The Greenleaf Years

This article is a reprint from the Conn Chord magazine, volume 19 no. 1. With kind permission from the C.G. Conn company.

"It was at first a promotional thing", Carl D. Greenleaf recalled nearly forty years later. He was speaking of school bands, which in his lifetime had grown from not much more than oddities on the cultural scene to become an integral part of the American education system. He was also speaking of the part he played in that growth - the selling of an idea. The time was the early Twenties. The postwar boom was in full swing. A saxophone craze was sweeping musical America. Everybody seemed to want one and thousands were being sold. It was changing the face of the musical instrument industry, and in certain respects it was a life saver. The market for brass instruments had sharply declined with the end of the brass band era some years back. Now some companies were dropping their entire line of regular instruments to produce saxophones. Conn, which had been acquired by Greenleaf in 1915 and was just emerging from a severe business eclipse of its own, was also capitalizing on the phenomenon. Nearly 75 percent of its output was saxophones. Yet Carl Greenleaf wasn't happy. He was dubious abour the fad and what would happen when it evaporated, as he was sure it would. "It just isn't natural for all those people to want saxophones", he said. Though largely ignored in the industry, Mr. Greenleaf was convinced that a completely new market had to be opened for the whole range of band instruments. For various reasons his attention turned to schools. Already several outstanding college and high school bands had been developed, and the benefits to the students, the schools, and the communities were becoming obvious. Mr. Greenleaf's own love of music and his personal experience as a member of the University of Chicago Band (he was self-taught on the alto horn) also played a part in forming his ideas. He felt that music was distasteful to many children because it was associated with tortuous sessions with the violin or piano in the parlor on afternoons when they would rather be out playing. The average high school pupil, he believed, would like music if he played it in a band with others, a team. The only question seemed to be that of interesting the schools. As it happened, once the campaign got started there was little problem interesting schools in the band idea. But there were a host of other problems. The most immediate of these was the lack of qualified band instructors. The schools that did teach music usually had only piano, voice or violin teachers, few of whom cared anything about bands. And many of the old band musicians around who might have been qualified often lacked certain wholesome qualities that were supposed to go with the job. To help rectify the situation, Mr. Greenleaf founded the Conn National School of Music in Chicago, which trained hundreds of the country's early school band directors. The school was the first of its kind and continued for many years, until, in fact, the job of turning out needed teachers was taken over by the universities.

In conjuction with the effort, Conn in 1923 began providing educational aids for band directors. At that time much about band organization was still at the guesswork stage, such as proper seating or what constitutes adequate instrumentation for balanced playing. A band director was more or less on his own. The educational aids, usually provided free, offered solutions to common problems the director faced in forming a new band, and often a set of how-to-do-it steps to go with the solution. The result was communication of technical information on a scale that virtually determined the shape American school bands were to take.
Meanwhile, ways of promoting school bands were being explored. This clearly was Mr. Greenleaf's special province. One of the earliest and most succesful of the efforts in which he was involved was the National High School Band Contests, the first of which was held in Chicago in 1923. Sponsored by the National Association of Band Instrument Manufacturers, at the urging of Mr. Greenleaf who was president of the organization from 1919 to 1928, the contest drew 17 bands. Among these first few was the Joliet (Ill.) High School Band under the direction of A.R. McAllister, which took first prize in its class and was later to become one of the greats in school band history. The following year sponsorship was taken over by the National Bureau for the Advancement of Music which Mr. Greenleaf, as director (1918 to 1927) of the Music Industries Division of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, had recently helped organize. The contests were promoted along strictly educational lines, reaching their peak at Evansville, Ind., in 1933 when 74 select bands involving more than 5,000 students were on hand. At that point they were succeeded by smaller regional contests that brought together hundreds of bands and student musicians in the tens of thousands.

Music Education Aids
Sudden inspiration and an unspoiled enthusiasm characterized the school band movement of this period. And Mr. Greenleaf was obviously a man to see if you had an idea or wanted to get something done. One of the more fortuitous events of this kind occured one day when two music educators appeared at Mr. Greenleaf's office with an easy method music book for beginning bands. Mr. Greenleaf knew the band movement was plagued by a lack of just such music, geared to young groups, yet interesting enough to motivate the players. In looking over the material presented by the two men, Joseph E. Maddy and T.P. Giddings, he particularly noted that in every tune there was at least one part where each instrument carried the air for a few bars. This was intended to maintain the interest of the children. Mr. Greenleaf was quite impressed and arranged for Conn to publish the method. It was called the "Universal Teacher" and became a landmark in education.
A few years later, as a result of the success of the band contests, Mr. Maddy and Mr. Giddings decided there should be a permanent place where the contests and other large-scale musical events could be held every year. Mr. Maddy approached Mr. Greenleaf with plans for such an installation at Interlochen, Michigan. Mr. Greenleaf obtained loans from Conn and other companies totaling $15,000 for construction of what became known as the Interlochen Bowl. Out of this came the famous National Music Camp at Interlochen - the first of many such camps that today offer scholarships and facilities for musicians and composers as well as music festivals and other programs. Mr Greenleaf's association with the camp at Interlochen as benefactor and friend was lifelong, and the camp is now the home of the important Greenleaf collection, composed of antique and unusual instruments from around the world.

High School Band Promotion
Promotion was one thing, but salesmanship was another. National contests and news pictures of high-stepping majorettes might familiarize the public with the idea of school bands, but for a town with no musical background something more forceful was needed to make a local high school band a reality. Conn decided to meet the situation head-on. It developed a force of specially trained salesmen, all competent instrumentalists, to travel to the towns, meeting first with school administrators and teachers, and later, through them, with parents. Their method was simply to present the idea of a school band as strongly as possible, then meet the objections one-by-one. This was accomplished, most dramatically, by the demonstration lesson, often with the school administrator himself in his office, but usually with a pupil before a group of parents. The salesman would somehow manage to teach the administrator or pupil to play the first half of "America" on a trumpet or trombone within a quarter of an hour. This seldom failed to make an impression. Instruments, of course, followed.
The atmosphere of this period is very well captured by a small booklet distributed by a Dallas, Texas Conn dealer in 1928. On the cover is the slogan of the time, "Building Manhood in the Band". Below is a picture of a Boy Scout playing a trombone, and under that this caption:
"Head up, eyes to the front, fired with enthusiasm to the strains of their music - boys in the band are headed straight for manhood on the course that means success".
In his own way, Carl D. Greenleaf responded more grandly than most. "The original motive was commercial", he said much later, "but this element is trifling compared to the great social values which have been developed".