Edward Bailey Birge
MENC President 1910-1911
Born June 12, 1868, Northampton, Massachussetts
Died July 16, 1952, Bloomington, Indiana
B. A. Degree (Bartlett Scholarship), Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, 1891
B. Mus. Degree, Yale University, 1904
Music teacher, Easthampton, Massachussetts, 1891-1896
Music teacher, West Springfield, Massachussetts, 1893-1896
Director of music, New Haven Normal School, 1896 - 1901
Director of music, New Britain Normal School, 1898 - 1901
Director of music, public schools, Indianapolis, Indiana, 1901-1921
Supervisor, (summers) American Institute of Normal Methods, Western Division,
Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, 1911-1921
Professor of music education, Indiana University, 1921-1938
Professor Emeritus, Indiana University, 1938-1952
Birge, Edward B. History of Public School Music in the United States. Washington, D.C.:
Music Educators National Conference, 1928.
McConathy,Osbourne, W. Otto Miessner, Edward B. Birge, and Mabel E. Bray, eds. The
Music Hour Series. New York: Silver Burdett Company, 1927-1938.
Parker, Horatio, Osbourne McConathy, Edward B. Birge, and W. Otto Meissner, eds.
The Progressive Music Series. New York: Silver Burdett Company, 1914-1927.
Member, School Music Committee, National Education Association, 1903, 1909
First treasurer of National Music Supervisors’ Conference, 1907-1908
Member, Executive Committee Music Teachers National Association (MTNA),
Member, Editorial Board Silver Burdett, 1914-1952
Member, Public School Music Committee MTNA, 1914-1934 (Chair 1921-1924)
President, Indiana State Music Teachers Association, 1923
Member, Music Education Research Council, 1926-1931, 1934-1939 (Chair 1929)
Chairman, Editorial Board, Music Educators Journal, 1930-1944
Chairman Emeritus, Editorial Board Music Educators Journal, 1944-1952
Edward Bailey Birge studied music from an early age and developed musical leadership skills beginning in high school. He took violin lessons before age six, and began to learn piano at about the same time. This musical activity was reinforced by family duets with his father, a leader in the community band and chorus, and his sister, an excellent pianist. In high school, Birge sang, accompanied the chorus, studied the organ, and, in his senior year, organized and conducted a Glee Club that was featured at graduation ceremonies. Birge began teaching before he graduated from Brown University, working at various public schools in small towns near Providence during the afternoons while continuing his course work in the mornings. After graduating from Brown in 1891 he stayed in New England for the next ten years, teaching in public and normal schools.
In 1901 Birge moved to Indianapolis to become Director of Music in the schools and began improving the music program there until it was regarded as one of the best in the country. During his tenure, he developed a sequential musical curriculum in which elementary school children received daily instruction by music specialists. He administered Seashore tests to fifth graders in an attempt to group students according to musical ability, instituted music memory contests, and developed high school courses in music appreciation and theory. He also placed a player piano in each elementary school so the children could hear piano arrangements of concert pieces in the time before recordings were available. In the community, he organized Teachers Choruses and, in 1905, began the People’s Concert Association, which became an important cultural organization in Indianapolis.
Because of Birge’s notable work in the Indianapolis schools, he was offered a position at Indiana University, which he began in 1921. The job was the first public school music post in the new School of Music at the university, preparing students for the Bachelor of Public School Music degree. Birge based his education courses on the idea that children should derive pleasure from singing good music. At the end of each semester, he solicited written feedback from his college students so he could continue to improve his classes and the music education department. During this time, he collaborated with colleagues outside the university on several series of music texts that reflected the expansion of public school music to encompass listening, creative music making, and connections with other disciplines. Birge also continued his community involvement by working with Bloomington public schools and civic organizations.
Birge was active in many professional organizations, including the American Guild of Organists, Music Teachers National Association, and the National Education Association. He was involved in the Music Supervisors Conference from its inception in 1907 and continued to serve on committees and present papers after his presidency ended. Before Birge died, he transferred to MENC the author’s rights to his book, The History of Public School Music in the United States, and also left a bequest to the organization in his will.
Birge promoted lifelong music education, believing that it provided vital aesthetic experiences and social and cultural secondary benefits. He participated in musical activities throughout his life, regularly directing choirs, serving as a church organist, and playing viola in string quartets with friends. He thought each child should have the opportunity to participate in basic musical activities in school, and he supported community music, spending considerable time organizing and encouraging adult musical activities wherever he lived.
Married Mary Thompson, 1901
“The music supervisor of today, like the educational problems with which he deals, is a product of evolution. . . . As this somewhat complex individual looks out upon the world of music, and into the faces of the children and then into his own heart, he is conscious of the vast possibilities which fortune has placed within his reach for helping make America a music-loving nation. He realizes that with great opportunities come great responsibilities.”
Edward B. Birge, “Music Appreciation – The Education of the Listener,” Music
Supervisors Journal 10, no. 4 (March 1924): 18.
“The supervisor should be a reader. The Yearbooks of the National Conference should be in every music teacher’s library. Keeping abreast of the times is merely knowing what others are thinking and doing; the reader may disagree with what he is reading, but his disagreement will make him think, and that will make him grow.”
Edward B. Birge, “Training of Music Supervisors in Service,” Music Supervisors Journal
18, no. 3 (February, 1932): 16.
“Although the subject of music can be studied in isolation, it should not be kept so cloistered as to lose valuable and broadening contacts with related aspects of life belonging to other subjects such as literature, social studies, and science.”
Edward B. Birge, “A Basic Program for Music Study Grades 4,5,6,” Thirty First
Yearbook of the Music Educators National Conference. (Chicago: The Conference, 1938): 401-402.
Beattie, John W. “Appreciation of a Colleague.” Music Educators Journal 25, no. 1
(September 1938): 16.
Beattie, John W. “Edward Bailey Birge.” Music Educators Journal 39, no. 2
(November-December 1952): 21.
Birge, Edward B. “A Basic Program for Music Study Grades 4,5,6,” Thirty First
Yearbook of the Music Educators National Conference. Chicago: The
Conference, 1938. pp. 401-404.
________. “Music Appreciation – The Education of the Listener,” Music
Supervisors Journal 10, no. 4 (March 1924): 14, 16, 18.
________. “Training of Music Supervisors in Service,” Music Supervisors Journal
18, no. 3 (February, 1932): 16-17.
Earhart, Will. “A Tribute to a Colleague.” Music Educators Journal 30, no. 6 (May-June
1944): 13, 59.
“Edward Bailey Birge Papers: Biography,” Special Collections in Performing Arts,
Performing Arts Library, University of Maryland. Available from
Gonzalez, G. M. “Edward Bailey Birge Biography,” MENC Founders of 1907. Available
from http://www.public.asu.edu/~aajth/history/birge~e.b/birge.html; Internet.
Keene, James A. A History of Music Education in the United States. Hanover, NH:
University Press of New England, 1982.
Mark, Michael L., and Charles L. Gary. A History of American Music Education, 2d
ed. Reston, VA: MENC-The National Association for Music Education, 1999.
Schwartz, Charles F., Jr. “Edward Bailey Birge, His Life and Contributions to Music
Education.” Ph.D. diss., Indiana University, 1966.
For more information, consult the following sources:
Arneson, Jon. The Music Educators Journal Cumulative Index 1914-1987. Stevens Point,
WI: Index House, 1987.
Journal of Proceedings/Yearbooks, Music Supervisors’ National Conference, 1910-1940
Papers and Proceedings, Music Teachers National Association, 1908-1940.
School Music Monthly, 1907-1932.
Submitted by Kaye Ferguson, November 2002