Ferris Band 1909 Page head
Music at Ferris Institute

Ferris Institute introduced music as a necessary part of its educational endeavor from its founding in 1884. During the first decade of the institution's existence, Mr. and Mrs. Woodbridge N. Ferris taught all the music and drawing and led the singing at the morning exercises. While not a formal music program, singing continued as an important part of the morning exercises which was a daily period devoted to announcements, "preaching," and special discussions. In 1892 Charles Tommy Carlisle continued in this capacity at least until 1922.

The earliest printed description of music at Ferris Institute was in the first catalog of 1894-95. Music was listed as a course in the department of Elocution. The full course in Elocution consisted of:

Class in Elocution 12 weeks
Class in Shakespeare 12 weeks
Class in Physical Culture 12 weeks
Class in Vocal Culture 12 weeks

The class in vocal culture included exercises in note reading and singing. In defense of the Elocution curriculum, the catalog stated, that "school boards will discriminate in favor of those familiar with the elements of music, who are familiar with physical culture, who, in short know how to train and develop the entire nature of the child."

In the following year, the second catalog of the institution described the class in vocal music as free to all students. The students could "study the elements of vocal music -- Time and Tune Exercises, Note Reading, Sight Reading, Breathing and Voice Culture." The work in vocal music satisfied the needs of individuals who intended to teach in the public schools.

Woodbridge N. Ferris in "Useful Education," a bulletin listing summer offerings, described "Drawing and Vocal Music" at the institution in these words, "the department is not for advanced students. We do not claim to have a conservatory. We present those features of music which make life enjoyable in the everyday home. Special attention is given to elementary vocal music."

The evolving of vocal music objectives may be inferred from a description of the course in the summer of 1898. The summer catalog of 1898 described the special vocal music course as follows:

"The scale, relation of tones, intervals, musical notation, lines and spaces; what notes say, time relations, the rhythm of speech and song, accent, syncopation, keys and their relationship, chromatics, minor and chromatic scales, transposition, the words of songs, vowels and consonants, enunciation, quality of tone, treatment of children's voices, expression and interpretation, how and what to teach. This work is intended to supply the needs of teachers in graded was well as in rural schools."

This was a summer session of six weeks duration. A teacher taking this course satisfied the music requirements for elementary school teaching. In terms of present day requirements of vocal music, it of course was quite elementary. However, within a twelve week period students were exposed to basic music, vocal techniques, methods and materials at an elementary level as was needed for the time, and methods of teaching. Music has progressed considerably since the turn of the century as one reflects upon the fact that a 12 weeks course in vocal music was a desirable additional training of elementary teachers in Michigan schools.

The 1898-99 catalog described the four grades of teachers certificates and suggested courses which would satisfy the minimum requirements. The broad areas for the third grade certificate, lowest of the four, included Language, History and Civics, Mathematics, Science and a special course in Theory and Art of Teaching. However, the catalog listed additional course which were recommended. They included reading, physical culture, vocal music, penmanship, and drawing. While these were not required, the fact that vocal music was considered highly desirable for the elementary level teacher is significant.

Vocal music, listed under the course heading of "Special," by 1898 listed Book I, II, III of the Natural System as being required.

It should be emphasized that vocal music at Ferris Institute from beginning in 1892 was part of the course requirements in Elocution, required for public school teachers. During the summer sessions a six week intensive vocal music course was offered which satisfied the music requirements for a teachers certificate in Michigan. The regular vocal music course was 12 weeks in duration and was part of the Elocution curriculum.

The first trained person in music hired by Mr. Ferris was Miss Virginia C. Mulvey. She came to the institution in the 1902-03 school years and became the vocal music and drawing teacher. Her responsibilities were essentially to provide training in vocal music and drawing as a part of the elementary school teachers course which was one of the departments founded by Mr. Ferris in 1884. There is little evidence to indicate that organized music activities organizations existed at this time. This was to come later. However, the 1893-94 yearbook briefly described the commencement of 1893 at which a chorus of four women and four men sang "Light and Gay" by Charles Gounod. It was held in the Big Rapids High School. The 1909 yearbook presented a brief history of music at Ferris and mentioned that "Miss Virginia became favorite in music -- and that the year Miss Mulvey began, the music department was organized and recognized by other schools and colleges."

Little mention was made of music activities in the yearbooks or catalogs of Ferris Institute during the period 1903-1907. The music activities consisted primarily of those that were brought to the community by the Business and Professional Women's Club and other civic organizations. The yearbook of 1908 featured a photograph of the earliest band under a full-time music director.

