Midwest Clinic History

The Midwest Clinic: A History 

by Victor Zajec


"Always Something New"

The Midwest International Band and Orchestra Clinic can trace the seed of its earliest formal beginnings to the Band Building at the University of Illinois. During the 1920s and '30s high school teachers from across Illinois gathered at the university each fall for the Annual High School Teachers Conference, where they attended lectures and classes in their area(s) of specialty. Because most band directors also taught subjects other than music, their attentions were divided among several subject areas, resulting in only a minimal amount of time being devoted to their first love: bands and band music! These teachers wanted to spend more time learning about those areas of music which would help them the most. Dr. Albert Austin Harding, as Director of the University of Illinois Band, knew that he was in a position to assist these high school directors. In a December 7,1929, letter to Paul E. Morrison, then President of the Illinois School Band Association, Dr. Harding proposed that all high school band directors in the state be invited to attend "The Bandmasters Conference" at the University of Illinois on January 9 and 10, 1930. The letter further stated that the program would consist of "the demonstration of the contest material, to be filled in with lectures, 1n demonstrations, and discussions of the kind that the majority of the band directors desired.'" Morrison then contacted the directors and urged them to send in ahead of time the selections they would like to hear played during the conference.

midwest 1959

In only one month, between the proposal of the conference and the actual event, nearly forty band directors responded, both by letters and also by actually attending the "First Conference."

The program for the 1930 band conference included many reading sessions by the University of Illinois Concert Band conducted by Dr. A.A. Harding, and by the University Regimental Bands, conducted by Raymond F. Dvorak and Neil Kjos, Sr. In addition, there were sessions on library management, rehearsal methods, marching band, unusual instruments, and wind ensembles.

Harding's idea of an instrumental music educator conference had become a reality, and the enthusiastic attendees expressed their interest for yet another one in the coming year. In a post-conference letter to Dr. Harding, John H. Barabash, Band Director at Harrison Technical High School in Chicago, wrote:

"The Band Clinic was a great success and I benefited greatly by it. The excellent arrangement of the program and the spirit in which it was conducted, was an inspiration in itself. You, the University of Illinois, and the Illinois School Band Association are to be congratulated for taking the lead in this movement, as I feel that many states will copy the wonderful idea in the near future."

This letter is significant in that it not only expresses the sentiment of those who were present at that first band conference, but it also refers to this type of conference as a "clinic."

As a result of the enthusiastic response to the 1930 Band Conference, "The Second Annual Bandmasters Conference" was held on January 8-10,1931. Invitations were sent to 60 band directors and 18 orchestra directors in Illinois. In addition, music publishers were asked to send representatives to the conference. From this initial step, participation in future clinics by music industry and by composers / arrangers and other adjunct groups increased greatly.

For several years after that, directors from Illinois and adjoining states met in Champaign-Urbana each January to attend the annual "University of Illinois Band Clinic." The popularity of the clinic continued to grow each year, along with its attendance. Directors often brought their own students with them so that the players could participate in one of the "National Student Clinic Bands." By the late 1930s there were so many people attending that there was not enough room to hold the clinic or to house the people overnight in Champaign. As a solution to the overcrowding, Harding suggested in 1938 that the nation be divided into regions, each having its own clinic. But even this did not prove to be the answer, because by 1940 the clinic program at the University of Illinois had been expanded to contain equal amounts of orchestra, choral and band presentations, resulting in continued overcrowding. In deference to the band directors, the following year (1941) was billed as "The Original Clinic," a return to a band clinic exclusively, a major feature of which would be the playing of A.A. Harding's new transcriptions for band.

In addition to the University of Illinois faculty members who presented informative workshops and concerts, the band clinics had, over the years, attracted other well known bandmasters who often served as guest conductors, or as conductors of the National Clinic Student Bands. Familiar names included Edwin Franko Goldman, Herbert Clarke, Frank Simon, Henry Fillmore, Karl King, Glenn Cliffe Bainum and Harold Bachman.

Although World War II brought about many changes in the lives of the directors, the clinics continued during this time, but with some modifications: a greater importance was given to patriotic music; the band  from Chanute Field (Air Force Base) was brought in to play concerts; and Dr. Harding began to share more of the responsibilities of the clinic with others. Clarence Sawhill, Keith Wilson and Milburn Carey aided Dr. Harding with the 1943 and 1944 clinics, and A.R. McAllister of Joliet, Illinois, served as chairman of the Round Table Symposium in each of those years."

