Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Dana School of Music

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Unknown., “William Henry Dana, founder of the Dana Musical Institute. ,” Trumbull Memory Project, accessed April 17, 2020, https://www.trumbullmemory.org/items/show/176.

During 2018-2019, Dana School of Music celebrated its 150th year. That’s an interesting number, because Youngstown State is only 112 years old. It points to a history that goes back to 1869, to a rented room above a hardware store in Warren, Ohio, at the corner of Market and Main Streets. Back of that story was a man who had a vision for quality music instruction at a time when many music conservatories had abysmally low standards.

William Henry Dana was born in Warren, Ohio in 1846. At the age of 16, he went to Williston Seminary to study civil engineering, following in the footsteps of his father Junius, a civil engineer in Warren. He left his studies to serve in the Ohio Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War, returning after the war to work with his father. His real interest, though, was music, and he went to Baxter University of Music, graduating in 1869.

After graduation, he returned to Warren. He had been dismayed by the low standards of instruction in many music schools and determined to set up a school that was different. This included:

Daily Instruction. Compulsory studies. Stated hours of study and practice and these guarded against interruption. Salaried teachers whose life and interests are centered in the school’s best welfare. (Catalogue, 1931-32, p. 6 via JSTOR).

With those principles, Dana established the Dana Musical Institute. At first his father was opposed, perceiving most musicians in the same class as drunkards. Apparently William won him over, because he became the main financial supporter of the school and served as secretary of the Institute until 1906.

In 1871, tuition at the Institute, only the third to in Ohio after Oberlin and Cincinnati, was a mere $75 for a full year of instruction. Initially most of the students were from the Warren area but the quality of instruction and affordable tuition attracted students from throughout the Midwest and Northeast, They rapidly outgrew their rented facilities and moved to a four story mansion on Park Avenue and High Street that once served as a stage coach stop. Eventually, women’s and men’s dormitories were added.

There were high standards for students and faculty. Students were required to attend church as well as twice-daily chapels, and had a curfew and could not drop out of their studies except in cases of illness. All the faculty were to be married, of an age to be respected by the students and devoted to the school’s interests.

Dana matched discipline with musical excellence. He pursued studies abroad in England and Germany, was a member of the Royal Academy of Music in London, and authored several texts on music theory. By 1911, it was chartered to grant Bachelor of Music, Master of Music, and Doctor of Music degrees.

William Henry Dana died in 1916. His son Lynn B. Dana, vice president from 1901, became president upon his father’s death. He was a concert pianist, Royal Academy of Music member and serve a stint as president of the Ohio Music Teachers Association, pioneering the Standardization of Music Teaching.

After a dip in enrollments during the first World War, enrollments climbed to 700 in the 1920’s. At this time, the Dana Music Institute claimed to be the only music school in the world to support its own string quartet, string orchestra, symphony orchestra, military band and chorus.

In 1931, Ohio required music degrees be granted from accredited colleges. The Institute was only a conservatory, not an accredited college. Dana attempted to establish cooperative relationships with Hiram, and later Kent State. During this time, enrollments dropped from 700 to 253.

In the fall of 1941, the school moved to Youngstown, was renamed the Dana School of Music, and became part of what was then Youngstown College. Sadly, Lynn B. Dana died before the beginning of classes, that year. An epoch of the Institute in Warren ended. But a new one in Youngstown began which has carried on to this day.

In my day on campus in the early 1970’s, I remember going to recitals at the old recital hall which is now the Sweeney Welcome Center, part of YSU’s Admissions Office. In 1977, the Dana School of Music moved into newly opened Bliss Hall, which continues to serve as its home.

In an article in YSU Magazine on Dana’s 150th anniversary it featured the diverse range of outstanding musicians trained at Dana:

  • John Anthony, a local rock guitarist.
  • Jazz musician Sean Jones, artistic director of the Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra, and Chair of Jazz Studies at the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins.
  • Baroque flutist Mary Oleskiewicz
  • Pianist Christina Reitz.
  • Gospel musician Mark Jackson
  • Trombonist Bob Matchett
  • Country music songwriter and member of the Nashville Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, Bob DiPiero.
  • Soprano Amanda Beagle
  • Billy Beck, member of the R & B supergroup, the Ohio Players.

What is impressive to me is the musical excellence across so many genres of music. I also knew many others whose excellence took the form of teaching careers in schools, inspiring students to love and make great music. It shouldn’t be surprising that such excellence might be found here. It was the passion of William Henry Dana. And now it is a 150 year tradition.

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