Music Teacher Education in America (1753-1840): A Look at One of its Three Sources

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In his address at the formation of the Society for Music Teacher Education in San Antonio in 1982, Charles Leonhard described American music teacher education as "a hybrid growing out of three traditions in higher education: the liberal arts tradition, the conservatory tradition, and the teachers college tradition."1 In elaborating on those remarks some three years later, Leonhard observed that the profession is particularly resistant to change. He thought that the reason for this might be found in the three sources which have produced no "consistent and beautiful flower that sometimes results from hybridization but a big overgrown thicket which pleases nobody, not the musician, nor the humanist, nor the educationist."2

The roots of music in the liberal arts tradition in Western civilization go back at least to Plato's Academy. The history continues through the quadrivium of the middle ages and into the leading universities of Europe in the Renaissance. Thereafter the story gets a bit muddled and does not pick up again in a serious way until 1856, when Harvard University offered musical instruction to undergraduates in connection with devotional services at the chapel. The University gave no academic credit for music at that time, however.3

Yale students attended singing schools at least, as early as 1782, but could not study there with the likes of Horatio Parker until 1894. Yale College did not grant full recognition to the School of Music until 1945. Similar stories may be told of other institutions, such as with Edward MacDowell at Columbia and elsewhere.4

The second of Leonhard's three traditions, the conservatory, did not begin until just after the Civil War in America. Conservatories took their names from orphanages in sixteenth-century Italy. These were originally homes for children whose parents had died or deserted them. Soon the Church began to instruct the children in music, and later the term came to mean music school. The idea of a state-run conservatory began in Paris in 1795 and spread to Prague (1811), Vienna (1817), London (1822), and Brussels (1832). Felix Mendelssohn founded the Leipzig Conservatory 1843; it quickly achieved an international reputation for excellence. Leipzig may have been the model to which founders of American schools looked.5

American versions of the European music school began in 1865 with the Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio, followed quickly by the New England Conservatory in Boston, the Cincinnati Conservatory, and the Chicago Academy of Music, all of which began in 1867. The Peabody Conservatory opened in Baltimore in 1868, though the state had chartered it in 1857. The conservatory tradition—which largely consisted of training musicians for vocations and avocations in performance, composition, and criticism—continued to develop at a slow pace. Many leading institutions in this area did not reach their present status until after World War II, when most became officially attached to colleges or universities, possibly to take advantage of the G. I. Bill provisions for paying tuition and fees of veterans of the war.6

Before the Civil War in America, neither music courses in liberal arts colleges nor the musical training programs offered by conservatories directed their efforts specifically or primarily at preparing music teachers or at training classroom teachers to give instruction in music to elementary school children. Leonhard's third source, the teachers colleges, took on these roles. Originally called normal schools, these institutions trace their roots back to the academies which began to replace Latin grammar schools late in the eighteenth century.7

Among the earliest of the academies was the Philadelphia Academy and Charitable School of the Province of Pennsylvania. Benjamin Franklin wrote a proposal to the Philadelphia city council appealing for funds for the school in 1750. According to that document, the school was designed (1) to educate American youth at home, thereby obviating the need to send them abroad, (2) to train Americans to hold public office instead of having to rely on immigrants and foreign-trained officials, (3) to prepare teachers for rural Pennsylvania schools "suffering very much at present for want of good schoolmasters, and obliged frequently to employ in their schools vicious imported servants or concealed Papists . . ." and (4) to attract students from other colonies and thereby be good for local business. The school was granted a charter in 1753 and became the College of Philadelphia in 1755. It became known by its present name, the University of Pennsylvania, in 1791.8

The second American school to be concerned with teacher-training was the Zion Parnassus Academy, founded by Samuel McCorkle (1746-1811) in Salisbury, North Carolina in 1785. The school had a reputation as a teacher-training institution from its founding until its close on the occasion of McCorkle's death in 1811. It was a private institution which gave free books and waived tuition for deserving students.9

Beginning in 1818, the city and county of Philadelphia used an elementary school to serve as a model school for training teachers. Joseph Lancaster (1778-1838) directed the school from 1818 to 1823. Lancaster was an Englishman who had founded a system of school organization and instruction featuring the use of students as monitors and assistant teachers. He came to America in 1818 to develop the Philadelphia school. He left the United States to continue his work in South America in 1825.10

