By Melissa Mitchell The 100-year history of the UI's School of Music is punctuated by the expected series of high and low notes. But few associated with the school today would disagree that the highest of the highs was the period spanning the end of World War II through the 1960s. Some refer to this period as the school's "golden age"; others say it was as close as it gets to Camelot. In any case, "it was a very exciting time," said John Garvey, an emeritus professor of music and former leader of the Jazz Band and the Russian Folk Orchestra. Garvey came to the UI in 1948 to fill the viola vacancy in the Walden String Quartet, which soon earned an international reputation for its performance of contemporary music by such performers as Arnold Schonberg and Charles Ives. The music school's new director, John Kuypers, brought the quartet with him from Cornell University the previous year and established it as the first musical ensemble of its kind to be afforded full academic status at a major university. Kuypers is remembered by Garvey and others as one of the school's most effective directors, despite his short and controversial tenure. During his directorship - from 1947 to 1950 - Kuypers reorganized the school's administration, enhanced the string and orchestral programs, instituted a music extension program and established the Summer Youth Music program, supported the development of a serious opera program, and encouraged performers and composers experimenting in creative "new" music forms. Many of those endeavors received continuing support throughout the '50s and '60s by Kuypers' successor, Duane Branigan. "A lot of things came about during the years of John Kuypers; he did more for the school than any other person," said Austin McDowell, a long-time UI music professor and UI alumnus who served first as associate director of the school under Robert Bays, then as director for two years before his retirement in 1988. Unfortunately, in the process of implementing wide-scale changes, Kuypers' style - considered authoritarian - ruffled more than a few faculty feathers. Contemporary and new music -------------------------------- Among Kuypers' initiatives that had the most lasting impact on the music school was his support of contemporary and new music. That included his involvement in the UI's Contemporary Festival of the Arts, an annual (and later, biennial) series of events sponsored by the College of Fine and Applied Arts. The festivals, which included a national Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting and Sculpture, began in 1948 and continued through 1971. The festivals typically took place over the course of a month, and included music, dance and theatrical performances held in various campus venues, most notably in Smith Hall and the Auditorium. "International recognition came with the introduction of the festivals," McDowell said. When the UI launched the event - in large part, through the efforts of FAA deans Alan Weller and Jack McKenzie - "schools weren't having festivals to this extent," McDowell said. Among the well-known composers and performers drawn to the campus to participate in the festivals were Aaron Copland; Paul Hindemith; Georges Enesco; Igor Stravinsky and his son, Soulima, who later joined the faculty; and John Cage. At the same time, the UI music school also was receiving the approval of music critics from national newspapers and magazines, who were drawn to the campus by the innovative, world-class events taking place here. In her soon-to-be- published history of the music school, "A Sympathy With Sounds," Ann L. Silverberg cites a 1951 New York Herald Tribune review that heaped praise on performances by Garvey, Claire Richards, Stanley Fletcher and the UI's Percussion Ensemble, conducted by Paul Price. Judging the festival as a whole, critic Virgil Thomson observed: "Executions were in all cases top quality, and the festival repertory seems a broader coverage of contemporary music than has been available in New York during a whole season." In addition to performing with the Walden String Quartet, Garvey played a pivotal role in the School of Music's involvement in the festivals, serving as chairman of the music events for about 15 years. Beginning in 1960, he also contributed to the festivals as conductor of the dramatic musical extravaganzas created by avant-garde faculty composer Harry Partch. Although he was only on the faculty for five years, Partch commanded considerable attention with large-scale spectacles featuring his own specially made wood, wire and glass instruments, which Garvey described as "plectral or percussive" - that is, "instruments you pick or hit." Partch and others - notably the UI's Lejaren Hiller, a chemist who eventually joined the music faculty and established the school's Experimental Music Studios, and John Cage, who visited the campus often during the 1950s and early '60s - are credited with putting the UI on the map as an internationally known incubator for the creation and support of new music. Not everyone in the music school or the UI community necessarily appreciated the work of these composers, which bore little resemblance to the classical Western-European musical foundations in which many of the faculty were trained, Garvey noted. "He's mad! He's mad!" ----------------------- Probably the most legendary expression of distaste for the emerging new music trends was an incident that occurred during a 1965 festival performance of Hiller's "Suite for Two Pianos and Tape." Appalled by the performer's near- blasphemous act of pounding violently on a piano, the wife of a classically trained faculty pianist began hurtling music stands onto the stage. Bruno