The following is reprinted from the 1993 Alumni Directory. Special thanks to T. Jervis Underwood and Scott Sanders for their work on this piece.
Taken from the official Sinfonia site at http://www.sinfonia.org
The idea of an organized club for male students at Boston's New England Conservatory of Music was evolved in 1898 by Ossian E. Mills, then bursar of the conservatory. The nucleus group was formed by thirteen students, who the previous year, had joined together with Mills once a week for noon prayer meetings. The group perhaps formed a brotherhood as a defense against the fact that at that time girls outnumbered boys at the school by about 16 to 1. It is safe to suppose that some of these men were present at the gathering of October 6 and that through them, Mills influenced the adoption of high ideals of brotherhood by Phi Mu Alpha even before its official beginnings.
The idea for an official organization was born when, on September 10, 1898, the "Old Boys" invited the "New Boys" to attend a get-acquainted meeting. The "Old" and "New" met again on October 6, 1898, decided to form a permanent organization, and therewith elected officers to govern their activities.
The minutes of the first meeting describe the appointment of a "committee on rules and regulations," which was to prepare a set of bylaws for the new organization. On October 25th, the club's 13 active and one honorary member (Ossian Mills) accepted from a committee a governing document which has remained the Fraternity's philosophy of existence to the present day. In part it read:
The club also accepted the suggestion of the newly-elected Director of the Conservatory (and the Fraternity's second honorary member), George W. Chadwick, that the group adopt the name of an organization of which he had been a member during his student days in Leipzig. SINFONIA was born.
The fledgling society was a success from its very beginning. The first recorded initiation of new members took place on November 28, 1898, barely a month after Sinfonia's founding. Under the leadership of its first president, Frank Leslie Stone, the Fraternity carried on a busy schedule of social events, recitals, concerts, and shows, sponsored a men's glee club, entertained visiting artists, and renovated the chapter rooms set aside for their use by the Conservatory. They held regular fortnightly meetings, one of the main features of which was the initiation of new members.
By October of 1899 the club numbered about fifty men and continued to add members at frequent intervals. Sinfonia's outstanding success gave rise to thoughts of expansion in the minds of Founder Mills, President Percy Jewett Burrell, and treasurer, Ralph Howard Pendleton. To them it seemed that if their club was fulfilling a need among men at the New England Conservatory, then surely men in other conservatories in the country could find benefit and pleasure in similar organizations in their schools. Large Greek-letter fraternities flourished on college campuses, but there was no social-professional brotherhood for men in music. After much debate, a majority agreed to spend $25.00 from the club's treasury (which then totalled $34.00!) to send men to New York, Philadelphia, and Washington in order to present the idea of Sinfonia firsthand to male students of the leading conservatories. The expedition attracted notice far outside the student world and mention appeared in leading newspapers.
Pendleton and Henry Hall found themselves in Philadelphia and in conference with men of the old Broad Street Conservatory on October 6, 1900, two years to the day after Sinfonia's birth in Boston. The Philadelphia students requested and received admission to Sinfonia as its Beta Chapter, confirmed by the following telegram to the waiting brothers at the New England Conservatory:
October 6, 1900 Broad Street Conservatory applies for admission. The Sinfonia now National. Pendleton and Hall.
On November 26, 1900, a group of twelve at the American Institute of Applied Art in New York City became Gamma Chapter; Delta, at Ithaca Conservatory, followed in the last weeks of January, 1901. To govern the affairs of the now National Fraternity, a convention of its four chapters was called in Boston on April 16-20, 1901. The assembly saw the sights and attended concerts in Boston, elected Ossian Mills National President, and set about the business of fraternity government which has continued ever since. During the proceedings, the delegates adopted the colors red and black and chose the chrysanthemum as the official flower. The Supreme Council would later adopt a fraternity emblem with an Old English "S" surrounded by jewels. By 1902, Beta had progressed sufficiently to host the second National Convention. Although the Greek letters, "Phi Mu Alpha" had been associated with Sinfonia almost from the beginning, these were not included in the official name of the Fraternity until 1946, when a "Certificate of Change of Name" was filed with the State of New York, where the organization is incorporated.
A committee on national ritual and initiation forms was appointed at the first convention and by 1902, music was adopted. It wasn't until 1938 that the ritual attained its current form. Through the work of Rollin Pease, the ceremony was infused with the poetic beauty that it retains today. Although several revisions altered the Ritual after 1947, the 1988 Assembly voted to adopt a slightly revised 1938 version as the official form of the Ritual. The Sinfonian Ritual is acknowledged as being one of the most beautiful and meaningful in Greek tradition.
The delegates gathered at the first convention in Boston in 1901 stood on the threshold of the twentieth century--a time which was to see the most rapid and dramatic changes in the history of the world. Those men attempted to project into this century an idea which would revolutionize American music--an idea which emphasized the harmony and welfare of music students over the dominant condition of competitiveness which our founders saw. They hoped to raise American music and American musicians to a point of equality with their European counterparts. They sought not only to build better musicians, but better men and a better country.