However, the earliest band which met regularly and played at "morning exercises" was organized in 1903. Comprised of students, it was organized and rehearsed by Frank H. Marco, a student at Ferris at the time. In a letter to the investigator dated May 31, 1961, Marco stated, "our band practiced on Saturdays in a hall at the Institute and I did the directing." The instrumentation consisted of three cornets, one wind ball, one baritone, two trombones (one slide, the other valve), and snare drums. At the same time, an orchestra comprised of three violins, piano, cornet, trombone, and drums. This group played the daily "morning exercises." While these groups appear to be crude in terms of present standards, they do represent modest beginnings and probably encouraged by Mr. Ferris to consider hiring a professional musician to lead the music program.

The first Director of Music at Ferris Institute was Louis D. Gerin, who came to the institution some time in 1907. The 1908 yearbook identified him as the "Director of Music" and conductor of the band and the orchestra. It must be emphasized that no music specialist program existed at Ferris Institute when Mr. Gerin was hired. The establishment of a Director of Music in a proprietary school that did not train teachers in music nor specialists in the music field was a bold and pioneering venture by Mr. Ferris. When one considers that the college was essentially a vocational school preparing people for useful occupations, the staffing of a trained music teacher to be responsible for music at the college was a significant and pioneering endeavor.

Mr. Louis D. Gerin organized the first official band and the first orchestras at the college during the 1907-08 school years. A European trained musician, he soon developed music activities patterned after the conservatory system with particular emphasis on band and orchestra ensemble playing. The 1908 yearbook has a photograph of the band in which twenty five members are pictured while the orchestra numbered eleven members. There is no evidence of any public concerts that these groups may have presented. However, the groups performed at the morning exercises. The band and orchestra alternated in providing the music for the group singing which was traditional at these meetings.

The first woman in a Ferris band was Mrs. Bertha Hoxie Locke who played in the band of 1907-08. She was interviewed at the 1961 Alumni Reunion banquet. Known as Bertha Hoxie when she attended Ferris in 1907, she presently lives at Pontiac, Michigan, and is Mrs. Bertha Hoxie Locke. She related how she became a member of the band. She recalled going to Mr. Ferris with a specific problem. Being a mellophone player interested in playing in the band, but also aware she was the only girl at the school that played a band instrument, she expressed to Mr. Ferris her interest and desire to join the band. She told Mr. Ferris, "I'm afraid to ask Mr. Gerin (band director) if I can play in his band because I would be the only girl in the band." She recalled Mr. Ferris replying, "My dear, don't worry about that; we have one girl enrolled in the chemistry class. Go ahead and join."

Her experience in band was pleasant. It was uncommon for women to be in the bands at the turn of the century. Her presence in the band seemed to temper the behavior and language of the men in the band. They were more conscious of their language and apparently were more courteous particularly during the periods she was in rehearsal, inferring that this was not their usual pattern of behavior.

The year 1908 also had a Mandolin Club, while not a part of the organized music program, and could be considered as an "extra curricular" activity. A photograph of this group showed ten participants. Therefore, as early as 1907-08 there was emerging an organized extra-curricular music program under the leadership and guidance of trained professional teachers. Other music clubs and music interest activities, apart from formal music organizations, were probably encouraged and stimulated by the music department faculty. While the outside music activities, such as the Mandolin Club, were not designated as extra-curricular, we may infer that in essence that is how the activity may be classified.

By 1909 the music department consisted of Louis D. Gerin, Director of Music and conductor of band and orchestra, Winnie E. Milor, instrumental, and Frances N. Greene, vocal music. The program included a band of fourteen members, an orchestra of sixteen members, a chorus, an octet, and the "Harmony Club." The size of the groups probably fluctuated above and below the figures because of the continuous changing of personnel brought about by varying lengths of educational programs in which the students were enrolled. It should be noted that Mr. Ferris, mindful of cultural activities not only for his students but also the citizens of Big Rapids, assigned Miss Milor the added responsibility of arranging monthly musical programs.

The first available photograph of a Ferris Institute chorus was pictured in the 1910 yearbook. It showed nineteen performers and presumably was under the direction of Frances N. Greene. The music activities were held in the Music Hall which had a large music rehearsal room and six practice rooms for student use. The first mention of music activities being housed in a separate building was made by the Big Rapids Pioneer, local daily newspaper, in the column "F.I. Notes" when it stated that "with a larger teaching force than ever before, and an entirely new building for the department of music." The Music Hall became the social center for collegiate activities.

During the period of Mr. Gerin's tenure the music program continued primarily as an extra-curricular activity. This pattern was not much different even in the years following his departure.

During the period 1920-1927 the Director of Music was Harry H. Nigro. In a letter he briefly described some aspects of the music program while he was at Ferris. He recalled that "the Ferris Institute administration was very interested in the music department. While Mr. Ferris was not a man to comment openly about the music, he was very interested in the program."

