Photo | Kassy Wooley, MMTA Historian
This is the hand of a piano student looking over the Level 2 Sonata piece from this year’s 50th Anniversary Sonata Contest held Sat., Feb. 2.
One of Mobile’s most musically influential organizations is celebrating 100 years of helping develop the city’s ever-burgeoning talent and sound.
Since 1919, the Mobile Music Teachers Association (MMTA) has benefitted both instructors and students alike. While records going back to the inaugural year of this organization are “thin,” Barbara Laurendine, chair of the centennial celebration committee, only has to look to history to understand this organization’s organic birth.
At the end of World War I, Laurendine says the “activities of various lives” encouraged the public’s interest in music. As a result, an interest for music instruction increased, which led to the demand for teachers. The increased number of teachers in the area led to the creation of MMTA and established a positive momentum that has never ceased. Laurendine owes the longevity of the organization to the city’s continual need for music teachers.
“It serves as an important part of the community’s cultural life, because there’s always going to be a demand for private music instruction,” Laurendine said. “We have had students go through all of the activities of our local organization and go on to upper-level study and become practicing musicians themselves. Plus, you’re training concert-goers and future patrons of the arts. It’s a multifaceted adventure.”
Laurendine’s personal legacy with the organization can be traced back to 1964. She says that she had just moved back to Mobile and wanted to become a private piano instructor. As with any great teacher, Laurendine’s main concern was the advancement of her students. She knew that joining MMTA would allow her students to participate in various festivals, recitals and contests that would benefit their live performance skills and musical knowledge. She joined, and says the organization is as active now as it was in 1964. Piano instructors comprise a majority of the membership.
“The membership fluctuates anywhere between 75 and 100 [people],” Laurendine said. “When it originally began, it was not exclusively piano. It was voice and strings and sometimes wind and definitely organ. Right now, it is predominantly piano, but we do have string and voice teachers who are members.”
Laurendine says MMTA provides many beneficial activities for its members at its meetings. Once a month, Andy’s Music in West Mobile serves as a gathering place for its members. Some of these meetings consist of workshops Laurendine says feature “important pedagogues” sharing their knowledge. For example, this month’s meeting will feature Kevin T. Chance. Chance is assistant professor of piano and keyboard area coordinator at the University of Alabama School of Music as well as the newly elected vice president of the Music Teachers National Association. Laurendine says that Chance will educate members on various “pedagogical aspects that he feels are important.”
In addition to meeting special guests, members also get involved with providing workshops.
“We do programs for each other,” Laurendine said. “Various members, such as Dr. Robert Holm from the University of South Alabama, have done excellent programs. It’s done by out-of-town guests, as well as local musicians who come and talk to us.”
While MMTA provides many benefits for members, Laurendine says that the students are really the foundation of the organization. For her, seeing the smile that spreads across a 7-year-old child’s face when he or she accomplishes a new technique or piece is the most satisfying aspect of being a music instructor.
Some of the organization’s regular meetings feature workshops for students. Sometimes, students perform for members during the meeting. Other times, instructors might provide workshops on polishing a piece or performing under pressure. Ultimately, Laurendine says that the one-on-one and/or specialized musical instruction has a cultural trickle-down effect on the community.
“We’re training musicians,” Laurendine explained. “We are giving students the opportunity to learn and play their instruments to a higher level. If you’ve got a band program but you have someone who needs private instruction in flute, then they can go to the teacher and get outside work, which improves the quality of the band program. Anytime you have interest in instructors that do individual work that feeds into group work, then you’re improving the overall quality of the music production.”
MMTA also has a number of events to nurture the musical knowledge and skills of students. The organization’s annual sonata contest could be considered its most prestigious regular event. Last February, the sonata contest celebrated its 50th anniversary. Laurendine says that it is not uncommon for composers from across the nation to create sonatinas for students to perform during the competition.
In addition to the sonata contest, MMTA also features other opportunities for students to advance their musical knowledge. Laurendine says the organization has sometimes partnered with the Clara Schumann Club to present students in recitals and programs. For 13 years, the organization’s Ensemble Extravaganza has featured students sharing keyboards for complex collaborations that sometimes feature eight hands on two keyboards. The organization’s affiliation with the Alabama Music Teachers Association and the Music Teachers National Association gives students the opportunity to earn scholarships to continue their musical education.
On Tuesday, June 18, the members of MMTA will gather at a banquet Blacksher Hall for the apex of its centennial celebration. Laurendine says Mayor Sandy Stimpson will be reading a proclamation in honor of this organization’s dedication to local culture. A congratulatory letter from the Music Teachers National Association will be featured as well. This banquet will also honor 11 presidents from the association’s past. One of the highlights of the evening with be a retrospective presentation called “Decade of Decisions.”
“Since we are 100 years old, we have ten decades to deal with,” Laurendine said. “We’re going to have a history lesson about what was going on in the world from 1920 to 1930. What was music doing? What was history providing us? We’ll take each decade and go all the way to the present. Somewhere down the line, we’ll mention some of the prominent musicians. We’ll talk about how history and music evolved together over the years.”
As far as the future is concerned, Laurendine says that the organization’s hundred-year legacy proves that it must be doing something right. And, she says, as long as it pays attention to contemporary trends while providing quality instruction that maintains cultural enrichment, then MMTA will continue to thrive.
Those interested in becoming a part of the Mobile Music Teachers Association’s historic legacy should visit mobilemta.org.
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