The Columbian School (later incorporated as the Concord Academy) was the fourth teacher-training institution to appear in the United States. Samuel Read Hall (1795-1877) founded the school in Concord, Vermont in 1823. Hall, a Congregational minister, was the author of the well-known Lectures on School-Keeping. This was one of America's first educational textbooks, and it was used for many years thereafter in public and private normal schools.11

No direct evidence has yet come to light concerning the training of music teachers or the teaching of music to prospective classroom teachers in any of these early institutions, but the activity cannot be ruled out. Benjamin Franklin, who for many years was associated with the University of Pennsylvania and its predecessor institutions, had a keen interest in music. Nothing is known about music education at the Zion Parnassus Academy in North Carolina. Music teaching at Lancaster's school in Philadelphia is likewise without documentation, but some nineteenth-century American monitorial schools, are known to have included music in their instructional programs.12

Similarly, there is nothing to indicate for certain that Hall or any of his assistants taught music at the Concord Academy. Lectures on School-Keeping, which Hall wrote in 1829 while still at Concord, does not mention music. However, it is quite possible that music was in the curriculum, since Hall wrote other textbooks for teachers after 1830 in which he advocated the use of music in teaching. By then he had left Concord and likely had become acquainted with the writing of William C. Woodbridge and the work of Lowell Mason.13

Music in American teacher training began to emerge for certain around 1830 as the push for music in common schools intensified. Agitation began in earnest with a series of articles in the American Annals of Education and Instruction. The first of these, published in September of 1830, showed that American educators were thinking very seriously of basing their school systems on Prussian models, most of which included musical instruction according to the dictates of Martin Luther. A similar article advocating the inclusion of music in training teachers following the Prussian example appeared in February 1831.14

In June of 1831, an article appeared in the Annals which explained in some detail how teachers were trained in Prussia. It noted that of the twenty-eight teacher-training institutions there, five were for both general education (liberal arts) and teacher training. The remaining twenty-three schools were exclusively devoted to teacher training. At each Prussian school a model school provided prospective teachers with an opportunity to practice their craft. Some model schools were integral parts of the teacher-training institutions, while in other instances the teacher-training institution had a contractual agreement with a local school.15

The curriculum in Prussian teacher-training schools typically included religion, German, arithmetic, geometry, philosophy, science, history, geography, pedagogics, art, music theory, and vocal music. The 1831 report noted that

Singing is an indispensable requisite in a German school, and no candidate can be admitted as a teacher without this qualification, unless he is preeminently skilled in every other department of instruction. In this case, which however very rarely occurs, the deficiency of the principal teacher must be supplied by an assistant. Besides singing, the instructers [sic] of schools are taught instrumental music, such as the flute, violin, and harpsichord, and are expected to be skilful [sic] players on the organ. Instruments and teachers of music are provided for every seminary.16

This reference to instrumental music is a curious one, but American teacher trainers did not pay much attention to it when they began to organize their schools.

Normal departments began to appear in colleges and universities in 1831 with Washington College (now Washington and Jefferson College) at Washington, Pennsylvania. Again, no direct evidence shows music in the curriculum, but it would be surprising to find it was omitted. A year later the University of the City of New York (now New York University) created a chair in philosophy of education in 1832. Thomas H. Gallaudet (1787-1851) held this position from its inception until 1834. Gallaudet had been one of the first to call for the special preparation of school teachers, and he pioneered special education for the hearing impaired.17

In 1832, the Annals carried a report from a visitor to an unnamed teacher training institution in Andover, Massachusetts, most likely the Phillips Academy. The school was under the charge of Samuel R. Hall (formerly of the Concord Academy), assisted by F. A. Barton and Mr. L. Tenny. According to the visitor, the normal department was housed in a two-story building which contained a variety of equipment specially designed for teaching and learning and had a model school, or preparatory department, attached. The students in the teacher-training program at Phillips studied mathematics, geography, grammar, composition, art, history, philosophy, chemistry, economics, and music.18

