The Harmony Club of Binghamton has a long tradition of encouraging music performance by children. Three early members were most instrumental (pardon the pun) in this effort:
Elizabeth Britton, beginning in 1932 and continuing for at least 20 years, organized a popular annual spring junior choir festival that brought together 250-350 children from as many as 20 local churches. As Southern Tier Junior Choir Work Director for the NYS Federation of Music Clubs, she played an important role in the 1938 NYSFMC Convention in Binghamton. For the first time in federation history in NYS, junior competitions were held at the district level, awarding medals, pins, and cups. 64 boys and girls from across NYS competed in finals at the convention in Binghamton.
Allene Bixby composed choir music especially for children, and wrote music to teach students the techniques of playing the piano.
And of course our founder Hannah Thomas was the initiating force behind the Harmony Club awards that began in 1939 and the Junior Harmony Club from 1947-1952.
Junior Harmony Club
Hannah Thomas was elected to a second term as President of Harmony Club for the 1946‑1947 season. At the November meeting, the Club discussed plans concerning formation of a Junior Harmony Club. Hannah Thomas became director, with a steering committee that included fellow charter member Edith Ryan.
Next spring an organizational meeting was held (3‑19‑47) at Binghamton Central High School. 60 young musicians from junior and senior high schools in the Triple Cities were enrolled. The students were invited to the senior club’s meetings and asked occasionally to perform at meetings. That fall, small groups from Junior Harmony Club performed at meetings of the Binghamton Civic Club (11‑19‑47) and the Shakespeare Dramatic Club (12‑4‑47). On Dec. 7, Hannah Thomas hosted the “juniors” at her home for a Christmas program which included several papers, a playlet on the life of Haydn, and piano and vocal selections.
All this prepared Junior Harmony Club for its first public concert January 28, 1948 at First Congregational Church. The “juniors” performed orchestral numbers together and ten members presented solos and string trios. More concerts followed. Following Hannah Thomas’ death in November 1948, the Junior Harmony Club prepared and performed the major part of the music at a special memorial concert June 3, 1949 at First Congregational Church.
Junior Harmony Club continued holding its own meetings and performing for the senior club and other area groups such as the Monday Afternoon Club and the Jayncees. By the end of 1952, because of ever-increasing extra-curricular activities, it was deemed wise to disband the Junior Harmony Club.
Harmony Club Awards Program
On March 1, 1939 at First Congregational Church, Harmony Club conducted a contest for Binghamton Central and Binghamton North High School music students. 14 students participated in the vocal and instrumental competition. Two prizes of $5 each (equivalent of $85 in 2016) were awarded. Harmony Club member “Did” Feeck served as one of the three judges. Thus began the tradition of Harmony Club awards to high school students “for outstanding vocal and instrumental achievement.”
Details of the program changed several times over the years and our records are incomplete. Beginning in May 1942, one vocal and one instrumental award were granted to the graduating class of each of the 2 Binghamton city high schools and judging was performed by the “musical supervisors of the schools.” By 1945 the awards were granted semi-annually at the January and June graduations and continued semi-annually until at least 1970. By 1950 and for at least 26 years it was said the awards were made not by competition but upon “recommendation by their music teachers and other [music] faculty.”
With the passing of Hannah Thomas, the awards became known in 1949 as the Hannah W. Thomas Harmony Club Awards. By 1984 one or more of the awards carried Hannah’s name, others bore other memorial names, the rest called simply Harmony Club Awards.
By 1976 the awards were opened to students in other area high schools. At some subsequent point, the awards became competitive again, with judging by an audition panel of Harmony Club members.
Currently, several awards are granted each year to high school seniors for “excellence in [vocal or instrumental] performance before an audition committee. Criteria for selection include musical and technical maturity, ability to communicate with an audience, and general stage presence and poise.” These awards are not scholarships and students need not be planning a career in music. Award winners and accompanists are requested to perform at the June Awards meeting, to which family, teachers, and guests are welcome.
Charter Member Lillian Benedict, addressing the 25th anniversary of the Club in 1950, said “How interesting it would be to trace the careers of these young people.” Indeed! We know of several who have or have had prominent music careers either locally or nationally. Compiling a complete list of award winners is a work in progress (about 375 names so far), and we would appreciate help in identifying them, especially those from many years ago.