First Music Graduates, Accreditation, and Expansion
“It was brought out at this time that it would be necessary
to make some changes in the requirements for the
Music degree, if Centenary was to be added to the
National Association of Schools of Music.”
(Faculty Minutes, Centenary College of Louisiana, December 15, 1931.)
In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Centenary’s music department evolved from a conglomeration of ensembles and optional private instruction to a formal degree-granting program with an academic mission. The College first awarded Bachelor of Music degrees in 1931,31 the same year that faculty minutes document a move to seek accreditation from the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM). Course offerings expanded greatly and, in 1936, the Centenary School of Music was granted membership in the NASM.32
However, this heightened emphasis on music as an academic discipline did not preclude the development of popular music ensembles, most notably Kollege Kapers. This wildly popular variety show, begun in 1933, featured comedians, dancers, vocalists, instrumentalists, comedy skits, magicians, and ensembles. Mr. B.P. Causey—who conducted Centenary’s band from 1941-1981, leaving only for military service during World War II—fondly remembers his time as the director of Kapers. “We had a lot of fun. We traveled all over. It was a big deal, and more people wanted us to come than we could accommodate.” In spite of its early successes, Kollege Kapers faded out by the late 1940s. (Editor's note: It would later be reprised beginning in 2005 on campus.)
On the other hand, the Band’s popularity did not waiver. In 1938, they traveled widely in the southern U.S. and even enjoyed a “historic” trip to California. Furthermore, “The year (1938) started off with many innovations, six to be exact, for much to the disgust of the male members of the band, a half dozen girls were added to increase the quantity if not the quality of music produced.”33 1939 brought even more change when the band was placed under the direction of the School of Music and longtime-conductor Dr. S.D. (“Doc”) Morehead, Professor of Economics and History, stepped down. The 1939 Yoncopin laments that the Band “…turned orthodox in a big way, deserting swing for symphony and becoming a bona fide college band (whatever that is) instead of a group of knocked-out musicians.”34 Soon the female band members were allowed to actually march with the rest of the band. “When I first got there (in 1941), the girls didn’t march with the band,” recollects Mr. Causey. “And I said, ‘No, that’s a lot of baloney—They do.” Without regard for instrumentation, the women, wearing white skirts, marched in front of the Band. Marching in formation was more difficult: “It got to be a problem always to get it to look right.” The years immediately after World War II saw the Centenary Band at its pinnacle as the G.I. Bill attracted an influx of students, including experienced musicians who had played in military bands during the war. Mrs. Causey remembers them fondly as an “interesting and dedicated” group. “Probably as large a band as they ever had there, we had it after the war.” As the football program deteriorated, the Band marched only for local parades and eventually became a seated ensemble.
However, the decline of football and marching band coincided with the rise of Centenary’s best-known ensemble, the Centenary College Choir. When Ralph Squires assumed leadership of the Centenary School of Music in 1941, he asked A.C. “Cheesy” Voran, then employed in student affairs, to start a touring choir—now known as the Centenary College Choir. According to Dr. Will Andress, Director since 1974 and proud Centenary Choir alum, the first Centenary College Choir (1941-42) was among the nation’s first university choirs to don modern attire instead of choir robes (dubbed “bath robes” by a Shreveport Lion’s Club Centenary Choir supporter).35 Audiences delighted in the group’s varied repertoire and innovative approach. Traveling, practicing, and socializing together fostered an enduring bond among Centenary Choir members. “The choir is a working group of friendly persons, and musicianship alone is not sufficient to complete satisfactory requirement for entrance into the organization. There must be a community of spirit and group unity,” the 1942 Yoncopin maintains.36 The Centenary Choir amassed an amazing travel log even in its first two decades: entertaining soldiers during World War II; visiting military bases in Korea and Japan in 1956; singing for Easter sunrise services in Okinawa in 1957; and performing at Radio City Music Hall four times a day for nine weeks in 1961.
The first three decades of Centenary’s School of Music gave rise to other lasting musical traditions. In the 1940s and ‘50s, Mr. Squires—whom Mr. Causey remembers as a truly “outstanding pianist”—helped to develop Centenary’s piano department. Since 1950, the College has hosted the Shreveport Symphony Nena Wideman Piano Competition, founded by former Centenary piano professor Nena Wideman. The Wideman Competition is among the oldest small piano competitions in the United States.37 The organ “the king of instruments” was not without representation on Centenary’s campus. In 1956, an Æolian-Skinner organ was installed in the Chapel and a dedication recital given by Professor William Teague in 1957.38 Also in 1957, Mr. Causey founded the Centenary summer band whose outdoor performances attracted concertgoers from Louisiana, Texas, and Arkansas to the Centenary amphitheater for thirty years. Furthermore, Opera Workshop, introduced in 1963,39 continues to offer Centenary vocalists the opportunity to gain valuable musical experience.
Gradually, with an increase in its quality and popularity, the music program outgrew its 1920s wooden frame building.