By 1945 Dr. Harding was unable to attend the clinic due to his wife's ill health. Mark Hindsley, who had assumed important roles in earlier clinics, had been called to active duty during the war, but upon his return in 1945, he and Clarence Sawhill took on even greater responsibilities for the University of Illinois conferences, which continued for several more years.

midwest 1961

A.A. Harding's official University of Illinois Department of Bands stationery sported the motto" Always Something New." "I always wished new ideas and new activities to flow from our University of Illinois Bands," Harding said. The idea of "Always Something New" was not only his philosophy for his performing organizations, but the concept carried over into his other activities as well. Harding's leadership role in the promotion of band programs across America and the continued education of their directors was truly visionary.

Through their association with Harding, Colonel Harold Bachman, Neil Kjos and Raymond Dvorak were able to recognize the need for and importance of these types of clinics. When the opportunity arose for them to aid in organizing a clinic of this type locally, they drew upon their experience to plant the seeds of what has become today's Midwest International Band and Orchestra Clinic.

- from Introduction to "The First 50 years: Mid-West International Band & Orchestra Clinic" by Victor Zajec

A Brief Chronology

The Midwest International Band and Orchestra Clinic is unconditionally unique. No other clinic has such an interesting historical past, such a large and geographically diverse attendance, and such a prestigious and elite group of clinicians, artists and performing organizations_ Looking at the clinic now, its hard to believe that it began with three men, a dream and a band in a Chicago YMCA (Duncan YMCA 1946)

There is no record, through either pictures or recordings, of the forerunner of what is now known as the Mid-West International Band and Orchestra Clinic. By its existence the next year, it is obvious that the first Mid-West Band Clinic (as it was spelled at that time) was a success. About 90 directors from around the Chicagoland area came to hear the new music performed. They were also able to gain insight into the interpretation of the music, as many composers and arrangers were present. The clinic had a friendly and informal atmosphere, with guest conductors volunteering from the audience. Guest conductors included Col. Bachman, Raymond Dvorak, H.E. Nutt, Forrest Buchtel, Paul Yoder, Clifford Lillya, Ernest Caneva, Tom Fabish, Lee Petersen, and Richard Brittain, the conductor of the VanderCook Band. The music was furnished by the Neil Kjos Company, Educational Music Bureau, Carl Fischer, Rubank, and the Gamble Hinge Company.

The next year, the clinic moved to the Sherman House Hotel for space reasons, beginning its 26 year tenure there. New in 1947 was the performance of the famous Joliet High School Band, with Raymond Dvorak as the guest conductor. They played a short concert followed by a music reading clinic in addition to the reading clinic done by the VanderCook Band. This format, playing a concert and then doing a reading session, was to become a tradition at the clinic for many years.

The Second Annual (Mid-West) Band Clinic opened with a Thursday evening concert by the Hobart High School Band, directed by Richard Worthington. They performed 10 compositions and read 11 new compositions. In an added dimension, the Joliet Grade School Band performed under the direction of Charles Peters, playing a concert of 8 numbers and reading 12 new ones. Thomas Fabish's Catholic Youth Organization performed 14 selections and read through 20 new numbers. The clinic ended with a concert of 7 numbers by the VanderCook Band and a mammoth reading session.

Even with only four performing organizations, the Mid-West Clinic had already become an important event. Seven instrumental clinics were offered that year, and attendance had grown to approximately 800. The clinic had its own Board of Directors, though it was not listed in the official program until 1953, with Howard Lyons as President; H.E. Nu1t, Secretary/Treasurer; Ray Dvorak, Master of Ceremonies; Lee Peterson, Executive Administrator; Neil Kjos, Sr.; William Lyons; and C.L. McCreery. These men were dedicated to upholding the ideals of the clinic, and preserving the promotion of new music and the field of music education as outlined in the clinic's by-laws. The Board utilized the many valuable suggestions of the Advisory Committee which consisted of twenty persons who were high school and university directors.


By 1951 the clinic was a success unparalleled by any other music clinic. The name was changed to the Mid-West National Band Clinic, reflecting its widespread popularity. A string orchestra from the Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, area performed at this fifth annual convention beginning the orchestra performance tradition. Seventeen instrumental clinics were held, and seven organizations performed concerts and reading sessions. Attendance figures place the number attending this clinic at about 2100.