America was beginning to assert itself in the arena of world affairs, trying furiously to cast off the role of the culturally "backward" colonies and be counted among the ranking nations of the globe. That American musicians should want to be part of this movement as well stands to reason.
In those days, even American audiences and conservatories would recognize a musician only if he had a background of European instruction. One can easily imagine the effect this type of atmosphere could have on a young musician eager to make his start in the world. This served to intensify the competition among talented American musicians for the few positions available to them and to foster in them a deep insecurity and an unavoidable sense of inferiority to the Europeans, regardless of their own abilities. To be disregarded by the Europeans was one thing, but to be disregarded by their countrymen for the same reasons was almost unbearable. If America was willing to assert itself on a level of equality with the rest of the world, could not American musicians do the same? This was one of the driving forces behind the creation of a National Sinfonia.
Our founders saw in Sinfonia a rallying point, a mutually supportive atmosphere for American musicians, a means to end the destructive competition which only served to hold them back. They felt that when American musicians began to be mutually supportive, each urging the other to the heights of his art, then-and-only-then could American music take its rightful place alongside the European tradition. The founders of our Fraternity took great pride in being a primary force in that movement.
The rapid rate of growth which followed grew out of this atmosphere, as the young musicians of the country's conservatories eagerly sought to overcome their perceived inferiority. By its twenty-fifth year, the Fraternity had grown to twenty-five chapters. It doubled in the five years that followed. It was in this period that Sinfonia experienced its "Golden Age," when labors of influential and selfless leaders such as Ossian Mills, Percy Jewett Burrell, Peter Dykema and Thomas E. Dewey brought forth a national Sinfonia which earned the great respect of students and educators alike and truly became a force in American music.
Sinfonia grew and flourished in the early teens under the leadership of Burrell, a man imbued with the spirit of Ossian Mills and determined to nurture the seeds which Mills had carefully planted in Sinfonia. National President from 1907-1914, Brother Burrell gave selflessly of his time and effort to build Sinfonia into a proud and strong Fraternity with an earnest commitment to the values embodied in the purposes of Sinfonia and a demand for quality which gained Phi Mu Alpha the respect of its peers.
Sinfonia continued to flourish in the 1920s under the dynamic leadership of Wisconsin's Peter W. Dykema, later of Columbia University, a man of great energies and foresight whose effect on American music education is felt to this day. The Fraternity stressed quality in its programs, a quality which was reflected in a series of exemplary publications written by a young first year law student at the University of Michigan, Thomas E. Dewey, who at the time was equally well known for what Casey Lutton termed a "fine baritone voice." Dewey insisted on quality as National Historian, often returning articles to their authors with instructions to improve them. His efforts resulted in a feeling of pride throughout the Fraternity which helped to power Sinfonia1s rapid growth. Dewey later transformed those same standards and values into an outstanding political career which carried him to the Governorship of New York and just short of the Presidency of the United States in 1948.
After America's victory in World War II, the idea of our inferiority became a thing of the past. The insecurity which had given Sinfonia its urgency before the wars had vanished. The draft in wartime had made it virtually impossible to maintain anything other than a shell of Sinfonia, since many schools could claim fewer than ten male students enrolled. With the introduction of the GI bill came a massive influx of men into the nation's music programs after the war. The size problems suddenly vanished, and now chapters boomed almost faster than anyone could keep track. Due to this rapid growth, maintaining the same type of quality and continuity in our programs became very difficult. Rather than a natural, orderly expansion, Sinfonia was now faced with a membership boom for which the Fraternity was not well prepared.
The values which had been intently championed by the idealists of the early years seemed somewhat hollow and perhaps a little naive to the men who were fresh from the experiences of war. They wanted to enjoy life, to make up for lost time. The Fraternity became larger through a desire for fellowship and renewing old acquaintances, but the intense commitment to its values which had been prevalent in the early days seemed to subside in favor of more social and professional interests.
Extremely rapid expansion coupled with the difficulties and expenses of communicating with the entire membership and keeping records updated posed some rather large problems. To save money, publications were streamlined. The heritage of excellence which was common knowledge to our early brothers was lost in the rush of expansion, and hence our knowledge of Sinfonia's early years is now limited and somewhat vague. The writings and commentaries which made up the bulk of our history were no longer published on a regular basis, and as a result their message became less and less familiar to our members. Along with that loss, and the intense commitment the writings had helped to foster, went the national prestige which the Fraternity had enjoyed in the '20s and '30s. This was not a drastic process, but rather a decline which progressed slowly over the ensuing years. When the scorn of established institutions which characterized the '60s hit Phi Mu Alpha, we were hard pressed to preserve the vestiges of national prominence which remained. The question of quality had been replaced by the more vital question of survival itself. The financial woes of the '70s only served to make matters worse, and the financial predicament carried through to the '80s. Sinfonia has now stabilized its financial situation and with a retrospective self-examination, we are looking toward the future with confidence.
