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Singing School History

Singing School History

Joe Ed Furr

Rev. 2012

furr_edgarIn 1944 Edgar Furr was a preacher in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. He worked with the church in Brownsville and also conducted many gospel meetings for churches in Texas. During World War Two his travels among churches helped him to discover a shortage of song leader’s created by the circumstances of the war. He knew that when Christian men came home from war many of them would not be prepared to become effective song leaders.

In the same year Austin Taylor (a well-known song writer, singing school teacher, and hymnal editor) lived in Uvalde, Texas, about 80 miles west of San Antonio. During the war years he also traveled among churches teaching congregational singing schools and leading singing for evangelistic meetings. He too became aware of the need to provide song leadership training among churches.

austin_taylor-240x300Edgar Furr met Austin Taylor in that same year, and the two of them began to share their insights into the need for song leadership training. For the next two years those men shared ideas about how they might do something to help meet the need for song leaders. In 1946 Furr and Taylor formed a partnership to establish a summer singing school.

Sixty years earlier a famous Texas church musician – F.L. Eiland – established a summer singing school in Waco, Texas. A number of well-known church musicians were trained in his school. So, his school became well known. Eiland died in 1906 and his school closed. Both Furr and Taylor were aware of Eiland’s old school. They decided to revive Eiland’s strategy in their school.

The school was named the “Texas Normal Singing School”. The term “normal” was an old term used to describe schools that did not offer scholastic credit to its students. Furr and Taylor were not interested in accreditation, so they followed the old tradition of calling their school a normal.

1955_student_photo-150x150The school was established in Sabinal, Texas. Sabinal was a small town 20 miles east of Uvalde on the highway to San Antonio. In 1907 a Christian College was established in Sabinal. The school operated for ten years and then closed its doors in 1917. The members of the church in Sabinal had fond memories of the old Christian college and were very enthusiastic about the creation of another Christian training school in their community. The Sabinal Christian College heritage was partially responsible for the community’s enthusiastic support of this new singing school.

From 1960 to 1980 the singing school hosted a Sabinal Christian College Reunion on the closing day of the school. Many ex-students of the old Christian College came to Sabinal on that weekend and attended the closing night singing of the singing school.

1952_singing_school_and_campus-300x216The singing school created a school campus across the street from the large Church of Christ building. This complex of buildings was located one block from Main Street. Campus buildings were wood frame military buildings purchased at auction from an air base near San Antonio. The school had three dormitories, a dining hall, a classroom with a piano, five teacher’s apartments, and a recreation center. The school used the classrooms in the church buildings and conducted all their assemblies in the church auditorium.

The school was conducted two weeks each summer in the month of June. The primary market for students was teen-aged boys from churches in the Southwestern United States. As the years passed by the school also attracted adult students.

Edgar Furr was the school’s administrator and marketing agent. He also provided food service. Austin Taylor and Holland L. Boring, Sr. were the first teachers in the school. Holland Boring, Jr. and Don Boring became teachers later. This faculty of teachers was the primary instructors for the first twenty years of the school’s existence.Texas Normal Singing School Advertisement

After 1966 the Boring family decided to establish summer singing schools in other communities, so the faculty of the singing school experienced major changes. Joe Ed Furr, John Furr, James Tackett and Richard McPherson joined the faculty.

In 1970 the Sabinal Church of Christ decided to build a new church building eight blocks away from the school on Main Street. The old church building was abandoned. When the singing school was no longer able to use the facilities of the church building it purchased some city lots adjacent to its property and began building classrooms and an auditorium.

In 1972 Austin Taylor died at the age of 90. His passing resulted in some major changes in the school. A new song writing training program was added to the school. A number of new training classes were offered including: History of church music, Advanced Worship Planning, and an extensive practice teacher’s program was offered to train singing school teachers. In 1974 the school added more teachers: Ken Spoor, Walter Chaney, and Stanley Stevens.

The largest attendance the school was privileged to have occurred between the years of 1976 – 1979.

