The International Society for Music Education, 1953-2003

August 31, 2003

This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the International Society for Music Education, and as the Society?s President, I am delighted to bring you greetings from its members all over the world. Throughout the 2002-2004 Biennium, ISME members have banded together to celebrate in a host of ways the many wonderful things that our Society has accomplished since its founding in July of 1953. Over these many years, ISME has enjoyed a most fruitful relationship with The College Music Society. In this regard, we are pleased to share with you the following text, which has been prepared by Professor Marie McCarthy from the University of Maryland. Professor McCarthy is in the process of writing the ISME History, which will be published and available early in 2004.


The International Society for Music Education was founded during the International Conference on the Role and Place of Music in the Education of Youth and Adults, which took place at the Palais des Beaux Arts in Brussels, June 29-July 9, 1953. The conference was organized under the auspices of UNESCO, in collaboration with the International Music Council (IMC). The vision and goals of the Society were articulated early on in its development. These goals remained central to the Society?s activities and accomplishments throughout the fifty-year period: to stimulate music education in all countries throughout the world, to encourage music education in all its varied forms and settings, to share information and materials internationally, and to develop international understanding.

ISME sought to achieve broad international representation in its membership and leadership. In the process, it aimed to build networks of music educators worldwide and to stimulate music education as an integral part of general education and community life and as a profession within the broad field of music. Attracting international members was stimulated in part by its multilingual forum and its outreach to countries beyond the European and American continents.

Already in its first decade, the Society's leaders encouraged meetings of music educators in the Asian and Pacific regions, culminating in an international conference in Tokyo in 1963. By the early 1970s, the Society's influence had spread to Latin America. After several years of outreach to African countries, its long-term goal of holding a conference in sub-Saharan African was realized in Pretoria in 1998. The Society also ensured broad geographical representation on its board and in its conference presenters and journal authors.

The Society embraced a comprehensive view of music education by addressing issues in school music, community music, and teacher training and relating them to societal trends and developments. By 1978, the seven commissions that are currently in place had been created. They are: Education of the Professional Musician, Community Music Activity, Early Childhood Music Education, Music in Cultural, Educational and Mass Media Policies, Music in Schools and Teacher Education, Music in Special Education, Music Therapy and Music Medicine, and Research. Conference themes over the years reflect the same breadth of interest, with a particular emphasis on acknowledging musical diversity as well as recognizing the unique characteristics of musical practices in individual cultural and educational settings.

The goal of encouraging the exchange of information and materials among music educators was central to the Society's agenda. It was implemented through publication of a journal, beginning with the International Music Educator in 1960; the exchange of ideas and materials at the Society's conferences, seminars, and commission meetingsand subsequent publications based on these meetings; the development of the field of comparative music education through surveys, articles, and presentations; collaboration with UNESCO/IMC on projects that compiled information about music education internationally; and the publication of bibliographies and other resources that focused on specific topics deemed useful to music educators.

Finally, underpinning all of the Society's goals was a commitment to improving international understanding through the medium of music education and to remaining politically neutral in the face of international political tensions and antagonisms in the latter half of the twentieth century. As a post World War II institution established under the auspices of UNESCO, ISME was envisioned as a community that would promote international understanding. This noble goal permeated the Society's policies and activities, at times more visible than others, yet never far from its leaders' convictions. The development of international dialogue was particularly visible in the context of international performing groups of children and youth, a significant component of biennial conferences.

The philosophical core of the Society remained constant during its fifty yearscommitments to advocating and advancing music education in all its various forms in countries worldwide, to celebrating and sharing the world's musical traditions through the Society's meetings and publications, and to developing international understanding. In telling the story of ISME, one has to acknowledge the primary challenges which faced its leaders: limited means of international communication in the initial decades, political tensions that demanded high levels of diplomacy, linguistic barriers, and the underdeveloped state of comparative music education.

The story of ISME situates music education at the intersection of local and international politics, at the center of cultural development, and at the crossroads of intercultural dialogue. Its accomplishments result from the sustained and consistent work of committed individuals who were empowered by a vision for the role and value of music education in the context of humankind. As well as honoring the contributions of renowned international musicians who advocated and labored in the name of ISMEfor example, Frank Callaway, Naohiro Fukui, Dmitri Kabalevsky, Zoltan Kodaly, Vanett Lawler, J. H. Kwabena Nketia, and Egon Krausthis anniversary celebration is a time to recognize all officers and other members who devoted time and effort to advancing the cause of this unique international forum for music education.

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