Whistler, Harvey

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Born: 7th September 1907

Died: 17th March 1976

Country: Ventura, California, USA

Studies: Fresno State Teachers College

Teachers: Kornelis Bering; Carl Grissen; Herman August Hummel

Public School Music Educator (1930-1939)

In May 1930, a month before his graduation, Whistler was appointed Director of Instrumental Music at Selma-Union High School (SUHS) and Grammar School, a position that provided him ample opportunity to hone his newly acquired knowledge and skills. Outside of work, Whistler continued his violin studies with renowned Russian concert violinist, Josef Piastro Borissoff (ca. 1930-1932), and began composing music for his school ensembles. By 1939, Whistler had published six marches with Carl Fischer and Volkwein Brothers, three of which were publicly performed by local city bands.[8] [9] Whistler also remained active in the California-Western Division Chapter of the Music Educators National Conference (MENC), giving string clinics and serving on administrative committees, most notably as two-term President of the California-Western Central Section (1934-1935).

In Summer 1933, Whistler enrolled part-time at the University of Southern California to study educational administration with additional coursework in sociology and psychology. He graduating two years later in June 1935 with a Master of Science Degree in Education and administrative credentials. His master’s thesis entitled, The Organization and Administration of Music Departments in Secondary Schools, provides a rare description of California’s public-school instrumental program structure during the 1930s.

After graduation, Whistler and his colleague, Arthur C. Nord (1890-1970), began work on a large-scale string class method book entitled Beginning Strings: The World’s Masters-Method for Stringed Instruments (1939). Published in 1939 by Carl Fischer, Beginning Strings was intended for use among “mixed string instrument groups in the public schools”—a sentiment shared by Merle J. Isaac, who had written his Merle Isaac String Class Method just one year earlier.[10] Rather than use newly composed instructional material, the authors arranged and sequenced standard nineteenth-century string methods (e.g., Hohmann, Wohlfahrt, Dancla) for heterogeneous group instruction, arguing that these long-established studies were “going to waste as far as public schools were concerned.”[10] Whistler would adopt this ‘repurposing’ approach throughout much of his later works.

In Summer 1938, Whistler left SUHS, handing its directorship over to Nord. Whistler, in turn, assumed Nord’s position as Instrumental Music Instructor at Charles W. Eliot Junior High School (EJHS) that September, but only briefly. He resigned the following July to begin doctoral studies in Education and Musicology at The Ohio State University.

Composer, Arranger, Scholar, Soldier (1939-1947)

Around the same time Whistler enrolled in his Ph.D. program, both he and Hummel, were hired by the Rubank music publishing company to publish educational texts for school string and band ensembles. The pair got to work immediately publishing a number of folios and methods, among them Solos for Strings (1940) and Paving the Way: From Instrumental Instruction to Band Playing (1940), a full-orchestra class method. On August 15, 1940, the Mendelssohn Conservatory in Chicago (now defunct) conferred upon Whistler an Honorary Doctorate in Music (D. Mus.), for his work in music education. Whistler continued his coursework at OSU and graduated on June 15th, 1942 after successfully defending his dissertation, “The Life and Work of Theodore Thomas.” He would later publish parts of the dissertation detailing Thomas as a violinist in the October 1944 volume of Violins and Violinists Magazine.

Fully intending to focus his efforts on Rubank, Whistler’s plans were interrupted by the U.S insertion into World War II. On July 19, 1942, thirty-four days after his graduation, Whistler enlisted in the United States Army. He then spent the next three and a half years at various U.S. universities serving as a military instructor, classification officer, and orientation officer for the Adjutant General’s Office. By late 1945, First Lieutenant Whistler resigned from service as part of the military efforts to scale back personnel after World War II. His friend, Joseph Roda, wrote on January 31, 1946, welcoming him home. “I suppose you are happy to be a civilian again.”[11]

The war years between 1941 and 1947 were some of Whistler’s most productive as an author of string method books. Whistler published five music folios and methods for orchestra with Hummel and colleagues, including First Steps in Band Playing: A Class Method for All [Band and String] Instruments (1941), Ensemble Time: For Instrumental Trio and Quartet Playing (1943) and Essentials for Band Playing (1943). He also published 26 texts on his own, including his 16-book Modern Instrumentalist Series, described by Rubank as a “series of famous methods and studies entirely revised, re-edited and re-styled to meet the demands of modern education,” his Whistler’s Modern Hohmann-Wohlfahrt: Beginning Method for Violin in two volumes, and his now famous Introducing the Positions series for violin (1944, 1946), for cello (1947), Developing Double Stops (1947), and From Violin to Viola (1947).

