Born May 26, 1880 in Huntingburg, Indiana, William Otto Miessner devoted his life to music as a teacher, professor, composer, author and inventor. He made a significant contribution toward fulfilling the motto, "Music for every child and every child for music."
Dr. Miessner graduated from Huntingburg High School and earned a diploma from the Cincinnati College of Music. After teaching music from 1900-1904 in Boonville, Indiana, he taught elementary and high school music in Connersville from 1905-1909. During his early teaching years, Dr. Miessner had the philosophy "The idle mind is the devil’s workshop. But this is my workshop and I’ll not tolerate an idle mind as long as there’s excitement in music."
One day in 1906 Dr. Miessner met three of his students on the street who had been suspended earlier for misbehavior. The boys were watching a minstrel show and keeping time to the music with their hands. Miessner promised to get the boys reinstated in school if they would learn to play instruments in the new school band he was forming. They agreed and Miessner encouraged them to practice by promising a public concert and uniforms in the school colors. The boys Miessner organized into the nation’s first public high school band at Connersville High School initiated the entire band movement in the United States. Miessner became one of America's pioneer bandmasters. The band later was asked to perform before a convention of the Northern and Southern Indiana Teacher’s Association in 1908 and was written up in the School Music, the national publication of the time. Therefore, he received state and national exposure.
Some highlights in Dr. Miessner's life included the following:
- Music Methods Instructor, Northwestern University Summer Sessions, 1911-1924
- Director of School of Music, Milwaukee State Teachers College, 1914-1922
- Founded Miessner Institute of Music in Milwaukee, 1924
- President, Miessner Piano Company, Milwaukee, 1918-1928
- Life member of Music Educators National Conference (MENC), serving as President, 1923-24
- Honorary degree, Doctor of Pedagogy, Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, 1923
- Honorary Degree, Doctor of Music, Chicago Musical College, 1929
- Head, Department of Music Education in charge of graduate studies at University of Kansas, 1936-1945
- Co-editor of school music textbooks with Silver Burdett Company, 1911-1952
Dr. Miessner was a member of Phi Delta Kappa, and the Symphonia and Pi Kappa Lambda honorary societies. He was inducted into the Music Educators National Conference Hall of Fame in 1986.
Dr. Miessner returned to Connersville to retire when he was in his seventies. When he learned no music teacher could be found to teach at Fairview and Orange Elementary Schools, he obtained an emergency permit and returned to teaching from 1956-58. He was then told he would have to enroll in a college class for beginning teachers in order to retain a permit to teach music in Indiana elementary schools. He didn't feel he should have to enroll in beginning music classes after having taught so many years and study from a textbook he had written.
Miessner devoted his life to the conviction that all children, the gifted and ungifted, deserve a chance to learn at least the basics of music and have it touch their lives.
Miessner died at the age of 87 on May 27, 1967, in Connersville, IN.
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