Only a year later, the Boston Academy of Music began its life. From the outset, the Academy included a teachers' class "for instruction in the methods of teaching music, which may be composed of teachers, parents, and all other persons desirous to qualify themselves to teaching vocal music."19 This emphasis on teacher training continued into the second year when, according to Arthur Rich, "the 1834 report stated that 'the training of properly qualified teachers' claimed the immediate attention of the academy."20

A major step toward public support for music teacher education occurred in 1834, when New York State provided grants of public funds to promote professional teacher education in private academies. This was a way around opposition to single purpose state institutions for training teachers, but it only served as a stop-gap to the main thrust of history.21

Massachusetts led the way into the new era in 1838, when the state legislature authorized and funded three state-supported institutions for teacher-training. The normal schools opened at Lexington on 3 July 1839, at Barre on 4 September 1839, and at Bridgewater on 9 September 1840.22

To be admitted to these schools male students had to be at least seventeen years of age, while women as young as age sixteen could attend. Students had to pass entrance examinations in orthography, reading, writing, English grammar, geography, and arithmetic. The institution waived tuition and fees for those who declared their intention to teach in the state. Horace Mann listed the curriculum as follows:

  1. Orthography, reading, grammar, composition, rhetoric and logic.
  2. Writing and drawing.
  3. Arithmetic, mental and written, algebra, geometry, book-keeping, navigation, surveying.
  4. Geography, ancient and modern, with chronology, statistics and general history.
  5. Human Physiology, and hygiene or the Laws of Health.
  6. Mental Philosophy.
  7. Music.
  8. Constitution and History of Massachusetts and of the United States.
  9. Natural Philosophy and Astronomy.
  10. Natural History.
  11. The principles of piety and morality, common to all sects of Christians.
  12. THE SCIENCE AND ART OF TEACHING WITH REFERENCE TO ALL THE ABOVE NAMED STUDIES.

One year was the proposed minimum term of study, and a model school was to be associated with each normal school. The Lexington school was for women only, but the Barre and Bridgewater schools admitted both men and women.24

Fortunately the principal and only teacher at the Lexington school, Cyrus Peirce (pronounced "purse", 1790-1860), kept a journal from the opening of the school on 3 July 1839 through 2 March 1841. The rather terse entries in Peirce's journal described a vigorous school routine of six-day weeks and a regular session on Christmas Day in 1840. There are only six direct references in this journal to music, mostly to singing and to exercises in music, although there are references to music theory studies. Peirce's only extended comments about music are as follows:

This day resumed the Music Exercise which has been suspended for a few weeks. There is, however, so much need of attention to the Common School Branches particularly Grammar, Reading and Arithmetic, that I think we shall have but little time for music.25

Our purpose was this forenoon to do much by way of Review in Algebra; but so great was the difficulty which the young ladies found in regard to the Nat. Philosophy-Lesson, (it being on the Theory of Music) that I spent almost the whole forenoon in explaining it. This subject, I think, has intrinsic difficulty, and I was not surprised to learn that the lesson was not prepared. The Class-Book, moreover, prepared by Mr. Johnson of Philadelphia on Nat. Philosophy, is in some of its portions, obscure in its phraseology, and incorrect in its Statements. I have never yet found the subject of Music in its Theory explained in a clear lucid manner . . . . 26

Despite the difficulties he encountered in teaching music theory, Peirce complained frequently about having to spend time on the elementary branches, to the exclusion of "higher order" subjects like music.27

Peirce required his students to keep written journals of their experiences at the school, which he reviewed at intervals. One such journal, written by Mary Swift, a seventeen-year-old student from Nantucket in Peirce's first class, has survived. The journal covers the period from 1 August 1839 through 4 April 1840, minus a period of more than a month when she was ill. Miss Swift's journal offers considerable insight into the role of music in the curriculum of the nation's first public normal school during its first year of operation.

Altogether, Peirce's student made thirty direct references to music in the normal school, beginning on 9 August 1839 and ending on 30 March 1840. Several of the references are to music lessons "omitted for want of time," thus implying regular instruction in music. The journal includes numerous entries like "the usual lessons were recited," implying, perhaps, the regular presence of music instruction. Several references are made to the singing of hymns in the daily opening devotional exercises. Other entries refer to "discourse" in music, implying philosophical or theoretical discussions rather than singing. Still other references are to singing exercises.