Success and Expanding Interests (1947-1962)

Upon returning home in 1946, Whistler resumed his collaborations with Hummel publishing number of folios for both strings and band ensembles (Ensembles for Strings, 1949; String Time, 1949; and Twenty Grand Orchestra Folio, 1950). In the years that followed (1951-1957) Whistler wrote Preparing for Kreutzer etude collections (1952) and Introducing the Positions for Viola (1953, 1954). This was followed by Whistler and Hummel’s First Series for beginning-level students (First Solo Album, First Etude Album, First Duo, Trio, and Quartet Albums) and their seven duo albums for either two violins or violin and viola, and three trio albums for string or piano trio. All albums were progressive in sequence, keeping in mind the limitations of both beginning and intermediate chamber ensemble, and contain arrangements of marches, waltzes, classical, and traditional tunes.

By mid-1950, Whistler’s texts had garnered significant praise among performers, studio teachers, supervisors of instrumental music, and collegiate faculty around the United States. Frank W. Hill, ASTA Treasurer and future ASTA President, wrote, “Just a note to tell you I am using your books right and left, especially the new ones.” He also requested that Whistler send copies to Paul Rolland, then AST Journal Editor. Gustave Rosseels, the original second violinist of the Paganini String Quartet, wrote Rubank saying, “A few days ago I received your sample of music comprising a violin method by Harvey S. Whistler . . . I want you to know that in my opinion it is indeed a very fine work.” Rosseels then used Whistler’s books to teach his five-year-old son violin.

Alongside his Rubank writings, Whistler also worked on several academic projects. In 1948, he wrote an article for Violins & Violinist Magazine on eminent violin maker, Jean Baptiste Vuillaume (1947-48), alongside his long-time friend and authority on fine string instruments, Ernest N. Doring. The two would later co-author Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume of Paris (1961), published by W. Lewis, Chicago. Around the same time, Whistler began collaborating with Louis P. Thorpe, Professor of Secondary Education and Clinical Psychology at USC. Whistler and Thorpe published three works in total: Musical Aptitude Test for Grades 4 through 10 (1950), an article on testing for musical talent in Educational Music Magazine (1952), and another on memorizing piano music (1959).

Retired Author and Appraiser (1962-1976)

Whistler retired from Rubank in 1962 at age 55. Edward H. Wolske, then Rubank President, wrote Whistler the month preceding to congratulate him:

“Since your retirement comes up this month, I do want you to know how much I have enjoyed our association. Every once in a while, Harold [Walters; Chief Composer for Rubank] and I discuss Whistler humor and Whistler situations over the years, and I must say out thoughts are always pleasant . . . It is my hope that the fruits of your labor do endure and I am certain that some of your work will be around for years to come."

In the years that followed, Whistler turned his attention to a number of other hobbies he had entertained since the 1930s, namely academic writing, collecting bows, and appraising antiquities. In 1962, he was invited to join the editorial board of the Music Journal where he published String Symposium, a series of five reports “quot[ing] 127 teachers and performers of distinction . . . from various levels of music instruction” on the most pressing pedagogical issues involving violin, viola, cello, and string bass instruction. Among the survey respondents were Rex , Frank W. Hill, and Paul Rolland, all key figures in the founding of ASTA, as well as renowned string pedagogue, Samuel Applebaum. A renown and respected bow collector, Whistler also published several articles in the Music Journal about bows and their craftsmen, namely Francois Tourte, Dominique Peccatte, and Nikolaus Ferder Kittel.

Dr. Harvey Samuel Whistler passed away on March 17, 1976, at Ventura Community Hospital in Ventura, California, after suffering a stroke one month earlier, and is buried in Grandview Cemetery in Salem, Ohio, alongside his wife, Georgeanna’s family. According to Dakon (2011), Whistler legacy includes "more than 150 works and collections for both solo instruments and ensembles to be used in the private studio and the classroom," many of which Whistler remain in print through the Hal Leonard Music Publishing Company, where they continue to be used by leading 21st-Century pedagogues and the next generation of string performers. Whistler's private papers are housed at The Ohio State University Thompson Library Special Collection. They are still being processed for eventual circulation.

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