If you don't like music stay away from Winfield, Kansas

Mad About Music

Condensed from Recreation
by Readers Digest,
Copyright 1945, National Recreation Assn., 315 Forth Ave., New York 30, N.Y.
(Recreation, October, '45)

William F. McDermott

researched and typed by Dorothy (Jenkins) Parker, WHS Class of '52

Now that the war is over, another "piano raid" at Winfield, Kansas, the town of 11,000 that has become a music center of the western prairies. Sedate citizens will "hustle" pianos from music stores, homes, churches and clubrooms to the gymnasium of Southwestern College, to renew one of the most unusual music festivals ever held anywhere.

The piano shifting is on a huge scale. First of all, the pianos of two or three neighbors are trundled into one man's living room, where a group practices every evening for a couple of weeks. Next they assemble at Cunningham's music store where 15 pianos are used for a week's rehearsal each by consolidated groups. And finally there's the grand rush on the gym with 100 pianos. For two days, relays of players rehearse in groups of 50, polishing off their ensemble performance.

When the big night arrives, a crowd of about 2000 fills the hall. There's a preliminary fanfare; through an archway the performers march---lawyers, bankers, debs, mother, bobby-soxers, college athletes, businessmen. The players seat themselves, two to a piano. The director lifts his baton, and 400 hands begin dancing
over the keys.

The music pours out like a mighty wave as the hundred pianos are played in unison. The crescendo posses and the sound diminishes to a note so soft that it seems impossible so many instruments are in action. Here is more than unity of performance; it is a unity of spirit born out of love for music.

This unique piano concert is only one of the many evidences that Winfield is "mad about music". Practically every adult resident has at some time studied the piano. The town's Civic Music Association each year engages five or six high-ranking artists and gives 500 free admissions to high school music students. The Winfield Oratorio Society, numbering 1000 members---soon to be revived after inactive war years---is accustomed to assemble a 500 voice choir for a spring choral festival, supported by an orchestra of 75 local players.

Until the war, the town annually staged an old-time Fiddler' Festival, which drew contestants from all over Kansas and Oklahoma. One of the star performers was Bert Woodard, a barber now 80 years old, who learned on a $10.98 mail-order violin and branched out into making his own. To date Bert has whittled out more than 200 violins from wood he imported from Norway and Bohemias. Another popular stunt was a state-wide Barbershop Quartet contest in which as many as 50 quartets vied for prizes on the Chautauqua Assembly tabernacle stage, a replica of an 1880 barbershop.

Winfield's madness for music started back in the early 1880's when J. S. Mann, a young Canadian haberdasher who loved music, migrated to the frontier town. Elected to the school board, Mann advocated music in the schools and after a two-year fight secured a budget appropriation for this purpose. The school board hired a young music teacher, Louis M. Gordon, who had recently moved to Winfield. A lover of both youngsters and music, Gordon quickly captured the hearts of the children. He taught them simple tunes and told them stories about great composers. Music began to take on glamour, and before long it was a common occurrence for boys to leave baseball and girls their dolls to participate in the voluntary after-school instruction that Gordon instituted.

Gordon's older son Edgar, followed in his father's footsteps. He studied in Chicago, taught violin at Hull House, and at another settlement organized a chorus of 100 factory workers. Then he returned to Winfield to help his dad interweave music into the life of the community.

For many years Winfield has not graduated a boy or girl from the from the grades who was unable to read elementary music. Fourth graders are given music evaluation tests, and over several years they have shown that 75 percent of all Winfield children have musical ability to perform, while more than 95 percent reveal the capacity to appreciate music. Every gets a chance to play but likewise is able to sit in the bleachers and understand and enjoy the fine points of the game.

The town pride is the high school Symphony Orchestra of 80 players, which Dr. Howard Hanson, director of the Eastman School of Music, recently said equals some of the better known metropolitan symphonies. A reserve
orchestra of the same size acts as a feeder for the main organization, and there are two junior orchestras composed of children from the fourth to the seventh grades. In addition, the high school has ten chamber-music groups, and it's choirs total 250 voices. An a cappella choir has 70 voices and the senior girls 80. All school musical organizations rehearse regularly an hour a day, with full school credit.

Winfield graduates have gone to big orchestras,to radio, and to the movies, or to become conductors, all over the country. During the war, over 75 of the Winfield High School students were in Army and Navy bands, and several of the boys worked their way up to being conductors. Others improvised small bands and singing groups all the way from Egypt to the Aleutians. One flyer got his fiddle into his kit and made music for a bombing crew while over enemy lines. Another boy, stationed on a Pacific island, organized natives into a musical group, some playing on improvised reeds and bamboo instruments, and others singing.

Musical taste in Winfield,as a result of the years of good music in the public schools, has so improved that jazz for listening purposes is only mildly popular. The kids are not wild about Harry James' playing, but they take to George Gershwin, and the high school symphony orchestra was one of the first to perform "Rhapsody in Blue" in unabridged form. Delinquency is a curiosity and night clubs have been unable to get a start among high school youth. Their idea of an evening of fun is to get cokes and sandwiches, invade a home and play and eat until parents chase them out.

If any group in Winfield wants a musical program, the high school furnishes it free of charge. It contributes orchestras to Sunday School, singers to church choirs and to women's club meetings. An hilarious Dutch Band of five brass pieces does the clowning for conventions and county fairs.

The spell that music has woven over Winfield youth was dramatically shown in 1944 during the worst flood in the city's history. The turbulent Walnut River crashed through the dike, and raging waters engulfed the business district, bringing everything to a standstill. In spite of the flood, Pro. Joseph E Maddy, founder of the famous National Music Camp at Interlochen, Mich., arrived in Winfield to conduct the high school orchestra in a rehearsal. Students rowed or waded to the school to keep the engagement. When rehearsal started, 98 out of 100 [ the other two were ill ] were in their seats.

It was long after midnight when the youngsters stored their instruments,grabbed their hip boots and set out for home. They had had a glorious adventure--and, more significant, their devotion high-lighted the tradition of more than half a century of good music in Winfield.

March 14, 2002. I found some interesting web sites about the George Antheil piece that had never been played (American Heritage Article, May 2002, pg 43) called Ballet Mecanique. The piece written 1924 required 16 player pianos which were impossible to synchronize before MIDI. Paul Lehrman took the original score and translated it into MIDI. There are over 600 time signature changes over 1,240 bars of music.The article says it is "sort of like a Philip Glass piece for industrial noismakers".

Page hosted by Paul D. Lehrman.

Article from "Wired" magazine.

Review of "Wired" article

Article about Geoge Antheil and Heddy Lamar and their secret communications system. This is about the spread spectrum technology that is the basis of modern cell phones.

This seems to have been an event somewhat like the 100 Piano concert in Winfield in 1945 in the article above, a lot of community spirit just to see if it can be done.

back to: The Winfield Music Home Pag
back to: Cowley County Historical Museum

back to Austin Business Computers Page

email to Bill Bottorff bbott@ausbcomp.com