One particularly interesting entry mentions practicing the tune Winchelsea, "in which we were aided by Mr. W. Bradbury," presumably the well-known singing teacher William B. Bradbury (1816-1868).28 In another instance, Mary Swift mentioned that she tried "the tenor of the tune,"29 leading one to wonder how part-singing was handled in this all-female institution.

Although she often wrote extended accounts of the school's activities, Miss Swift described only one music lesson in detail:

During the latter [music] exercise, Mr. P[eirce] read some theories to explain the use of Chromatic as applied to the Scale in Music of Flats & Sharps.—The most reasonable seemed to be that it was used to signify an embellishment as colors (the word means colors) serve to embellish.30

In addition to the thirty direct references to music in the curriculum and devotional exercises, Mary Swift's journal includes references to music in church, music at a commencement ceremony (of some institution other than the normal school), and a visit to Lexington by the "Brigade Band from Boston," which marched with the Lexington artillery.31

The evidence seems to indicate that music was an important and regular subject in the Lexington school's curriculum, but not one of the most important due to its lack of legislated presence in the common schools. Its continued importance in this normal school is evident from the guest lectureship of Lowell Mason, who served on the staff (after the school moved to West Newton) from 1847 to 1851.32

After the three Massachusetts normal schools demonstrated their ability to train competent teachers, similar normal departments and schools opened elsewhere: Middletown (at Wesleyan University in 1841) and New Britain, Connecticut (1850); Albany, New York (1844); Providence, Rhode Island (at Brown University, 1852); Bloomington, Indiana (at Indiana University, 1852); Ypsilanti, Michigan (1853); Iowa City, Iowa (at the State University of Iowa, 1855); Trenton and Paterson, New Jersey (1855); Madison, Wisconsin (at the University of Wisconsin, 1856); Normal, Illinois (1857); Millersville (1859), Edinboro (1861), and Mansfield (1862), Pennsylvania; and Winona, Minnesota (1864).33

After the Civil War the rush was on, and by 1900 state normal schools and normal departments or schools of education in both public and private colleges and universities were commonplace. In 1870, music in normal schools was so widespread, that George B. Loomis (1833-1867) was able to give an address to the American Normal School Association with that very title. In his speech, Loomis recommended that the object of an adequate program in music education "should [be to] secure to the teacher—1. A competent knowledge of the art of music. 2. A knowledge of the relation of this subject in its general educational bearing as a force in physical, intellectual, and moral development. 3. The ability to apply the general principles of education in teaching music."34 One could hardly wish for more today.


1Charles Leonhard, "Foreword," Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education 81 (Winter 1985): 1.

2Charles Leonhard, "Toward Reform in Music Teacher Education," Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education 81 (Winter 1985): 11.

3For a brief summary of the European antecedents, see Allen Britton, "Music in Early American Public Education: A Historical Critique," NSSE Yearbook (1958), 195-197. For a lengthier treatment, see Nan Cooke Carpenter, Music in the Medieval and Renaissance Universities (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1958). The early American story is told in Alan Howard Levy, "Music's Proper Place: Trends in the Status of Music at Selected Institutions of Higher Education in America, 1870-1920," Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education 72 (Fall 1982): 17-19. It should be noted that students nevertheless sang and played instruments while at Harvard from earliest times. See Irving Lowens, Music and Musicians in Early America (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1964), 19-21.

4Lowens, Music and Musicians in Early America, 282, quotes from a letter one anonymous student wrote to a friend in 1782: ". . . at present I have no Inclination for anything, for I am almost sick of the World & were it not for Hopes of going to singing-meeting tonight & indulging myself a little in some of the carnal Delights of the Flesh, such as kissing, squeezing &c. &c. I should willingly leave it now, before 10 o'clock and exchange it for a better." See also, Levy, "Music's Proper Place," 23-24; Charles Hamm, Music in the New World (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1983), 414; and Gilbert Chase, America's Music: From the Pilgrims to the Present, 3rd ed. (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1987), 341-342, 344-345, and 380-381.

5The New Harvard Dictionary of Music, 1986, s.v. "Conservatory," by Harold E. Samuel.

