The following is taken from Women of Courage, Ten North Country Pioneers in Profile, written and produced by the St. Lawrence County, NY Branch of the American Association of University Women (1989).
The term "Music Missioner" may have a strange ring today, but 70 years ago this was the term used to describe people such as Maud DeGan Graff.
It all started one summer in the mid-1920s on the veranda of the Lake Placid Club. Mrs. Graff and a group of friends were discussing how they could enrich music experiences of students in the rural area of the North Country. During the discussion Dr. Melvil Dewey, then president of the Lake Placid Club, remarked "If we only had a music missioner who would go about spreading the gospel of music through the country, especially in the small towns...it could be done." Turning to Mrs. Graff, he said, "You are the one to do this because of your long experience in music." Maud Graff accepted the challenge.
Maul was an attractive, dynamic person who had the ability to get along with everyone she met. Thus, in a small car, and with some financial assistance from friends and the support of the Crane Institute of Music, Maud DeGan Graff began her visits to the communities of the North Country. She placed teachers of music in schools where music had never been taught before. The "off campus students" were first of all music teachers. After school they took on additional music projects of community interest. They started choirs, orchestras and community choruses. Mrs. Graff and her "music missioners" were welcome everywhere.
In just two years the entire Adirondack region was supplied with music teachers under her direction. Music festivals were held at the Lake Placid Club every spring and fall. Mrs. Graff encouraged community choruses and choirs to participate in these festivals where they had the opportunity to hear great symphony orchestras and guest artists and conductors.
In 1926 the New York State Department of Education invited Mrs. Graff to come to Albany to share her experiences with others. Articles were published in magazines describing her work. The Department of Education asked Mrs. Graff to extend her work throughout New York State. Other states requested that her "missioner work" be extended to their states, also. By 1928 Mrs. Graff had visited eight states. She continued to volunteer her services and asked only for her expenses.
In the spring of 1930 Franklin Bishop of the Crane Department started the All-Northern Music Festival. This brought public school musicians and orchestra from Canton, Gouverneur, Malone, Norfolk, Norwood, Ogdensburg and Potsdam to the campus of the Potsdam Normal School for rehearsals and performances. This All-Northern New York Festival was absorbed in 1948 by the programs of the New York State School Music Association (NYSSMA).
The missioner's work begun by Maud DeGan Graff continues today. Crane students still do practice teaching off-campus. Crane still graduates many fine and talented music teachers. Many of them donate their music talents and endeavors in their own communities. And the NYSSMA competitions continue to be a highlight and stepping stone for many gifted music students. The North Country, and even more the nation, owe Maud DeGan Graff a continuing debt of gratitude.
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