Mr. Lindsay’s Minority Report

by Jonathan Crowe

Introduction

In the early 1900s, the public school board in Galt — now part of modern-day Cambridge, Ontario — grappled with the question of whether and how to teach music in its three schools. Notable in the records of the Board are the actions of a trustee named Lindsay, who had very strong ideas about what music in the schools was for, and how it ought to be taught. His ideas about school music were quite mainstream; he was simply more forthright than most, and couldn’t quite see the connection between the obvious objectives of a school music program and the methods used by music teachers.

At the time Lindsay’s crusade began, in June 1901, a teacher named Sinclair taught music in Galt's public schools. The minutes suggest, but never say outright, that the Board was not entirely satisfied with Sinclair, for reasons at which we can now only guess. The relationship between the Board and its music teachers — Sinclair and his successors — is scarcely less interesting than Lindsay’s agenda, and also reveals a great deal about what the Board thought about teaching and how it went about its business.

What follows are quotations from the actual minutes from the Galt School Board meetings, as recorded in the minute books and published in the newspapers. Minor corrections (mostly punctuation) have been made. My thanks to Pablo Machetzki of the Waterloo Regional District School Board (then the Waterloo County Board of Education) for access to these records in April 1996.

June 7, 1901

Trustee Lindsay moved the following motion:

That the services of the music teacher be dispensed with, and that instead, the singing of patriotic and other songs and hymns, suitable for character building, be encouraged, the singing to be conducted by the teachers.

The Board considered the motion:

A long discussion ensured in which all the members took part, and as a majority spoke in favor of continuing the present master (Mr. Sinclair) as conductor of music, Mr. Lindsay said that [he] would — for the present — withdraw his motion.

March 30, 1903

But Lindsay did not let the matter drop; instead, he simply bided his time. Nearly two years later, the minutes report, he raised the issue again:

Mr. Lindsay brought up the question of the system of teaching singing in the schools. After some discussion the following committee was appointed to visit the schools, look into the matter and report at next meeting as to the desireability of continuing the system.

The committee members were McKay, McKendrick and Lindsay.

June 5, 1903

Trustee McKay presented the report of the music committee:

Your committee have visited the several schools, and have come to the conclusion that on account of the educative value, and as a help to discipline, that music should be taught in our schools. We also believe that 15 minutes devoted entirely to teaching is of sufficient length for the majority of the classes, if supplemented by the practice of singing under the direction of the regular teachers, if only for a few minutes for the recreation of the children. We would recommend that the principals of the several schools be requested to see that the specified time be given to each room.

Trustee Lindsay, however, presented his own minority report (which means that only McKendrick concurred with McKay’s report), which did little more than elaborate upon the views he presented to the Board two years previously:

Whilst visiting the schools when the singing is in progress it is quite manifest that some benefit is being gained by the present system of singing lessons, still I believe that if we were adopting a system of having a short session of singing every day, conducted by the regular teachers instead of a professional teacher once a week, we would have better all round results. It appears that the object of having singing in schools is not so much to make our young people expert musicians as to create and develop a taste for singing, likewise for the education and character building value of the stirring words that are sung, also as a change and recreation when the scholars are lagging in their regular work. Our teachers in passing through the schools are all sufficiently trained in music to teach it at least in an elementary way, and would all improve by exercising their gift. I believe a system of the kind is worthy of a fair trial and would recommend that it be adopted.

Lindsay was not opposed to music education per se — far from it. He simply disagreed with the present method of using a specially trained music teacher, particularly if the schools’ goal, in teaching music, was not to produce musicians. In that case, more teaching of a less professional nature would suffice.

The Board was not impressed; they passed a motion that slapped down the committee and told them to bring back a real report:

That this Board regrets that the special music committee, have not got together and brought in a proper report, and that it be referred back to them to be properly brought in.

September 4, 1903

Finally, the music committee made its report, with the following recommendations that appear to have incorporated Lindsay’s ideas into the status quo, by integrating daily singing with special music instruction:

(1) That the teaching of music by a special music instructor be continued.

(2) That the principals of the schools be requested to prepare a time table for the guidance of the instructor and to see that each room be given the alloted time (15 minutes) each week.

(3) That the pupils practice singing daily, the songs and pieces, given by the musical instructor, under the direction of the teachers, time of each practice to be not less than 5 minutes or more than 10 minutes, each day.

(4) That there be no singing in our schools after hours.

Recommendation number three appears to address Lindsay’s request for a daily regimen of singing. It’s impossible to say what was behind recommendations two and four — nothing, certainly, arising from something recorded in the minutes, but likely things that arose from the committee’s investigation. My guess, if I had to hazard one, is that Sinclair may have had trouble getting into the classrooms during regular hours, and that his music classes were, as a result, conducted haphazardly after hours. But that’s pure speculation.

Epilogue

In the 1903-04 school year, there are a couple of cryptic references to Sinclair in the minutes. In one (the meeting of December 4, 1903), Sinclair’s salary was held back awaiting a report from Central School. If something was up between Sinclair and the Board, as I strongly suspect, the minutes don’t say. A motion discontinuing music education by a special instructor was passed on May 30, 1904; Sinclair was paid for the remainder of that school year.

In 1905, the question of teaching music came up again, and, after some stalling, the Board voted, on February 2, 1906, to hire another music teacher. The new teacher, John Adamson, seems to have been quite energetic: he organized a successful school concert and set about acquiring organs and supplies for the school, funds for which he requested from the Board. Things seem to have been going well.

But in September 1907 a special committee reared its head again and made recommendations regarding schedule and discipline, and recommended against giving the music teacher a raise. There’s probably more going on than is in the minutes. Music teachers were seriously underpaid compared to other teachers; perhaps Adamson wanted more money than the $300 annual salary he was receiving. Or perhaps the kids were using music class as an opportunity to misbehave. Or maybe the music teacher — who was given “instructions to observe the strictest punctuality in each case” — was late for work more than the Board liked. Those are only possibilities for which I have no evidence. But it’s also possible that the Board was simply micromanaging things to death. Whatever was really happening, the minutes of the October 4, 1907 meeting report that Adamson had resigned to accept a position in Toronto.

Music education came and went in Galt during this period, no doubt duein part to the Board’s equivocation and management.

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