6H. Wiley Hitchcock, Music in the United States, 3rd ed. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1988), 141.

7The term, "normal school," was borrowed from the French, école normale, a teacher-training institution founded in Paris in 1795. The French modelled their school after the German normalschule in Silesia, which dates back to at least 1774. Normal school first appeared in English in an article, "Seminaries for Teachers," in the Edinburgh Review 59 (July 1834): 486-502. The main task of early normal schools was to promote standards (norms) of competency for teachers. See also James Bowen, A History of Western Education (New York, 1981), Vol 3, The Modern West: Europe and the New World, 250-251.

8James Pyle Wickersham, A History of Education in Pennsylvania (Lancaster, PA: Inquirer Publishing Company, 1886), 60-62, 391.

9Edgar W. Knight, Education in the United States, 3rd ed. (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1951), 315-316.

10Henry Barnard, Normal Schools and Other Institutions, Agencies, and Means Designed for the Professional Education of Teachers (Hartford, CT: Case, Tiffany and Company, 1851; reprint ed., Greeley, CO: Colorado State Teachers College, 1929), 251. See Wickersham, A History of Education in Pennsylvania, 284-285.

11Samuel Read Hall, Lectures on School-Keeping (Boston: Richardson, Lord and Holbrook, 1829; reprint ed., New York: Arno Press, 1969). See also, Merle L. Borrowman, The Liberal and Technical in Teacher Education: A Historical Survey of American Thought (New York: Teachers College, Columbia University, 1956), 37; Knight, Education in the United States, 316; and James A. Keene, A History of Music Education in the United States (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1982), 140-146.

12George N. Heller, "'To Sweeten Their Senses': Music, Education, and Benjamin Franklin," Music Educators Journal 73 (January 1987): 22-26. See also, Gordon E. Fouts, "Music Instruction in Early Nineteenth-Century American Monitorial Schools," Journal of Research in Music Education 22 (Summer 1974): 112-119.

13Keene, A History of Music Education, 140-145.

14"Music as a Branch of Instruction in Common Schools," American Annals of Education and Instruction, Third series 1 (September 1830): 417-420; and "Music as a Branch of Common Education," American Annals of Education and Instruction, Third series 1 (February 1831): 64-67.

15"Seminaries for Teachers in Prussia," American Annals of Education and Instruction, Third series 1 (June 1831): 253-257.

16Ibid. The use of German models for American music teacher training is further evident in Lowell Mason, Manual of the Boston Academy of Music (Boston: Carter Hendee and Co., 1834), which, according to Mason was based on Hans Georg Nägeli and Michael Traugott Pfeiffer, Gesangsbildungslehre nach Pestalozzian Grundsätzen [Methods of Teaching Singing According to Pestalozzian Principles] (Zurich: 1810). It was really, however, a translation of G. F. Kübler, Anleitung zum Gesang-Unterrichte in Schulen [Guide to the Study of Singing in Schools] (Stuttgart: J. B. Metzler'schen Buchhandlung, 1826). See Howard Ellis, "Lowell Mason and the Manual of the Boston Academy of Music," Journal of Research in Music Education 3 (Spring 1955): 3-10.

17Wickersham, A History of Education in Pennsylvania, 608; Knight, Education in the United States, 334. No evidence now places music in the New York University curriculum at the outset, but the school was later connected with music education when it awarded the honorary doctorate in music to Lowell Mason in 1855. See Carol A. Pemberton, Lowell Mason: His Life and Work (Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1985), 179.

18"Visit to the Teachers' Seminary, Andover, Mass.," American Annals of Education and Instruction, Third series 2 (August 1832): 431-434. See also, Barnard, Normal Schools and Other Institutions, 113; and Keene, A History of Music Education in the United States, 142.

19Arthur Lowndes Rich, Lowell Mason: The Father of Singing Among the Children (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1946), 36 (emphasis in the original). See also, "Boston Academy of Music (First Annual Report)," American Annals of Education and Instruction, Third series 3 (August 1833): 373-377.

20Rich, Lowell Mason, 40. This teachers' class soon led to conventions, which helped provide musical specialists for emerging public school music programs. See also, Pemberton, Lowell Mason, 87; and Robert W. John, "Origins of the First Music Educators Convention," Journal of Research in Music Education 13 (Winter 1965): 207-219.

