Time Machine

TIME MACHINE: Alice Inskeep, school music pioneer in Cedar Rapids

Alice Inskeep was supervisor of music for the Cedar Rapids public schools from 1903 to 1941. She was 67 when she died in
Alice Inskeep was supervisor of music for the Cedar Rapids public schools from 1903 to 1941. She was 67 when she died in 1942 in Ottumwa, her hometown. (Gazette archives)
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Alice Carey Inskeep, who would have a deep and lasting impact on music education in Cedar Rapids, was born in Ottumwa in 1875. She was named for her mother, Alice, and her father, Carey.

After she graduated from Ottumwa High School, she was hired to teach music in the district.

Her supervisor was Frances Clark, who “learned of my ambition to ‘elevate the stage,’” she wrote in 1925. Clark persuaded Inskeep she didn’t need to go to college at Northwestern since she’d already had so much experience directing choirs and “you get such lovely music” from the children she taught.

From Ottumwa, Inskeep went to Sioux Falls, S.D., where she taught for two years before moving to Cedar Rapids in 1903.

The Sioux Falls newspaper reported Inskeep would be paid $80 a month in her new job, or $15 more than she was earning in Sioux Falls.

The newspaper said Inskeep “raised the musical standard of the schools to a high level,” noting the “remarkable ovation at the recent concert given by the pupils under her direction.”

“Her talent, her fine education capacity as a teacher, thoroughness and diligence of execution, and remarkable popularity among pupils and their parents, show her to be well-deserving of this promotion.”

Her influence

Inskeep was supervisor of music at the Cedar Rapids schools from 1903 to 1941. She also directed the school of music at Coe College beginning in 1907.

She was a pioneer in teaching music to children, bringing outstanding orchestras  and musicians to Cedar Rapids for concerts. A number of her students went on to become music teachers throughout the nation.

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In 1910, Inskeep directed the opera “Priscilla,” based on the poem “The Courtship of Miles Standish,” presented by Cedar Rapids High School students at Greene’s Opera House.

Two senior high school students, Marvin Cone and Grant Wood, who later would become well-known artists, designed, built and painted the “Priscilla” scenery, while Inskeep “arranged the music, taught the principals their parts and also drilled the chorus in their songs,” The Gazette reported.

While the students performed, Inskeep’s baton led the orchestra.

National role

Inskeep was elected a director of the National Conference of Music Supervisors at its session in Pittsburgh in March 1915.

In 1918, she was elected to the conference’s 10-member permanent education council — the only woman on the council.

She also was a member of the faculty of the summer school for music supervisors at Northwestern University in Evanston.

In 1932, Inskeep was at the Artists Colony in Stone City for the first of a series of Sundays open to the public, where she conducted community singing.

A high note

A remarkable achievement came in 1940, when Inskeep and school Superintendent Arthur Deamer, with the sponsorship of the Cedar Rapids Community Concert Association, organized a Feb. 21 concert by the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra at Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

The orchestra, conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos, was considered one of the best in the country. The program featured selections from the recorded music used in the schools.

The first performance was a matinee with 25 cents admission. Adults could attend but only if accompanied by a student.

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The orchestra repeated the program in the evening for Community Concert members and out-of-town patrons.

Retirement

Inskeep had been ill for nearly four months in 1941 when she decided to retire.

“This (resignation) has not been an easy thing for me to do,” she wrote to the board of education, “but I feel it would be unwise for me to attempt to continue my work next year even though I expect to regain my health. After 40 years of continuous service, I am looking forward to freedom from civic responsibility and an opportunity to enjoy that freedom.”

That opportunity lasted about a year. Inskeep was 67 when she died in her hometown of Ottumwa in 1942.

The first of several tribute concerts in her memory was presented at Franklin High School on May 8, 1942. Another memorial concert was presented May 15 by the music groups of Wilson High School.

Comments: d.fannonlangton@gmail.com

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