A rebirth of Sinfonia is at hand with a new commitment to the original values held by our founders and early leaders. The early brothers left a great legacy of wisdom and inspiration through the publications of the time. Current publications are reestablishing the tradition of printing the messages and ideas of our revered forefathers. The values which made Sinfonia great then are abiding and can be just as useful now as they were nearly 100 years ago. What made Sinfonia so prominent in its "Golden Age"? There were three overriding forces: intense commitment to the values of the Fraternity; a belief in the need for a vital and quality-organized national organization in addition to strong individual chapters; and a serious attempt to live the vows taken at initiation. As our early brothers expressed so well in 1928, at the memorial service for Ossian Mills:
All of us know the present. But what of our future? The success which Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia will enjoy tomorrow depends upon a firm foundation laid today.
When founding fathers Mills, Burrell, and Pendleton decided to expand Sinfonia to other schools, their initial thoughts were not of forming a complex national structure, but simply to allow male music students elsewhere to benefit from the principles which were meeting needs at the New England Conservatory. As the Sinfonia movement grew, a national structure gradually evolved, including a central staff to provide services to facilitate operations. Today, the National Fraternity operates through a structure providing members with opportunities for direct and indirect involvement at all levels.
The legislation of the Fraternity and its philosophical direction is set at the National Assembly. Sinfonia had four chapters at the time of its first national convention in 1901. National Assemblies were held annually from 1901-1920, then biennially from 1920-1964, and since 1964 have been held triennially. In 1964 the legislative format of the Assembly also was changed from one voting delegate from each chapter to a representative system by province. Current delegates to national assemblies include members of the National Executive Committee, the Province Governors and the Collegiate Province Representatives.
The National Assembly sets policies, makes constitutional changes, and elects the National Executive Committee which serves for the triennium. Between National Assemblies, important matters may be put to a mail vote of the National Council which consists of the National Executive Committee, the province governors, and the president of each active chapter.
In addition to conducting the business of Phi Mu Alpha, the National Assembly is an exciting celebration of music and Fraternity, as hundreds of Sinfonians from across the nation gather to renew and strengthen their mutual commitments and bonds of Brotherhood. Musical performances by Sinfonian ensembles from choruses to big bands, and premieres of newly commissioned works punctuate the Assembly. Seminars on fraternal tradition and leadership, forums with candidates for office, banquets, and other events make the National Assembly a special opportunity for any Brother to experience the broader scope of Sinfonia.
The Fraternity is governed by a seven member National Executive Committee which meets twice each year. The committee may meet by telephone as necessary between regular meetings. The National Executive Committee consists of the national president who serves as its chairman; the national vice president; the elected chairmen of the Council of Province Governors and the Council of Collegiate Province Representatives; a national collegiate representative; and two executive committeemen-at-large. All members are elected to three-year terms except the two committeemen-at-large who are elected for overlapping six-year terms. The National Executive Committee elects one of its members to serve as national secretary-treasurer.
A Commission on Standards, consisting of a chairman, a province governor, a collegiate representative, a member-at-large, and a National Executive Committee member, is appointed by the national president, subject to ratification by the National Executive Committee. This commission is responsible for developing requirements for the establishment of new chapters. It also reviews all petitions for new chapters, follows the progress of each prospective charter group, and recommends to the National Executive Committee whether to grant or deny a charter. The Commission on Standards also reports chapter situations to the National Executive Committee and makes recommendations which may result in action such as placing a chapter on inactive status, or revoking a chapter's charter.
The center of Sinfonia's national operations is a gracious fourteen room house located on the northern outskirts of Evansville, Indiana. More than five acres of rolling, wooded grounds and a small lake form a picturesque setting for the national headquarters of America's oldest fraternal organization in music. The estate is named Lyrecrest and was purchased and dedicated to Sinfonia's use in 1970.
Decorated with fraternal memorabilia and housing the national archives, Lyrecrest is host to meetings of the province governors and collegiate province representatives, the National Executive Committee, the Commission on Standards, the Sinfonia Foundation Board of Trustees, and many other business and fraternal guests. Many chapters also pay visits to Lyrecrest, where living areas provide room for meetings, conferences, retreats, and fraternal socializing.
The Fraternity employs a national staff to assist the National Executive Committee with its duties. These professionals oversee the operations of chapters and the administration of Lyrecrest. In addition to performing the extensive clerical and bookkeeping tasks of the office, the staff works closely with the attorneys, accountants, bankers, and others whose services are necessary to the operation of a national organization with hundreds of chapters and thousands of members.
The national headquarters prepares and issues several publications, the most prominent of which is The Sinfonian magazine.