| During the early part of the
twentieth century, the concert band performed more music of quality to the
public than any other type of musical organization. Concert bands traveled
throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe performing to thousands
who otherwise would not have had an opportunity to experience formal concert
hall performances. Although the concert band’s popularity was unquestionable,
it generally was not considered to be on the same esoteric level as the orchestra;
therefore, concert bands suffered a somewhat inferior status among musicians.
Factors that contributed to this perception included the concert band’s
concert venue, often out-of-doors, the difficulty of conductors to obtain
a quality music education, a limited repertoire that with the exception of
marches was largely borrowed from the libraries of the orchestra, and a lack
of camaraderie among the leading bandmasters/conductors of the period.
Dr. Edwin Franko Goldman, composer, conductor, and founder of the Goldman Band, recognized these problems and challenges to the band movement. Believing that quality music for band could and should be offered to the public, Goldman arranged for a small group of outstanding bandmasters to meet in New York in order to discuss the problems of their profession. All agreed that through a combined effort, better bands and better repertoire could emerge. Goldman's idea for establishing The American Bandmasters Association (ABA) had its inception with this meeting.
Goldman continued to provide the momentum behind the ABA and was determined to improve not only the band profession, but also the collegiality among directors. With the oncoming impact of radio broadcasts and the decline in the popularity of the touring professional band, concert bands were forced to fiercely compete for performance venues. Goldman’s New York City band, however, experienced the opposite in that many of his concerts were broadcast on radio and became popular throughout the country. His New York audiences likewise increased through the influence of radio, and attendance at live concerts often exceeded 25,000. He became the second most famous bandmaster in the United States, behind only the immortal John Philip Sousa.
Goldman's rise in fame provided him the respect and contacts that he needed to gain interest and support for the ABA. During the summer of 1928, encouraged by favorable reactions in the profession, he met with Victor Grabel, conductor of the Chicago Concert Band, and Captain William Stannard, Leader of the U. S. Army Band, in Columbus, Ohio, to begin discussing what resulted in the first formal steps towards the foundation of ABA.
Capt. Stannard in August, 1928, recorded the original and lasting intent of ABA in a letter to Albert Austin Harding, Director of Bands at the University of Illinois: "We conceived the idea of creating an ABA for the purpose of furthering the interests of outstanding American Band Masters, and of interesting composers, arrangers, and music publishers in Wind Band music. . . . It would be the aim of the ABA to unite in a concerted effort to influence the best composers to write for the Wind Band." Stannard also wrote that John Philip Sousa had been interviewed in connection with the proposed idea and that he was quite enthusiastic, consenting to act as President of the association. Sousa’s support was of vital importance since he was recognized as America's foremost bandmaster. Sousa had the respect and personality necessary to motivate bandmasters to unite in Goldman's cause.
Grabel and Stannard immediately began groundwork toward the official founding of the ABA. Stannard sought input from acclaimed bandmasters and Grabel organized meetings in Chicago when Stannard, Harding, Sousa and other bandmasters could meet. Goldman remained the guiding force behind the movement, while Grabel acted as the primary executive force. The organization took true formation at a meeting in Chicago on October 25, 1928. Grabel, Harding, and Stannard discussed many issues including the importance of key bandmasters, possible locations and times for the first formal meeting, the beginnings of the constitution which would be written by Grabel, and the procedures and qualifications for membership.
New York was approved as the first meeting place and the charter members assembled there on July 5, 1929. These members included Edwin Franko Goldman; Charles Benter, Director of the United States Navy Band, Washington, D. C.; J. J. Gagnier, Director of His Majesty's Grenadier Guards Band, Montreal, Canada; Victor J. Grabel, Conductor of the Chicago Concert Band; Albert Austin Harding, Director of Bands at the University of Illinois; Richard B. Hayward, Director of the Toronto Concert Band, Toronto, Canada; Charles O'Neill, Director of the Royal 22nd Regiment Band, Quebec, Canada; Arthur Pryor, Director of Arthur Pryor's Band, New York, NY; and Frank Simon, Director of the ARMCO Band, Middletown, Ohio.
