The history of music education in America runs parallel to the country’s own shifting landscape and culture through the centuries. Early interest in music education was primarily connected to church music. This religious interest in music would lead to the creation of schools to create more skillful choirs and more harmonious church services. Eventually, as higher education developed in the United States, universities and colleges also began dedicated programs in music education, independent of the country’s initial impulses toward religious music. Many of the first schools of higher learning, as well as musical schools, began in New England. By the 19th century, however, these impulses toward musical higher education were flourishing throughout the country.
1635: Within just a few years of the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s founding, Boston Latin School, the first public school in the U.S., is established.
1636: The first university in the United States, Harvard University, is established in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
1640: The Bay Psalm Book, the second book to be printed in the United States, is a collection of psalms, an indication of early interest in religious music.
1712: The first singing school in the United States is opened, intended to improve the quality of choral music for church services.
1721: The Rev. John Tufts publishes the first American music textbook, the Introduction to the Singing of Psalm Tunes.
1762: Jean-Jacques Rousseau publishes Emile: On Education, influencing current philosophies on educational methods.
1833: Lowell Mason and George James Webb establish the Boston Academy of Music, the first school of higher musical education.
1837: Oberlin College becomes the first coeducational institution of higher learning.
1838: Lowell Mason introduces music education classes to the Boston grammar schools.
1844: The Sacred Harp hymn book is printed, serving as the main text for a growing interest in “sacred harp singing.” The a capella hymn-singing style is a purely American outgrowth of early Colonial singing schools.
1889: Eleanor Smith establishes the Hull-House Music School in Chicago, offering music classes to individuals of all immigrant backgrounds.
1865: Oberlin College establishes the Conservatory of Music program, the first of its kind in the United States. Graduates can receive a Bachelor of Music Education degree.
1884: The Potsdam Normal School, later to form part of SUNY Potsdam, establishes the first training program for public school music teachers. Julia Crane leads the school’s program in music education.
1907: Music educators establish the Music Educators National Conference in Keokuk, Iowa. Eventually, the organization becomes the National Association for Music Education, the largest arts education association in the world.
1907-10: Frances Elliott Clark works with the Victor record company to introduce the phonograph into music classrooms.
1910: Dr. Frank Damrosch, the godson of Franz Liszt, establishes the Institute of Musical Art. The academy is intended to provide education on par with European schools of higher education in music. It is eventually renamed the Juilliard School of Music.
1914: The “Music Teachers Bulletin,” the first music education journal in the United States, is published.
1929: The Great Depression causes public schools to reduce music and arts programs.
1950: The Music Educators National Conference publishes “The Child’s Bill of Rights in Music,” standardizing a student-centered program of music education.
1958: Following the Soviet launch of Sputnik in 1957, efforts to introduce more challenging science programs result in the National Defense Education Act. School curricula focus more seriously on science and mathematics programs, with less attention to “non-critical” arts programs, including music education.
1962: The Interlochen Arts Academy, the first independent fine arts boarding school in the United States, opens in Interlochen, Michigan.
1963: The Yale Seminar on Music Education features a symposium on ways to improve music education in the United States. The resulting report influences music education at schools around the country.
1965: The National Endowment for the Arts is established, funding arts and music programs, grants, and scholarships throughout the US.
1964: Manhattanville College establishes the first graduate degree program in music education.
1967: The Tanglewood Symposium draws together 34 major music educators to analyze the role and state of musical education in the United States.
1975: The Education Act for Handicapped Students triggers growth in music therapy education and reforms music programs to address students of all abilities.
2007: The Tanglewood II Symposium reviews changes in music education since the original symposium 40 years prior. The symposium’s declaration and findings shape the changing directions of music programs in elementary, secondary, and higher education.