In 1980 the school changed from a two-week school to a one-week school. At the same time the enrollment of the school began to decline. By the year of 1984 the school began to consider making some major changes to give rebirth to the school. Market research indicated that people were no longer interested in attending a singing school in a small community in Southwest Texas. The school needed to relocate.

In 1985 Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas invited the singing school to move to its campus and become a part of its summer activities. The beautiful campus of Trinity was a wonderful place to conduct the school, but the name of the university caused confusion in the brotherhood market, and this confusion did not allow the school to grow.

In 1988 Abilene Christian University invited the singing school to move to its campus. The College of Biblical Studies opened its doors to the school. This became an ideal environment for the school to grow and develop.abilenechristianuniversity_2.gif

The school has been associated with ACU for over twenty-five years. Joe Ed Furr is now the school’s director. He has initiated significant improvement and expansion of the school’s curriculum, its faculty, and its marketing strategies.

The environment of the campus of ACU allows the school to accommodate men and women, adults and teens. The new Bible Building makes it possible for the school to offer a wide variety of classes. The school now offers five areas of training: (1) Song Leading, (2) Song Writing and Publishing, (3) Group Singing, (4) Public Worship Development, and (5) Singing School teaching.

The facilities available on the campus of ACU have made it possible for the school to expand its training services. The school now offers all song leaders personalized video coaching on a daily basis. Song leaders and songwriters are given access to a computer lab where they can learn to operate computer programs like Finale. A growing number of classes are aided by PowerPoint presentations.

When the school first started at ACU a number of people requested that the school offer an annual conference for worship leaders. The school had no role model to imitate in developing this service, so it began a series of experiments. The conference is a Friday night / Saturday event that closes at 3 PM on Saturday afternoon. The conference gradually discovered that worship leaders have their greatest need to be given creative ideas for conducting effective assemblies. Worship leaders are given both training and some hands-on experiences. These conferences also seek to help worship leaders be brought up-to-date on recent books, tapes, videos, Internet sites, computer programs, and services available to them.

Worship leader’s conferences are now expanding to areas beyond Abilene. Conferences have been presented in Houston, Temple, Austin, Tulsa, and Chicago. Other locations are being considered at this time.

In 1994 Howard Publishing released a new hymnal, Songs of Faith and Praise. That hymnal made it possible for Christians everywhere to learn new songs and to appreciate beautiful songs of praise to God. We became a part of the “praise song” movement. Our students became enthusiastic about these songs.

A few years after Howard published Songs of Faith and Praise, James Tackett began producing the Paperless Hymnal. This video hymnal made it possible for the school to further expand our song resources by utilizing this new hymnal. We now teach students to lead singing both with paper hymnals and paperless hymnals.

From the year of 2000 to the year of 2012 the singing school has continued to grow both in numbers of students and numbers of teachers. In the summer of 2009 the school enrollment grew beyond 100 students. This larger student population inspired the school to grow the faculty to 20 instructors. This has allowed us to expand the number of courses we offer. This has also allowed us to use team-teaching to further enrich the content of our classes.

Recently a few large churches have begun to abandon a cappella church music in favor of instrumental music. This has caused concern. The Singing School is fully dedicated to promoting, developing, and encouraging a cappella church music. If we are going to perpetuate church music into the coming century we will need to continue to train our people to maximize the quality of a cappella congregational singing.

In of the latter half of 2015, the Singing School reorganized to legally operate under a Board of Directors. Named to our Board were the following officers: Joe Ed Furr (president), James Tackett (vice-president), Levi Sisemore (treasurer), Tony Kite (secretary); additional members include Jim Fletcher, Tim Lowry, and David Williams.

Most of the decisions that affect Singing School operations and curriculum continue to be handled by a monthly faculty conference call, but legal and business concerns will be met by the newly-appointed Board. These monthly conference calls were responsible for many the successes of the 2015 Singing School.

Among the Board’s first priorities was filing for non-profit/501(c)3 status with the IRS, making all donations to the School tax-deductible and also granting us other operational benefits.

Like all additional staff members, the Board receives no compensation for their work at The Singing School – everything is done voluntarily.

It is our hope that such transparent leadership practices will foster good-will with you, our friends and alumni, and a culture of accountability within the Singing School organization.