Nettl, professor emeritus of ethnomusicology, arrived at the concert at intermission, just in time to see the woman being escorted from Smith Hall by police. Another professor was calming her husband, who, Nettl said, wasn't nearly so upset by the whole affair. "The excitement was not only about the show, but was part of the show," he said, adding that "you didn't really know if the [woman's] gesture was intended to disturb the show, or if it was to mean, 'Well, if anything goes...' " At one point during the same performance, Nettl said, "somebody screamed, 'He's mad! He's mad!' I think it was she [the music-stand-thrower]." Nettl, who participated in the festivals solely as an audience member, recalls another particularly notable festival performance of new music in which Cage covered himself with contact microphones attached to Smith Hall's loudspeaker system, then proceeded to chop up an assortment of vegetables. "Different vegetables sounded different," Nettl observed. After chopping the veggies, Cage placed them in a juice blender, which, naturally, created an amplified and obnoxious roaring sound. "Then, he drank the juice, and you heard that, too," Nettl said. Although the juice-drinking business and similar precursors to today's performance art may not have been everybody's cup of vitamins, such compositions gave everyone ample portions of food for thought - and expression. "All kinds of things were going on here at that time," Nettl said, noting that "the main social life took place on the streets. People would be gesticulating wildly outside Smith and up and down Oregon and Nevada streets, where the school had annexes in various houses." Nettl added that "there was a little bit of political correctness" in evidence among members of the university's music and arts communities at the time. "You had to be interested in 20th-century music to make a go of it," he said. McDowell, who plays the clarinet and chaired the school's woodwind division for many years, noted that as a whole, the faculty of the so-called golden era "respected our traditional music, and at the same time, tried the new things. Some members of the faculty wouldn't have anything to do with it [the new music]," he said. "But the success and exposure the school received satisfied most and was a good route to take." Further, he said, the school's commitment to new music dovetailed well with the institution, since "a university is supposed to be investigative." Jazzin' it up ------------- Although Garvey became involved in the investigative and experimental aspects of new-music composition through his association with Partch, he soon realized that his muse was again pointing him in a different direction. "Doing the Partch pieces reawakened the part of me that was analogous to jazz - the part that involved expression of emotion," Garvey said. That led to Garvey's founding of the UI Jazz Band in 1960. At the time, the band was one of only two in the country affiliated with a university. During its first few years of existence, the jazz band wasn't officially acknowledged by the School of Music. Instead, it was sponsored by the Illini Union's student foundation. "Only in the second or third year could we rehearse in the music school," he said. The band quickly earned the school's respect and acceptance after it took top honors at the University of Notre Dame's collegiate jazz festival in 1964 and placed first again in 1967, 1968 and 1969 at that and another national festival. The band also was invited to perform at the Newport Jazz Festival and made Downbeat magazine's charts in 1969 - both atypical feats for a college band. In addition to all the performance and composition activities that brought the UI music school into the national spotlight in the 1950s and '60s, a number of less dramatic, but equally important, events were taking place behind the scenes to boost the strength and reputation of the school. Under Branigan's direction, the school greatly expanded its graduate programs in music education, strengthened its musicology faculty, and doubled the size of its entire faculty. Branigan also made significant headway toward acquiring new space for the school, which was bursting at the seams as a result of post-World War II expansion. In 1958, the bands division moved into new headquarters in the Harding Band Building, and the director laid the groundwork for the acquisition of new space for the school in the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts and the Music Building. The luster of the music school's golden age began to fade somewhat around the time that the attention of the campus and the nation was diverted by U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Since that time, various musical ensembles have come and gone in the School of Music, and new ones have emerged. Meanwhile, new faculty members - as well as a few members of the old guard - continue to build on the school's tradition for being a place where creativity and invention in performance, composition and education are valued. The glory years of the School of Music may be history, but new - and different - chapters are still being written every day. For instance, McDowell cited new strengths in such areas as musicology and ethnomusicology. The UI continues to be known for its support of new and experimental music - particularly electronic music, McDowell said. But "as a result of what started here, now it's more commonplace ... now every school has its avant-garde composers. You're out of it if you don't. "The newness of the music itself is what made it in the 1950s and early '60s," McDowell said. "Now it's more naturally accepted. You can't do much more that's new."