21Borrowman, The Liberal and Technical in Teacher Education, 37.

22Barnard, Normal Schools and Other Institutions, 67-68. The Lexington school moved to West Newton in September 1844 and to Framingham in 1853, where it remained. A fourth normal school opened at Salem on 13 September 1854.

23Horace Mann, "History, Regulations and Curriculum of the First Normal Schools: Narrative and Documents," [Massachusetts] Common School Journal 1 (February 1839). Reprinted in Arthur O. Norton, ed. The First State Normal School in America: The Journals of Cyrus Peirce and Mary Swift (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1926), 253-263; and in Barnard, Normal Schools and Other Institutions, 69.

24Ibid.

25Cyrus Peirce, "The Journal of Cyrus Peirce" (14 November 1829), in Norton, The First State Normal School, 15.

26Ibid. (26 February 1840), 30-31. The book referred to by Peirce is most likely Walter Rogers Johnson (1794-1858), The Scientific Class-Book; or Familiar Introduction to the Principles of Physical Science, for the Use of Schools and Academies, on the Basis of Mr. J. M. Moffatt (Philadelphia: Edward C. Biddle, 1836).

27Ibid. (5 August 1840), 50.

28Mary Swift, "The Journal of Mary Swift," (4 January 1840), in Norton, The First State Normal School, 188. Guest experts in a variety of subject-matter specialties frequently visited the Lexington school. Bradbury had studied with Lowell Mason at the Boston Academy of Music. In 1838, he was a singing-school teacher in St. John's, New Brunswick. In 1839, he moved to New York to become choir director of the First Baptist Church there. He could well have been in transit to his new position when he stopped off at the Lexington school. See The New Grove Dictionary of American Music, 1986 ed., s. v. "Bradbury, William B.," by Alan B. Wingard.

29Swift, "The Journal of Mary Swift" (28 December 1839), 182.

30Ibid. (28 March 1840), 220.

31Miss Swift continued her interest in education, if not in music. Under her married name of Mary (Swift) Lamson (1822-1909), she was the author of Life and Education of Laura Dewey Bridgman, the Deaf, Dumb, and Blind Girl (Boston: New England Publishing Company, 1878).

32Pemberton, Lowell Mason, 130.

33Benjamin W. Frazier, "History of the Professional Education of Teachers in the United States," in National Survey of Education of Teachers, United States Department of the Interior, Office of Education, Bulletin No. 10, 1933 (Washington, D.C.: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1935), 3-4; Knight, Education in the United States, 321, and Wickersham, A History of Education in Pennsylvania, 545.

34George B. Loomis, "Music in Normal Schools," NEA Proceedings (1870): 65-71.

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George N. Heller and Jere T. Humphreys

George N. Heller (1941-2004) was Professor of Music at the University of Kansas.

Jere Humphreys, a professor of music at Arizona State University since 1987, is a versatile, prolific scholar and teacher who applies historical, quantitative, philosophical, and sociological research methods to music education and arts business. He has served as the Contributing Editor for Music Education and on the Senior Editorial Board for the New Grove Dictionary of American Music (2d ed.), a section editor and author for the Oxford Handbook of Music Education, and on the editorial committees of numerous scholarly journals (editor of one). He has lectured and given keynote and other presentations in over 30 countries on six continents. He has advised dozens of doctoral dissertations and two master’s theses internationally, including several award winners. He has been a visiting lecturer/professor or endowed chair resident in several universities and countries, an academic specialist for the U.S. Information Agency, and a Fulbright Senior Scholar and Fulbright Senior Specialist. He received the prestigious Senior Researcher Award from MENC: The National Association for Music Education, an MENC Citation of Excellence in Research, and a Distinguished Service Award “for exceptional contributions to scholarship” from the MENC History Special Research Interest Group. Humphreys has been a volunteer construction house leader for Habitat for Humanity since 1998, and currently serves on the boards of several professional and community organizations. A native of Tennessee, he holds B.M. and Ph.D. degrees in music education from the University of Mississippi and University of Michigan, respectively, and an M.M. in clarinet performance from Florida State University.

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