Music at OSU

One of Boh Makovsky’s earliest bands at Oklahoma A&M in front of what is now the Bartlett Center for the Visual Arts, 1916 (Oklahoma State University Library)

Story by Matthew Koster, Intern, Stillwater History Museum at the Sheerar

To celebrate the growth and history of the OSU music department, the Stillwater History Museum at the Sheerar will open an exhibit, “Kappa Kappa Psi & Tau Beta Sigma in Stillwater,” on June 1, 2019. This exhibit was put together by Rachel Cox, one of the museum’s History students.  Rachel is also a member of the OSU Marching Band and chose this topic to tie to the 2019 Kappa Kappa Psi & Tau Beta Sigma National Convention, which will be held in Stillwater this July.

Music has been part of the Oklahoma State University experience for nearly as long as the campus has existed. Seven years after the Oklahoma Agricultural & Mechanical College campus opened until today, OSU has been a driving force in the expansion of music programs throughout the state and the nation. Through the decades, hundreds of thousands of students have found their note in the symphony of talent that is the OSU Department of Music. The department traces its origins back to a handful of dedicated individuals, starting with Angelo C. Scott and Boh Makovsky.

Angelo C. Scott joined the faculty of OAMC in 1897 as a professor of English Literature. He believed in the importance of agricultural and mechanical education, but also that students should be exposed to the classical arts. He and his wife Lola took it upon themselves to organize and conduct all the ensembles that performed on campus. Angelo and Lola inspired others to help expand musical education and performances at the university, such as a student named Harry Dunn, who created the first organized college band in 1905. At first, the band only had 22 members, and each member was in charge of paying for their own instrument and uniform. By 1910, the military department began providing the band with uniforms and instruments so that they could play at ROTC marching drills.

The first organized band at Oklahoma A&M College, 1905 (Oklahoma State University Library)

In 1915, Boh Makovsky, a famous musician from the southwest, was appointed as head of the music department. Under his direction, the band quickly grew into a large, nationally recognized program. From 1916 until 1931, the band toured the state and performed for high school musicians to recruit new members into the program. During the Great Depression, when it became too expensive for the band to travel, Boh organized a band clinic at Oklahoma A&M. High school musicians were invited from around the state, and band directors attended to conduct ensembles. The band clinic was an annual event until 1967 and was extremely influential in the development of public school music programs in Oklahoma. When Boh began his career at OAMC, music was not a degree option and students were limited to one credit hour in music per semester. Under his leadership, the college began offering a three-year certificate in music in 1921 and eventually a music degree program in 1935. Boh retired in 1943 after 28 years of dedicated leadership at Oklahoma A&M.

Sororities and fraternities also played an important role in the music department. One of Boh Makovsky’s students, William A Scroggs, created an honorary band organization that only accepted the most outstanding students in the music program. Makovsky encouraged the organization, and Scroggs spent all of his time penning a constitution for a fraternal order. On November 27th, 1919, the fraternity was officially named Kappa Kappa Psi, and the founding chapter at Oklahoma A&M became its “Alpha Chapter.” Since its founding, over 85,000 men and women have been initiated into Kappa Kappa Psi, and there are currently more than 200 active chapters around the country. The fraternity will celebrate its 120th anniversary this year.

Director Max Mitchell with the Oklahoma A&M Band at Lewis Field. Mitchell is holding the bell clapper from Old Central, a traditional trophy for the annual rivalry game against OU. (Oklahoma State University Archives)

A sibling organization to Kappa Kappa Psi was founded in 1940 at Texas Technological College. During World War II, most college bands were composed mainly of women, due to men going into the service. These women wanted additional ways to become involved with music, and a group of them founded Tau Beta Sigma, an honorary band Sorority based on the premise of Kappa Kappa Psi. A. Frank Martin, a Kappa Kappa Psi founder and national president, wanted women to be involved with college music and agreed to help establish Tau Beta Sigma as a national sorority. However, Texas law at the time required an in-state sponsor to incorporate an honorary organization. To sidestep this problem, it was agreed that the national organization would be incorporated at Oklahoma A&M. While the chapter at Oklahoma A&M is officially the Alpha Chapter of Tau Beta Sigma, the original chapter is the Beta chapter of Texas Tech, with Wava Banes being credited as the founder of the sorority. More than 47,000 men and women have been a part of Tau Beta Sigma since its founding in 1946, and there are currently 144 active chapters around the country.

The “Kappa Kappa Psi & Tau Beta Sigma in Stillwater” exhibit will look at the history of music at OSU, in Stillwater, and the history of Kappa Kappa Psi and Tau Beta Sigma.  It also includes a QR code to link to a map that will take visitors to visit many Kappa Kappa Psi and Tau Beta Sigma, significant sites right here in Stillwater. Don’t forget to visit the Stillwater History Museum at the Sheerar to see this and other recent exhibits.  You can learn more at www.sheerarmuseum.org.

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