"If you build it, no one will come!"
"A college-level music school has to be part of a college!"
"A college of music in a small town - I don't think so!"
This was just some of the "advice" that William Henry Dana received from his friends when, in 1869 at the age of twenty-three, he announced the opening of Dana's Musical Institute in Warren, Ohio (population 5,000). But that was nothing compared to the "advice" which he got from his father, a bank vice president, and brother of Charles A. Dana, a member of Abraham Lincoln's War Department and future owner of the New York Sun newspaper. As legend holds, Will Dana was temporally disowned by his father over this decision; they didn't speak for nearly a year. Some start!
But the years immediately following the American Civil War witnessed the founding of six collegiate-level schools of music. One was a division of a landmark institution of higher learning. The others were all located in major cities. Only Dana's Musical Institute was located in what was, and still is, a small town. The nearest college to Warren was twenty miles away. Yet Dana's school joined these five colleges of music and became one of the six oldest and continuously functioning schools of music in the United States.
William Henry Dana, who had completed his education at an expensive Massachusetts private school, served for a year and a half in the Union army, and graduated from the Allegheny Academy of Music, designed a music school that was decades ahead of its time. Espousing a philosophy which maintained that music should be studied with the same intensity that one studied science and mathematics, he required students at Dana's Musical Institute receive a lesson on their chosen instrument every day, study theory and composition every day of their college career, and practice four hours each day. Dana's school was the first in the country to offer a degree in the saxophone. The student orchestra, the oldest continuously functioning student instrumental ensemble in the nation, rehearsed every day and presented a concert every week. In 1870, Dana instituted a student band. It would become the oldest continuously functioning college band in the country. Dana wrote six books dealing with music theory, composition, and orchestration. He also studied in Europe, built a second career as a lecturer, and won several political offices. As his reputation grew, so did the stature of his music school. By 1890, Dana's Musical Institute was receiving national and international praise. Its graduates performed and taught around the world. At one point, eight members of Sousa's Band were former Dana students.
The social life at Dana's school was just as rigorous as the coursework and the ensemble performance schedules. Since its inception, Dana had fostered a family atmosphere within his school. Parties marked every major holiday, students and faculty frequently attended concerts and church services as a body, and no student's birthday was overlooked. Each graduating class had its own officers, colors, and class song. Greek fraternities and sororities, committees for the planning of the school's events, and clubs which studied everything from opera to stage presence drew virtually every student into the social whirl of the Institute's family.
Upon William Dana's death in 1916, the presidency of Dana's Musical Institute was assumed by his son, Lynn Dana Sr. A noted pianist and educator, he continued to refine his father's programs, moved the school to new facilities, and continued to produce graduates who made names for themselves in the world of music. The Great Depression of the 1930s marked an end to over sixty years of growth and success. In 1941, Dana's Music Institute became part of Youngstown College. Forty pianos, band, orchestra, choral libraries, and hundreds of other musical instruments were moved the fifteen miles to Youngstown and joined the faculty and students of Youngstown College's existing program. The music department, at the insistence of both faculty and students, retained the "Dana" name and became The Dana School of Music of Youngstown College. Lynn Dana Sr. did not move to Youngstown. While he was to assume the position of director of the school, he died before classes started in the fall of 1941. Although his only son, Lynn Dana Jr., spent several years working behind the scenes at his father's school, he did not pursue a career in music and, after military service during World War II, left Youngstown forever. He was the last Dana to be associated with the school.
In 1967, Youngstown College became Youngstown State University. The Dana school thrived in Youngstown. As the student enrollment gradually grew to over 400, student ensembles made recordings and performed across the country and beyond. During the 1970s, a department of jazz studies was established. Its performing ensembles quickly moved into national prominence. The Dana School of Music moved into Bliss Hall in 1977, its present home. Two recent expansions of Bliss Hall have added two computer labs, a recording studio, a distance learning center, and additional ensemble rehearsal space.
In 1994, the Dana School of Music celebrated the 125th anniversary of its founding with a series of commissioned works, concerts, and special events. Lynn B. Dana Jr., who had been living in San Francisco for the past fifty years, was located and asked to express his thoughts on the Dana School in a statement which appeared in the Anniversary Program accompanying the school's Showcase Concert. He said, in part:
"Now, most of you here tonight do not remember the terrible effect of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and our subsequent entry into World War II. My dad and I had worked for twelve years trying to save the D.M.I. of Warren, and we were delighted with its merger with Youngstown College. But our entry into world War II created havoc on campus. The school lost its home, and as far as I was concerned, Dana was dead. I stayed on until April of 1943, when we turned the music building over to the Navy. Youngstown College's president asked me to give him feelings about the school before I left, and my letter to him was anything but optimistic. As far as I was concerned, The Dana School was history.
"When I received the very impressive materials which had been prepared for the 125th Anniversary, fifty years had passed since I had left Youngstown, and I could scarcely believe what I was seeing! Someone had not just saved the Dana School - they had brought it through difficult times and had transformed it into a musical institution which could equal any in the country. That "someone" was the dedicated faculty, staff, and administration of the Dana School of Music of Youngstown State University. Now they are leading the school into new areas of musical learning and performance which range far beyond the hopes and dreams of William Henry and both Lynns."
Professor John Turk's book on the history of the Dana School of Music at Youngstown State is the most intensive study of any American music school. Contact the Music Office for purchase information.