The National School Orchestra Contests: 1929-1937

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Journal of Research in Music Education

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contests and festivals, national contests, instrumental music education, history


The purpose of this study was to examine the National School Orchestra Contests sponsored by the National Bureau for the Advancement of Music and the Committee on Instrumental Affairs (CIA) of Music Supervisors National Conference from 1929 to 1937. Research questions examined contest (a) organization and operation, (b) rules and procedures, (c) participants, and (d) repertoire, as well as (e) the influence of early school orchestra competitions on subsequent large-group assessment. I also made recommendations for the development of these events today based on their counterparts of the 1920s and 1930s. The first national school orchestra contest convened at the State University of Iowa in May 1929 and in other cities throughout the mid United States until 1937. Judges ranked ensembles based on their ability to perform two prepared selections and sight-read unfamiliar music until 1933, when the CIA implemented a rating system to improve the validity of adjudication, emphasize educational values, and reduce competitiveness. Although the number of participants increased substantially with the rating system, the contests never achieved a national scope due to prohibitive expenses for orchestras traveling long distances.


This article was published in Journal of Research in Music Education, volume 63, issue 4, 397-420, December 30, 2015,