Note: This article is an historical article (written in 1968), reflecting the Texas Normal Singing School as it was then. It is not a contemporary look at TNSS today!
As a preacher of the gospel I have conducted many gospel meetings. When I first began such efforts I found it necessary to lead the singing as well as preach in many places. In many communities I found no one who could lead singing for the congregation and in many instances where there was a song leader, I found only poor to mediocre leadership. As time went on I began to realize that this situation was not getting better and apparently nothing was being done for improvement. It was then that I conceived the idea of starting a summer school for the training song leaders.
During these years I became acquainted with brother Austin Taylor. He has spent his life promoting gospel singing in the church. He has written many songs, edited many song books, taught many singing schools, and led singing in many meetings through out the Southlands. I was made to realize that nothing was being done to preserve the many years of experience of this able brother and his contemporaries; so, I was all the more persuaded that we should start a school for this purpose. Brother Taylor offered to work with me if I would try starting such a school.
Beginning and promoting the school proved to be quite a big operation. We had to have housing and feeding facilities to care for our students. The first school was conducted in Mathis, Texas in June of 1946, through the assistance of brother John Lee Norris. The second school was conducted in Sabinal, Texas, in June 1, 1947 where I was then preaching. After the second year in borrowed equipment, one good family gave us some property on which we placed our first buildings. We purchased two dormitories and one dining hall from the Hondo Air Field, and we purchased three cabins from Garner State Park. Since I was solely responsible for this effort, I had to do the best I could with very little money.
Today we advertise in almost all of the papers being published by members of the church of Christ, and our advertising covers the nation. Our first year we mailed out 600 letters and had an attendance of 38. Our peak attendance so far has been close to 100 students in a single school session. We have grown from the first two years in borrowed property to a one acre campus near the center of Sabinal, Texas with nine main buildings and six tabernacles; all of which is paid for. We have never run our business in debt. Our school is chartered under the laws of the State of Texas as a private, non-profit school; it is also recognized as such by the Federal government, and we receive the same concessions as all other schools.
In the past twenty-one years we have had students to attend the school from thirty-one states. This has given us a coverage of 60.2% of the nation. We have also had students to attend from Canada, Hawaii, the Philippines, and Australia. Though we have never had any students from the Republic of Mexico, we have had many excellent Latin-American students from South Texas.
In the beginning of the school only Junior High and High school students attended, but in about 1955 a few adults started attending the school. Since that time our adult attendance has been on the increase. We have now established a special class for adults who want to come and study the basic rudiments of music and song leading.
We have added courses as the need demanded. In the past five years we have added several courses. For many years we blended the study of music theory with the principles of song leading in the same course. We finally decided to separate those two subjects into completely different classes. For a couple of years we offered only one course in song leading, then we added a second year study in the same field. We have offered three years of study in music theory since the first years of the school. Last year we added a fourth course in music: A practical course in song writing and song publication. Also, in the 1967 school we introduced one of the first courses of its kind to be taught in singing schools: The History of Singing. In 1966 the school began a program to train singing school teachers. The first course the school offered in that field was a theory course in Methods of Teaching Singing Schools. The second course to be added to it is a lab course in practice teaching.
Twenty one years of experience has gone into the development of our techniques and methods of teaching music, voice training, song leading, and singing school teaching. Our many experiences have helped us to develop some unique and effective ways of teaching these subjects. On the basis of our experience we have begun a program of publishing a set of textbooks to cover the subjects that we teach. A textbook on the fundamentals of song leading was the first book to be published. Our second textbook is a study of the fundamentals of music theory. More books are being planned for future publication.
In 1965 we started making High Fidelity, long playing records. We have already made three such records, and plans are being made for our fourth recording. In 1968 we plan to produce a record as a tribute to Austin Taylor. This record will be devoted exclusively to songs he has written.
Our school is a ten day program conducted in the month of June. We offer each student 100 class hours of lecture and lab activities each year. We have a four year program that offers a cumulative total of 400 hours of class work. Each class day begins at eight o’clock in the morning and continues at intervals throughout the day until ten o’clock at night. Each day consists of seven hours of class work and from three to four hours of laboratory activities. We have an excellent student-teacher ratio of approximately one teacher per every nine or ten students. This allows each student to enjoy a maximum of personal attention in his work. Experience has taught us that boys under the age of twelve cannot obtain the proper benefits from such a school, so we limit our enrollment to a minimum age of twelve.
A normal school is one that is non-accredited by the state and national public school and college associations. Our school is not presently an extension of the academic programs of public education; it is strictly a private program of training for the church. However, most of our teachers are men with college degrees, and several of them have teaching certificates; therefore, our status as a normal school does not imply that offer the brotherhood an inferior program of instruction and training.
In the past twenty-one years approximately half of the students, have attended for only one year. Their sole interest has been to achieve a basic understanding of music, voice production and song leading training. But 40-50% of our students have returned for a second summer of training. These students have greatly advanced their understanding of music, and have achieved a more advanced level of training as a singer and as a song leader. About 25% of our students return for a third and fourth year of training. For the most part, these boys have been our most talented and ambitious. From among this 25% we have developed most of our present faculty members, and among this number are many boys who will make good singing school teachers of the future.
Changing times have forced us to increase our tuition fees. For several years we delayed increasing our fees so that we could make our program more accessible to the boys and men who need it, but in 1967 we were no longer able to operate without making the necessary raise in our fees. All who come and apply themselves have expressed gratitude for this opportunity, and they are well repaid for their time and the cost of their study.
Hundreds of congregations throughout the land now have good song leaders, but there are hundreds of other congregations that are still in need of trained leaders. We hope that in the years to come we will be able to recruit more boys and men to come to Sabinal for a few days and develop their abilities to help the church. If you are interested in this program and want more information, it will be supplied upon request.
717 E. 19th St., San Angelo, Texas 76901