Imogene Boyle (1899 - 1985)

 

Imogene Boyle“Your musical organizations are equally outstanding. I place your deparment of music among the finest in America.” When Dr. Edwin Franko Goldman pennes those words, he was expressing an opinion that would be echoed many times over when musicians and educators commented on the work done by Imogene Boyle at Hempstead High School, New York.

 

Ms. Boyle was born in Centralia, Missouri and took up the violin at an early age in order to play with the family band. She studied at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music for four years, took a job at Maryville College in Missouri, and completed a degree in education. In later years she earned both a Masters and Doctorate degrees from Columbia University. Her career in public school began in Greensboro, North Carolina as an orchestra director and supervisor of the string program. In 1931, she moved to Hempstead Schools where she remained until her retirement in 1960.


The story of music in the Hempstead Schools is the story of Imogene Boyle. She got the job because she was the only candidate who answered “yes” to the principal’s question, “Can you give me a symphony orchestra by Christmas?” As Imogene often said, “He never said how good a symphony orchestra it had to be.” She had 15 students enrolled by Christmas with no school owned instruments and rehearsals were held in a costume storage room off the stage.

 

By 1932, there were 80 players and Miss Boyle had organized both a band and orchestra and the department had acquired a significant number of instruments and equipment as well. People often said of her, “If she had been in politics, she would have been our first woman president.” She had a terrific talent for selling herself and her ideas. By 1932-1933, the music department had grown enough to command a separate building on the Hempstead campus. It was known as the “Band Box.”

 

In 1933, Miss. Esther McQueen was added to the staff to become the Director of Choral Music. Two years later, Arthur Lillicrap was hired to teach the beginning band classes in the middle and elementary schools. By 1937, over half of the 2200 students at Hempstead High School were in the Music Department. At this time Kazmier Albinski was hired to conduct the bands and Imogene Boyle now concentrated on the Symphony Orchestras and supervising the large program that included 13 additional conductors and teachers. Even the general music teachers doubles as string, wind, or vocal coaches when the Orchestra or Band was in rehearsal. The entire staff was present at all rehearsals in the Band-Box (rehearsal hall) to sit in with sections, coach players, or assist in any number of other ways. Everything was a team effort.

 

Hempstead High School Symphonic Band and Massed Choirs Iogene Boyle & Esther McQueen Circa 1936
Hempstead High School Symphonic Band and Massed Choirs Iogene Boyle
& Esther McQueen Circa 1936


On November 10, 1949, the Sunday edition of the New York Daily News carried seven pages of colored photos of the music department with the caption, “Hempstead Put on the Map Musically.” Over the years, many outstanding guest conductors and outstanding soloists worked with the Hempstead music organizations. In 1951, the band, orchestra, and chorus performed for a Voice of America broadcast to 45 nations overseas. The Symphony Orchestra became the first high school group ever to perform in Carnegie Hall in 1953. The band performed at the New York World’s Fair. The Music Department was written up in News Day, Etude, MENC Journal, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, and featured in the Strange As It Seems section of the daily papers. The marching band performed a show a year for 20 years for the New York Giants home football games. The band was also featured in a Paramount News Reel and Look Magazine. String players took up the glockenspiel, singers became twirlers and dancers, and the entire department became involved in staging extravaganzas that would have made “Patrick Gilmore sit up and take note.”

 

Hempstead High School Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall Circa 1953

Hempstead High School Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall Circa 1953

 

In 1959-1960, the Ford Foundation selected 12 outstanding music departments throughout the country to launch their young composers/artist-in-residence program. Arthur Frackenpohl was assigned to Hempstead and contributed new works for band, choir, and orchestra, which were premiered by the Hempstead music organizations. In 1960, the Hempstead Orchestra performed at the MENC Convention in Atlantic City with Dr. Howard Hansen leading the combined groups in his “Song of Democracy.”

 

Hempstead High School Marching Band at Half-Time for the NY Giants game. Circa 1953

Hempstead High School Marching Band at Half-Time for the NY Giants game.
Circa 1953

 

The 1960 Spring Concert marked the final performance with Hempstead groups by both Imogene Boyle and Esther McQueen. Miss Boyle continued in music education for one more year, serving as associate professor of music education at Adelphi College, then she fully retired and concentrated on her needle point.

 

Imogene Boyle was born a pioneer stock but to simply call her a pioneer woman of the podium will not suffice. Perhaps a pioneer of American music education would be more descriptive. Her contribution is probably best and most succiently described by Frederick Fennell in one his letters to her in which he states simply, “You do what others merely write and talk about.”