Nigro stated that the orchestra played each morning for the general assembly, i.e. morning exercises. "The singing was directed by Mr. Charles 'Tommy' Carlisle. The orchestra also played a concert each week for the student assembly. Private lessons were offered to the students in the instrumental and piano department. No other formal courses in music were offered at the time." It appeared that the pattern of music education at Ferris was in part activity and in part "conservatory" as it had been over the years.

Mr. Nigro seemed to be the first Ferris music director to be concerned with improving the relationship between the college and the community. In his March 27 letter Nigro stated "In order to tie the Institute with the community, I organized the band in the Big Rapids Public Schools. Many of the members took private lessons at Ferris Institute. Later the Big Rapids City Band was started and I also directed this band during my years at the Institute."

In the 1922 yearbook we find for the first time a list of the musical events of the year at Ferris. The programs, essentially recitals and small ensemble programs, represented the emphasis on private lessons.

Following Mr. Nigro's period, the music department was headed by Carl R. Kulhman. During his brief tenure as conductor of the orchestra and the band, the first Ferris marching band came in to being. The Crimson and Gold yearbook of 1929 stated that the F.I. band "was able to surprise the student body at the Homecoming Game by marching around the field and forming the letters 'F.I.' This was the first time in the history of the school that the band had ever accomplished as much at a football game." There was no previous record that a Ferris band participated in this manner at any previous period. Under Mr. Kulhman's direction music activities were conceived in part as contributing to the morale and spirit of the school. The 1930 Crimson and Gold yearbook emphasized that the orchestra increased from 12 players to 24 by the year's end and that "it was organized for the purpose of developing and encouraging musical talent, and also to promote a school spirit."

There seemed to be some evidence that a women's glee club and a men's glee club had been organized during the 1928-29 school year. However, there is little mention of these groups in the succeeding years. There is no evidence to indicate that they did not exist prior to this time. If such groups existed, it would be reasonable to expect that some mention of the fact would have appeared in one of the annual yearbooks. None has been found. The formation of a men's glee club does not appear until the 1955-56 academic year when a nucleus group of 15 men were organized as the Men's Glee Club.

The period following Mr. Ferris' death marked a gradual decline in the college's scope of activities largely because of the limited financial resources. This factor, in part, contributed to the short tenure of music faculty on a full time basis. During the depression years, music was continued at Ferris on a limited basis. The music faculty divided their time between the Big Rapids Public Schools and the college. For example, Jack Davis, conductor of the Ferris band from 1936 through the first part of World War II was also the high school band director.

Mr. Davis, while at Ferris Institute, inaugurated in the spring of 1938 the first Massed Band concert, an event which has been held annually. The massed band, made up of ten to twelve high school bands from the surrounding area, spends one day in Big Rapids. Students rehearse in Ferris gymnasium under the direction of a well-known university or college band conductor, participate in an afternoon parade of bands down the main business thoroughfare of the city, and conclude the day's activities with a short evening public concert. This pattern has remained essentially the same through the years. In 1960, the high school band director organized and coordinated the entire affair. Ferris Institute cooperated by providing its facilities for the activity which enabled area schools to work closely with the college.

During the period of 1948 through June 1955, the music program was under the direction of Nicholas L. Sabia, who was in charge of all music activities and was the first Director of Music at the time the institution became a state college. The music activities during his period included a marching Band, Concert Band, Crimson and Gold Chorus and a few ensembles. A music appreciation course, a theory course and a harmony course were offered; however, the enrollments in these were unusually quite small. The major participation was in the music activities organization.

In 1948, Mr. Sabia initiated the Annual Band Day held in connection with the Ferris Institute Homecoming. The Band Day included high school bands from the surrounding area. Since its founding, the activity has become a tradition on the Ferris campus. During his period, the first music activities to go on concert tours of cities in Michigan were initiated. The concert band and the Crimson and Gold Chorus were the organizations that biennially went on a two-day concert tour, usually performing assembly concerts in high schools with one evening concert.

In the fall of 1955 the present director of Music at Ferris Institute assumed responsibility for the development of the college's music program. Because this data is so recent, it is possible to present a more detailed description of the music program.

The immediate task of the new music director was to define the purpose of the music program for the college. This had never been done adequately in any written form with the exception of the statement of Woodbridge N. Ferris in 1895 which emphasized that music essentially was to be an avocational activity with the emphasis of enjoyment. It was evident from the start that a music major type of program was not practicable for the institution even though there had been an attempt to organize such a program during the early fifties. Therefore, deciding against initiating a music major program was a significant decision. By the end of the 1955-56 academic year, statements of aims and goals were developed based primarily upon experience and what could be found in the literature on desirable music programs for junior colleges and high schools.