The clinic programs from 1948-52 listed new band music as well as solo and ensemble literature for all instruments. As the clinic and the list of publications continued to grow, listing them in the program became impractical. Today's program, with its listing of publishers, date of publication, composer/arranger, grade, performance length, price for each piece, exhibitor's lists, and ads, reflects the Mid-West Clinic's continued commitment to the promotion of new music and its interest in the music industry. From 1947 through 1972, each Mid-West Clinic concluded with a banquet, which was held on the final Saturday of the clinic, following the final concert. These complimentary banquets, which were sponsored by the uniform manufacturers, were given for the enjoyment of those attending the clinic, and were without charge. Because of the popularity of the banquet, each person registering at the convention had to, request a banquet ticket at the time of registration. There were only a fixed number of, tickets available, and they were first come, first served--until the tickets ran out. The highlight of each banquet was a speech by a well-known musical artist, composer or other person closely associated with the musical world.

Over the years the clinic has grown slowly, but always seems to have its finger on the pulse of what is new or in demand. The first jazz band performed in 1952, which may not seem revolutionary, but it was an all-girl band. This was also the year that the Mid-West had representation from a European country. The first military band to perform at the Mid-West was in 1953 with The United States Air Force Band from Washington D.C. playing a formal concert. Colonel George S. Howard was the conductor.

In 1962 the Clinic Board saw the increased demand in the orchestral aspect of the clinic, and lengthened the convention from three days to its current five, with the first day being orchestrally oriented. The clinic has also kept in touch with the demands of directors for more instrumental clinics, offering 10 workshop clinics that year.

By the 25th Annual Midwest, the clinic had grown to 6 orchestras, 12 bands, and 2 jazz bands. The convention was still at the Sherman House--one of its last years there. The clinic started on Tuesday, as it had since 1963, with the first day being entirely devoted to orchestral music. 1963 was also the year that the first adult Concert Band performed.

In 1973 the clinic moved to more spacious quarters at the Conrad Hilton Hotel, still in Chicago. The convention has been held there every year except 1984, when the Hilton Hotel underwent massive renovations and the Mid-West was held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. The atmosphere and the world class beauty of the Chicago's Conrad Hilton helps to make the Mid-West so special. From the majestic Grand Ballroom to the tropical flowers adorning the hallways, no luxury is missed. These elegant touches help give the clinic its atmosphere of prestige and success.

The Midwest Clinic has become a meeting place for many organizations. The first group to meet at the Clinic was the Modern Music Masters, and soon after, Kappa Kappa Psi and Phi Beta Mu. Currently, (1992) 35 music associations meet during the week of the Mid-West Clinic.

Despite the demand for and the success of this convention, the financial aspect of the clinic has sometimes been difficult. Prior to 1979, the convention program listed only the performing organizations and their programs, guest conductors, soloists and clinicians. No ads were incorporated into the program book. Paid advertising space in the program book was instituted in 1979 to help offset the cost of this huge program event. These fees, in addition to the exhibitor and registration charges, gave the Mid-West more capital with which to expand and improve the convention offerings, such as the Teacher Resource Center.

The Midwest Medal of Honor is the clinic's way of recognizing an individual's distinguished service in the field of music education. The first medal was presented in 1973, and there have been 47 recipients since then. Now a Music Industry Award, and a International Award are also presented at this convention.

Three of the clinic's most important people have been its three executive administrators: Lee Peterson (1947-1969), Elsie Karzan (1970-1979), and Barbara Buehlman (1980-present). Each has greatly contributed to the successful operation of the clinic. Few realize that those five days in December take one year and thousands of work hours to plan. The position of executive administrator is a full-time position, and requires working with the board of dDirectors to plan and carry out the convention – beginning during the Midwest week, for the following year.

When Howard Lyons, H.E. Nutt, and Neil Kjos with the urging of Colonel Bachman conceived the idea of the original Mid-West Clinic, they could not have imagined that it would be what it is today. In 1986 the full impact of the convention was realized as the name was changed to the Midwest International Band and Orchestra Clinic. Today, it is the largest convention of its kind in the world with an attendance of over 10,000 with representation from the United States and 26 foreign countries. Approximately 514 clinicians, and 353 organizations with their1,304 guest conductors, and 465 soloists, have performed in the clinic's 46 years.Midwest 2011

The success of the Midwest Clinic is almost overwhelming, yet the clinic still maintains its friendly, helpful and encouraging atmosphere. No other convention has such widespread support from the heads of industry to those involved in the day to day workings in the field of music education. The board extends its most sincere thanks to the performing organizations who work so hard, to the music educators who are so dedicated, to the music industry, to the publishers, and to the professionals who are so inspirational. The clinic has come a long way since its first days in the west-side YMCA, and looks forward to an increasingly inspirational and successful future.

- from "A Historical Look at the Mid-West" by Victor Zajec


VanderCook College of Music

3140 South Federal Street
Chicago, IL 60616-3731
(312) 225-6288

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