Albert Austin Harding

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Albert Austin Harding
Albert Austin Harding.jpg
Background information
Born 02/10/1880
Georgetown, Illinois
Died 12/03/1958
Occupation(s) Director of Bands
Years active 1907–1948

Albert Austin Harding (February 10, 1880 – December 3, 1958) was the first Director Of Bands at the University of Illinois. He was also the first band director at an American university to hold a position of full professorship. The Harding Band Building, the first ever dedicated building for a University Band Department, was named for him.

Early life[edit]

Albert Austin Harding was born on February 10, 1880 in Georgetown, Illinois. His parents were Conway A. and Jennie Stewart Harding. Unfortunately, Jennie died shortly after his birth, and so Conway moved Albert to Paris, Illinois to live with his grandparents. He lived with them until the age of 10.[1]

Albert bought his first Jaubert cornet for only nine or ten dollars from France. This type of cornet was probably the cheapest type of Cornet at that time and was nicknamed "Jawbreakers". However, Albert saw beauty in this instrument; he quickly mastered it and moved on to the fife. By the age of 16, he had moved on to the piccolo.[1]

Albert began his musical career as the bugler for the Boys Brigade in Paris. Since Paris High School did not yet have a band, he went on to become a bugler for the Paris High School Cadets. Also, he and some of his school mates formed a band called the "Bum Notes Band". Each member of the band played an instrument that they were not very familiar with. Albert chose the baritone.[1]

Albert then joined and eventually led the Paris Beacon Drum and Bugle Corps, named after the Paris, Illinois newspaper the Paris Beacon. In this corps, Albert played the fife and the bugle. The corps even played at a political campaign for president William McKinley in Canton, Ohio.[1]

At the age of 17, Albert joined the Paris Concert Band. Before graduating high school, he became the leader of the band, and later he succeeded W. D. Wooley as the band director. Meanwhile, his independent musician career was thriving; he was invited to many music groups including marching bands, dance bands, and orchestras.[1]

After high school, Albert joined the Illinois National Guard, where he spent most of his time as a company bugler, battalion bugler, and regimental bugler. For the most part, he was stationed at Camp Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois.[1]

Career as a student[edit]

In 1902, Albert began attending the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. Almost immediately, Albert joined the University Band and University Orchestra. He was outranked in seniority by two musicians in the cornet part of the band: Carl Ginzel and E.J. Piggot.[1]

Harding was eventually offered a position as part-time instructor and director of the band. Professor Lawrence, the head of the School of Music, offered him this position in the Spring of 1905 since he was very busy with the many responsibilities associated with his position. At the time, Albert was a senior in the College of Engineering, and he was planning on becoming a municipal and sanitary engineer. To Albert, this position was only temporary.[1]

Since the School of Music was growing rapidly, Professor Lawrence had less time available to spend with the band. Thus, Albert's responsibilities in the band gradually increased. According to Albert, beginning in September 1905 Professor Lawrence never picked up and raised a baton over the band again. Albert lead all rehearsals, gave all band instructions, and gave all individual instruction on band instruments after the tryouts that fall.[1]

Later that Spring, Albert conducted his first concert. This concert, called an "Anniversary Concert", was the band's sixteenth annual concert. However, Albert only appeared on the concert program as the Assistant Director.[1]

Director of bands[edit]

Finally in 1907 Albert was appointed as the Director of Bands after two years of conducting the band.[1] As a result, the University of Illinois became the "first university to create a distinct band department under a director of bands".[2] He appeared as both the conductor and director of the band for the first time in the Eighteenth Annual Concert of the University of Illinois Military Band. Later, Albert earned a full professorship in music. He was, therefore, the first band director to do this on an American campus.[1]

On Commencement Day in 1913, Albert married a woman (also raised in Paris, Illinois) named Margaret Rogers. The two were only a year apart; they were high school friends.[1]

Albert then added new dimensions to the University of Illinois Band. He added concert band music and transcriptions of symphonic and chamber pieces to the performances at ceremonies and sporting events. He also enforced professionalism within the band. The band became unique, especially due to Albert's interest in unusual instruments. Not only did he utilize typical band instruments but in 1924 he added many unusual instruments such as the basset horn, saxonet, B-flat bass sarrusophone, E-flat bass sarrusophone, CC contra-bass sarrusophone, terz flute, A-flat flute, mussette, valve trombone, tenor antoniophone, bass antoniophone, bellstedtromba, bass cornophone and ophicleide. John Philip Sousa then deemed Albert's band as "the world's greatest college concert band."[1]

