By: Kala Brzezinski
A town and its history can be understood through the study of music and its incorporation into public spaces. Early support for the music programming and lessons came from the vision and mission of Caroline Emmerton’s settlement work and a man named Mr. B.C. McSheehy—the primary music instructor.
The first major mention of music programming at The Gables came in the 1914-1915 annual reports. These reports outlined the “experiment” in music as a way in which control over the youth of Salem might be achieved and a method of discouraging delinquency might be explored through the incorporation of music lessons and theory. The ability to teach discipline through the instruction of piano, violin, brass instruments, and elementary theory was the goal for the end of 1915.
There was a major shift in mission in 1916, as discipline was less emphasized and the unity and neighborhood consciousness promoted through the music lessons was recognized. By 1916, there were 19 music students representing three different nationalities—all recent immigrants. A community seemingly divided along the lines of nationality, stories of immigration, language, and heritage were brought together under the singular method of communication through music. Community singing was also instituted on Sundays in which students would gather to sing patriotic and folk songs of different nations. It was stated in an annual report from 1916 “if the language of a selected song was familiar only to a few, the others joined in by vocalizing the melody.”
As the country moved further into the twentieth century and as conflict and war began to break out around the world, financial strain and a shift in core values and concerns within the American public caused the eventual end to the settlement music programming. Enrollment in the classes fluctuated between 1915 and 1927—the final year any music lesson was mentioned in the annual reports at The Gables.