education of the Professional; Music in Schools and Teacher Training; Out of School Music Activities; Technical Media; Music Therapy and Special Education; Music in Cultural, Educational and Mass Media Policies). In 1976, in order to intensify the exchange of ideas and experiences in the field of music education in various regions of the world, the ISME General Assembly adopted a plan for the establishment of ISME Regional Centers, three of which have already been established in Tokyo for Asian countries, in Buenos Aires for Latin American countries, and in Bonn for European countries. It is hoped soon to have other Regional Centers for African and Arab countries. ISME has also accomplished much through its relationships with UNESCO and the International Music Council and with other international member organizations of the IMC.

If ISME has achieved some of its avowed mission during its first twenty-five years, its officers are deeply aware that there are many uncompleted tasks. Among these are, for example, the establishment of the International Institute for Music Education envisaged in the original statutes of ISME and two projects which featured in a developmental "five-year plan" devised in the early 1970s—(1) the establishment of a permanent professional ISME Secretariat and (2) an international music education publishing project, Edition ISME.

As ISME moves into its second quarter-century these projects and many others remain challenges before us, demanding the unity of our effort and belief. ISME's strength can never be as a group of individuals seeking personal gain but as an assembly of true professionals who see their ISME membership as the means of cooperating with others of similar conviction and vision for the future of music education throughout the world.

8000 Last modified on November 9, 2018