In 1918, Albert conducted the University Orchestra in addition to conducting the University Band. However, Frederic B. Stiven replaced Albert as the University Orchestra conductor in 1931. At the time. Stiven was the director of the School of Music.[1]

While Albert was the director, the University of Illinois Band supported many guest conductors.[1] The most legendary[2] was John Philip Sousa, also known as the "March King".[3] On March 20, 1930, the band performed in a "Complimentary Concert". The conduction of this concert was split in half: Albert was the conductor for the first half, and Sousa was the conductor for the second half. Some of the works Albert conducted were created by Saint-Saëns, Respighi, Haydon Wood, Glazounow, and Rimsky-Korsakov. Sousa then conducted other various works. More notably, Sousa conducted a "Symposium of Marches by the March King" which consisted of "The University of Illinois", "Semper Fidelis", and "The Stars and Stripes Forever". Other guest conductors were Edwin Franko Goldman, Henry Fillmore, Frank Simon, Harold Bachman, Guy Holmes, and Victor Grabel.[1]

Albert also conducted the Illinois Band Clinic. According to John Grashel, Ph.D., Albert's Illinois Band Clinic was a precursor to the Midwest Clinic, an International Band and Orchestra Conference held annually in Chicago, Illinois.[4]

In January 1945, Albert's wife Margaret was bedridden. The 16th annual band clinic was in session at the time, forcing Albert to make Clarence Sawhill, Assistant Director of Bands, conductor of the band clinic. Then on January 16, 1945, Margaret died. She was survived by Albert and their only child Jane Austin Harding.[1]

After 41 years of being the director of bands, Albert retired in 1948. He gave Mark Hindsley control of the band.[1]

Relationship with Sousa[edit]

Albert and Sousa shared a "very close personal and professional relationship".[2] According to archivist Phyllis W. Danner, the Sousa band was performing in Champaign, Illinois in 1906 when he met Albert at a reception. A "mentoring relationship developed between the two… and the friendship between the two lasted until Sousa's death nearly three decades later".[5] Sousa planned on giving Albert the materials from his band library as a "gesture of his high esteem" for Albert and his band.[2] However, it was not written in his will in 1932 when Sousa died. In attempt to retrieve the collection, Albert wrote letters to the Sousa family and their attorneys. After a few months, the family agreed, and Ray Dvořák, Albert's assistant at the time, traveled to New York City to retrieve the collection. In particular, Dvořák sorted through the materials in Sousa's band library and "oversaw the packing and shipping of 39 trunks and two boxes containing 9,700 pounds of music and other materials".[5] These materials are now housed at the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music, which is open to the public.

Death and accomplishments[edit]

Albert had been plagued with an illness after his retirement. On December 3, 1958 Albert Austin Harding died. The A. A. Harding Band Building was dedicated in March of that year.[1]

Albert served as the treasurer of the American Bandmasters Association for several years. From 1937-1938, he was the ABA's President. In 1956, he succeeded John Philip Sousa and Edwin Franko Goldman as Honorary Life President. For the College Band Directors National Association, Albert became an Honorary Life President, and he was also a founding member of the Alpha Xi chapter of the Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia.[1]

A. A. Harding Band Building[edit]

The University of Illinois Band moved its home to the A. A. Harding Band Building in 1957. The building was the "first building built solely for use by a college band program." Today, it is home to the University of Illinois Bands, the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music, and "one of the world's greatest band libraries". The building contains many rooms rehearsal and practice rooms, most of which were built to achieve maximum acoustical effectiveness. In particular, there is a main rehearsal room, six sectional rehearsal rooms, and twelve practice rooms. Also, the band library utilizes five rooms; the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music and the Carl Busch Instrument Collection occupy five more rooms.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v Sousa Archives and Center for American Music. A. Austin Harding Papers, 1895-1958
  2. ^ a b c d Library Gateway: University Archives. Harding, Albert Austin (1880-1958), [1]
  3. ^ Library of Congress. John Philip Sousa
  4. ^ Grashel, John. Illinois Music Educator, THE MIDWEST CLINIC (1946-2007): Sixty Years of Participaton by Illinois School bands, Orchestras, and Jazz Ensembles., Spring 2009, Vol. 69 Issue 3 p:77-80,[2]
  5. ^ a b Gill, Michael. Humanities. A Nation on the March, November/December 1997, Volume 18, Number 6 [3]

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