During the 1955-56 school year the one-man music department carried out the following activities:

Marching Band
Concert Band
Crimson and Gold Chorus
Men's Glee Club
Music Appreciation Course
Elementary Theory of Music Course

The organization of the Men's Glee Club in the fall of 1955 was the first organized men's choral group on the campus in over twenty-five years. From the start it proved to be successful and has become a major music group.

The 1956-57 description of the Ferris Music program reflected the changes in purpose that had been taking place during the 1955-56 school year. The catalog description was as follows:
Music at Ferris is essentially for recreation and enjoyment. It is an instructional-related co-curricular activity offering students an opportunity for cultural, recreational and social development which compliments their academic program.

The music department provides opportunities for students to participate in music activities which are an integral part of collegiate life. In each of the music activities will be found students from all of the college divisions: Pharmacy, Commerce, General Education, and Pre-Professional, Trade and Industrial, College Preparatory, and Cosmetology.

The college maintains organizations which provide for students who play instruments or sing, opportunities to continue their musical growth. The Concert Band, Marching Band, Activities Band, Crimson and Gold Chorus, Men's Glee Club and various vocal, wind and string ensembles are groups which serve the students, the college and the community. Students desiring a general music background may elect courses in music appreciation, elementary music theory, and harmony.
The band, chorus, and glee club present several public concerts and occasionally make a spring tour of Michigan cities. A letter "F" is awarded to members of the band, chorus, and glee club who meet minimum requirements.

Prior to this time, no elaborate descriptive statement of the music program had been made other than a brief description of the courses and activities.

The music program during the 1956-57 year experienced considerable growth and development. It became apparent that with an increasing college enrollment, an expanded music activities program, there was a need to add another faculty member. Therefore, in the fall of 1957, Ferris added another full-time faculty member who took over choral activities while the Director of music continued as conductor of the bands.

The student enrollment of the college in 1957-58 was nearly 2400. Music activities organizations evidenced increased enrollments. The quality of the performing groups improved over the previous year and it was apparent that the size of music activities organizations would soon have to be limited because of the inadequate rehearsal facilities. The rehearsal room size was designed to accommodate 39 band students and 45 choral students as determined by the study of the Music Educators National Conference.

In the spring of 1958, a new activity was born out of need. This was the initiation of the Honors Band Clinic held in connection with Commencement weekend. The commencements of the college previous to 1958 were held in the gymnasium. Since 1955 the event was always held on the Saturday afternoon preceding the official ending of the third quarter. The problem which presented itself was that moving the commencement outdoors to the new "Top" Taggart football field and changing commencement to the Sunday following the official ending of classes and final examinations presented a problem in regard to the music for the commencement. Students of the college who were members of the band and who had completed their finals by Thursday, for example expressed reluctance in returning or staying over for a Sunday commencement. The problem was compounded because out of the total membership of 43 players at the time, nearly 50% had indicated that they would not be returning to Ferris in the following fall quarter for various reasons, e.g. transferring to another college, dropping out to work, getting married, among many other reasons. It was apparent that among this group there was very little interest in playing in the band for commencement. Appeals to stay over and play for commencement had little meaning to them. Only a few students expressed a willingness to remain over the weekend. The estimated number of students who indicated they would stay over was nearly twenty-five which in the opinion of the conductor was an inadequate number for such an important occasion and particularly for an out-of-doors occasion. After discussing many different solutions to the problem the president of the college approved a plan whereby the Ferris band would be augmented by guest musicians under the direction of a guest conductor during a two-day clinic. The student guests were limited to those students who had been notified of their acceptance to Ferris for either summer or fall quarters. The Honors Band was financed from local activities funds at no cost to the visiting students nor to the students of the college who participated in commencement activities. The Honors Band met on Friday, Saturday, and culminated its activities by providing the music for commencement. The first guest conductor was Lt. Col. Hugh Curry, coordinator of the United States Army Band. Since its inauguration, the activity has been highly anticipated.

The 1958-59 school year ushered in the celebration of the college's 75th anniversary. As a special feature the Director of Music recommended that a Festival of Arts be featured which would be one of a series of events. It was held during the winter quarter and featured the creative talents of Ferris Institute students and a professional music organization. While intended initially as a special feature, the activity has evolved into an annual event. The concert band, chorus, Men's Glee Club, thee Ferris Playhouse and the art department were all united in presenting the event. The Assembly Committee cooperated by scheduling a major musical activity during the Festival of Arts weekend. As an extra feature, it was decided to hold a Festival of Arts Banquet on the weekend. Parents of students of the music, drama, and art areas students, and faculty attended the banquet. This has become a traditional winter quarter event.