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The Illinois State Music Teachers Association has been a vital force in the lives of music educators for over a century. As we meet each fall at the state conference, it seems fitting to look back at our history and how we come to where we are today. 

The present Illinois State Music Teachers’ Association was preceded by another organization, the Illinois Music Teachers’ Association, founded by Henry W. Perkins, one of MTNA’s charter members. The first meeting was held on June 23, 1886, in Central Music Hall in Chicago. Perkins, the organizer of this meeting, was a voice and harmony teacher and director of the Chicago National College of Music on Van Buren Street in Chicago. The first annual meeting was held a year later, June 29 and 30, again in Central Music Hall. Henry S. Perkins was elected president, an office he held for the next ten years. 

John H. Hattstaedt, President of the American Conservatory, was on the program for this 1887 meeting. William H. Sherwood, Director of the Sherwood Piano College (later the Sherwood Music School) played some of his own compositions. Other participants in this meeting included Dr. Florenz Ziegfeld, President of the Chicago Musical College, father of Flo Ziegfeld of Ziegfeld Follies fame; Frederick Grant Gleason, composer of a cantata for the dedication of the Auditorium Theater; Peter C. Lutkin, Northwestern University professor, composer of the perennial favorite anthem, Lord Bless You and Keep You; and W.S.B. Mathews, music critic of the Chicago Tribune. 

Programs in the Newberry Library tell of annual meetings held in 1892, 1894, 1906, 1909, and 1912. A description of the 1923 meeting recounts the famous pianist Harold Bauer as honored guest. Members from out of town received free tickets to a Chicago Symphony concert from the conductor, Dr. Frederick Stock. 

Not all the annual meetings were held in Chicago. The Quincy Daily Herald of June 28, 1899, describes Mr. August Hyllested’s recital before the Illinois Music Teachers’ Association in that city. Three years later, in 1902, the annual meeting was held in Joliet. 

With such promising beginnings, Illinois Music Teachers’ Association accomplished much during its earlier years, but by the late 1920’s had lost momentum and finally ceased to exist. Through the efforts of Bessie Ryan, the organization was revived, and at a meeting in Chicago on November 26, 1940, became Illinois State Music Teachers’ Association. Bessie Ryan was elected president and except for the terms of Simon Stein (1944-46) and Harry Berning (1946-48), remained in office until 1954. At that time Duane Branigan, a professor at the University of Illinois, succeeded her. (He was president of MTNA in 1963).

In 1955 the Chicago members of ISMTA told Branigan that they felt the annual meetings were not sufficient and that they wanted to hold monthly meetings in their area. They held an organization meeting and elected Verona Pendell president. Other groups in the Chicago suburbs and around the state followed suit. Of the current 21 active local associations, several have already celebrated their 20th anniversary.

The ISMTA has had an important leadership role in the history of MTNA. First, certification was an abiding concern of ISMTA and its predecessor long before a national certification plan was developed. From the beginning of her activity, President Bessie Ryan urged the idea of certification upon all members, and ISMTA was among the first states to embrace the concept of national certification in 1967.

In its long history, the Association has seen six of his members become national presidents of MTNA: James A. Butterfield, 1878; William F. Heath, 1889; Rossetter B. Cole, 1903; 1909, and 1910; Peter C. Lutkin, 1911 and 1920; Frederick B. Stiven, 1935; and Duane A. Branigan, 1963.

Most of the material for this article came from an article by Roberta Savler called “ISMTA: 1886-1986” as well as from the archives of ISMTA. Also referred to was a book entitled A Centennial History of the Music Teachers National Association, which delves into the history of each state organization in the MTNA. This book was written by Homer Ulrich.