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They're Playing Our Song - Part 3

Community Bands in Kansas

Cheney High School Band members, 1950s.Music in the Schools

Music instruction in public schools has long been considered a vital element of a good education. Public school teachers and their students often are the backbone of town bands.

School Music in Kansas

Support for music in Kansas public schools began in the mid-1860s. In 1871, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction recommended that students in the First Reader classification sing three to four times per day for several minutes at a time.

Over the next forty years there was a great increase in the number of state normal schools, or teaching colleges, across the country. Music soon became standard training for teachers.

The Kansas Historical Society's collections include a guidebook for teaching children the basics of music. It was issued in 1890 by A.B. Brown & Co., music and book publishers, Leavenworth.


Wichita State University marching band sousaphone, 1975.

Instrumental Music

During most of the 19th century, vocal music was the primary means of music education, due mainly to the high cost of musical instruments. As the country became more industrialized, however, the availability of instruments improved.

College marching bands began to appear during the 1890s. A marching band was established at the University of Kansas as early as 1894.

Wichita State University purchased this sousaphone in 1975 for its marching band (top, left).

Colby High School band uniform, collections of Thomas County Historical Society.

The Colby High School Band wore this uniform (center, right; courtesy of Thomas County Historical Society) while marching in the parade for the inauguration of President Jimmy Carter in 1977.

After World War I there was a tremendous increase in the number of school band programs. Many men returning from the war had military band experience and decided to teach instrumental music. Changes in American society also contributed to the increased number of music teachers. Vaudeville theaters closed and talking motion pictures developed, putting many musicians out of work. The Great Depression of the 1930s also created large numbers of unemployed musicians, many of whom found a place in the public schools.


School Music Contests

As instrumental music programs increased in schools, so did the popularity of school music contests.

Aggie Loyalty sheet music written for Kansas State Agricultural College.

The first national school music contest held in Chicago in 1923 was a powerful stimulus to the school contest movement. This movement had its beginnings in Kansas after World War I. Welsh immigrants who settled in Kansas held music contests in their communities in central and southern Kansas. These "eisteddfod" festivals--celebrations of Welsh music and literature--began in the early 1870s. They influenced music teachers around Kansas.

The sheet music Aggie Loyalty (bottom, right) was written for the Kansas State Agricultural College--now Kansas State University--in Manhattan. School music contests led to the standardization of instrumentation, the practice of publishing full band scores, increased emphasis on music teacher training programs, and a phenomenal growth in enrollment in school bands.

Since World War II, school music programs have continued to grow in popularity. Music classes are an integral part of our educational system. Currently, all 368 Kansas high schools have active music programs, with students performing for many school and community events.

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They're Playing Our Song: Community Bands in Kansas is an online exhibit developed by the Kansas Museum of History.

  1. Military Bands
  2. Town Bands
  3. Music in the Schools
  4. Fraternal Bands
  5. Railroad Bands
  6. Cowboy Bands
  7. Ethnic Folk Bands
  8. Circus Bands
  9. Bandwagons and Bandstands

Contact us at kshs.kansasmuseum@ks.gov