Although the proceedings of this important meeting do not exist, the events can be somewhat retraced from a brief New York Herald Tribune article. Grabel's draft of the ABA Constitution and by-laws were adopted and an official statement of the objectives of the ABA compiled. These initial objectives set forth the desire for a universal band instrumentation, a higher standard of artistic excellence, and the need to induce prominent composers of all countries to write for the band. At the end of the Constitution, Grabel listed John Philip Sousa as Honorary Life President and the following officers: Goldman, President; O'Neill, Vice President; Grabel, Secretary; and Harding, Treasurer. Simon, Clarke, and Hayward were elected Directors and Pryor was elected Chairman of the Membership Committee.
The first annual convention was held March 13-16, 1930, in Middletown, Ohio, the home-base of charter member Frank Simon and the ARMCO Band. By the second annual convention in 1931, the ABA had begun to move out of its organizational stages and into a decade of activism. World War II brought a redirection of focus for the entire country and caused the 1942 convention to be cancelled. During this difficult period, the ABA Newsletter was begun and served as the essential link that held the group together over the next six years. No conventions followed during the war and the original editor of the newsletter, Lynn Sams, is credited with keeping the interest in ABA alive.
The organization met again in 1947 in Elkhart, Indiana, with members eager to push the association forward in new directions. This convention marked the revival of ABA that has continued to meet annually. Conventions provide the ongoing process of growth and change necessary to adhere to the principles on which the organization was founded.
Charter members of ABA: Edwin Franko Goldman; Charles Benter, J. J. Gagnier, Victor J. Grabel, Albert Austin Harding, Richard B. Hayward, Charles O'Neill, Arthur Pryor and Frank Simon.
The importance, however, of The American Bandmasters Association does not lie in its meetings, but in its membership. Some of the accomplishments of the collective and singular efforts of it members follow:
• John Philip Sousa's enshrinement in the Hall of Fame of Great Americans through the leadership of Honorary Life Member Raymond F. Dvorak.
• The establishment of the Journal of Band Research through the leadership of past president Dr. Paul V. Yoder.
• The founding of the American School Band Directors Association by American Bandmasters Association member Mr. Dale Harris.
• The founding of the College Band Directors National Association by past president Dr. William D. Revelli.
• The founding of the National Band Association by past president Dr. Al G. Wright.
• The founding of the National Band Association Hall of Fame for Distinguished Conductors by Dr. William D. Revelli, president of the National Band Association, and founding president Dr. Al G. Wright.
• Establishment of The American Bandmasters Association Research Center at the University of Maryland, under the leadership of Dr. Paul V. Yoder.
• The founding of the Phi Beta Mu International Bandmasters Fraternity by past president Colonel Earl D. Irons.
• The establishment of The American Bandmasters Association/ Ostwald Band Composition Contest by ABA associate members Ernest and Adolph Ostwald.
• The establishment in 1962 of the Edwin Franko Goldman Memorial Citation to recognize persons outside the ABA who have rendered conspicuous service in the interest of bands and band music.
• The founding of the North American Band Directors Coordinating Council by ABA Associate member Dr. Forrest McAllister.
• The creation of the John Philip Sousa Foundation by Colonel George S. Howard.
• The inception of The American Bandmasters Association Foundation under the leadership of past president Dr. Harry Begian.
• The accomplishments of the ABA in concert band instrumentation.
• The encouragement and recognition of new music and composers both in and out of The American Bandmasters Association, beginning with the commissions of Dr. Edwin Franko Goldman.
• The more than half a century of dedication to the betterment of bands in every possible way.
• The encouragement of the development of the Japanese Band Directors Association through the efforts of past president Dr. Paul V. Yoder and associate member Walter Volkwein, and the nurturing of the Japanese Band Directors Association through American Bandmasters Association / Japanese Band Directors Association joint meetings.
Jennifer Scott, 1995
Edited by Thomas V. Fraschillo, William J. Moody, 2006
Davis, Alan L. (1987) A History of The American Bandmasters Association, doctoral dissertation, Arizona State University.
The Constitution and By-Laws of The American Bandmasters Association.
Revelli, W. D. (1986). Interview with Alan L. Davis, August 14.
Santelmann, W. F. (1953) What The American Bandmasters Association Means to Me.
Sams, L. L. (1986). Untitled History of Bands in the United States, Unpublished manuscript.
Stannard, W. J. (1928). Personal correspondence to Albert Austin Harding, August 3.
Other sources: Victor Zajec, former Dean of the Graduate School at Vandercook College in Chicago.
ABA Public Relations and Publicity Committee, 1995-96: Dr. James Croft, James Curnow, Lt. Col. Frank Dubuy, Emery Fears, Dr. Edwin Kruth and Frank Wickes.