Albert Austin Harding

Albert Austin Harding
Background information
Born 02/10/1880
Georgetown, Illinois
Died 12/03/1958
Champaign, Illinois
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

Albert Austin Harding was born February 10, 1880 in Georgetown, Illinois. His parents were Conway A. and Jennie Stewart Harding. Unfortunately, Jennie died shortly after his birth, and Conway moved his son to Paris, Illinois to live with his maternal grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Vincent Stewart. He lived with them until the age of 10.[1] After their deaths he went to live with his paternal grandmother, Mrs. Adelia Austin Harding, in the Austin house in Paris. He lived there until he was 21.[2]

Albert bought his first cornet, a French Jaubert for only nine or ten dollars. This cornet was probably the cheapest type of cornet available at that time and was nicknamed "Jawbreakers". Recognizing beauty in the instrument, he quickly mastered it and moved on to the fife. By the age of 16, he had also learned the piccolo.[1]

He began his musical career as the bugler for the Boys Brigade in Paris. Since Paris High School did not yet have a band, he became 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 unfamiliar instrument so Albert chose the baritone.[1]

He then joined and eventually led the Paris Beacon Drum and Bugle Corps, named after the local newspaper the Paris Beacon. In this group, he played the fife and the bugle. This corps even played at a political campaign rally in 1896 for presidential candidate 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 career as an independent musician was thriving, and he was invited to participate in many musical groups including marching bands, dance bands, and orchestras.[1]

After high school, he joined the Illinois National Guard, where he spent most of his time as 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

In 1902, Albert began attending the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. Almost immediately, he joined the University Military Band playing cornet and the University Orchestra playing bassoon. He was outranked in seniority by two musicians in the cornet section of the band: Carl Ginzel and E.J. Piggot.[1] In 1904 he joined the newly formed chapter of Phi Kappa Psi fraternity where he roomed with DeLoss Funk of Funk's Grove in McLean County, Illinois. DeLoss had an automobile and was in great demand on campus because of it.[3]

In the spring of 1905 Harding was offered a position as Teacher of Band Instruments and Assistant Director of the band by Professor Frederick Locke Lawrence, head of the School of Music. At the time, he was a junior in the College of Engineering planning to become a municipal and sanitary engineer. He considered the band position 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 and beginning in September 1905 Professor Lawrence never raised a baton over the band again. Albert led all rehearsals, provided all band instruction, and did all individual instruction on band instruments after the fall tryouts.[1]

On 3 March 1906, Albert conducted his first concert in the Armory (now the Kenney Gym Annex) on Springfield Avenue. He appeared on the concert program as Conductor.[1][4] This concert, called the Sixteenth Annual Concert, was one in a long series of incorrectly numbered ″annual concerts″ and ″anniversary concerts″. The first formal band concert of record had been played 3 May 1892 at the Walker Opera House in Champaign.[5]

Director of bands

In 1907 Albert was appointed 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".[6] He appeared as both conductor and director of the Military Band for the first time in the program for the 1908 annual spring concert. Later he earned a full professorship in music, becoming the first band director to do this on an American campus.[1]

On the evening of 26 April 1911 the Military Band played the first Twilight Concert on the quadrangle in front of the University Auditorium (now Foellinger Auditorium).[7] These popular concerts were started by Director Harding following a request by the university president Edmund J. James that the band do something more for the cultural life of the university. The spring series of Twilight Concerts in April and May continued through 1984. Summer session Twilight Concerts in June and July played by the Summer Band on the Illini Union terrace continue to the present.

On Commencement Day, 11 June 1913, he married Margaret Rogers, a high school friend from Paris. He was 33 and she was 32.[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 performances at ceremonies and sporting events. He also enforced professionalism within the band. The band became unique, especially due to his 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 called Albert's band "the world's greatest college concert band."[1]

From 1918 to 1931 Albert conducted the University Orchestra in addition to conducting the University Band. Frederic B. Stiven, director of the School of Music, replaced him as the University Orchestra conductor in 1931.[1]

While Albert was the director, the University of Illinois Band invited many guest conductors.[1] The most legendary[6] was John Philip Sousa, also known as the "March King".[8] On March 20, 1930, the band performed a "Complimentary Concert". Albert conducted the first half of the concert, and Sousa conducted the second half. Among the works Albert conducted were those composed by Saint-Saëns, Respighi, Haydn Wood, Glazunov, and Rimsky-Korsakov. Sousa then conducted other various works including 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 at various times were Edwin Franko Goldman, Henry Fillmore, Frank Simon, Harold Bachman, Guy Holmes, and Victor Grabel.[1]

Albert also started the Illinois Band Clinic. According to John Grashel, Ph.D., the Illinois Band Clinic was a precursor to the Midwest Clinic, now the Mid-West International Band and Orchestra Clinic held annually in Chicago, Illinois.[9] In 1929 the idea of a clinic for high school band directors grew out of the annual High School Teachers Conference held at the university. Harding and his assistants organized the first clinic held on 9–10 January 1930. Along with demonstrations of contest music played by the university bands there were meetings and discussions of band topics.[10] The clinics were discontinued in the 1950s. In 1955 they were replaced with the Festival of Concert Band Music, a two–day series of formal concerts by the three university bands.

In January 1945, Albert's wife Margaret was bedridden. The 16th annual band clinic was in session at the time, forcing Albert to have Clarence Sawhill, Assistant Director of Bands, conduct the band clinic. 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 at the age of 68. His assistant Mark Hindsley became Interim Director and was appointed Director in 1950, a position he held until his retirement in 1970.[1]

Relationship with Sousa

Albert and Sousa shared a "very close personal and professional relationship".[6] 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".[11] Sousa planned on giving Albert the materials from his band library as a "gesture of his high esteem" for Albert and his band.[6] However, it was not written in his will in 1932 when Sousa died. In order to obtain the collection, Albert wrote letters to the Sousa family and their attorneys. After a few months the family agreed, and Ray Dvorak, Albert's assistant at the time, traveled to New York City to retrieve the collection. In particular, Dvorak 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".[11] These materials are now housed at the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music, which is open to the public.

Death and accomplishments

Albert had been plagued with an illness after his retirement. On December 3, 1958 Albert Austin Harding died in Champaign, Illinois. The Harding Band Building had been 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]

As Director of Bands Harding transcribed more than 150 orchestral compositions for his concert bands. Most of these remain unpublished. However he allowed six transcriptions to be published by Neil Kjos Music Company so that the royalties could be used to fund the A.A. Harding Awards given annually to outstanding band members. The six with dates of publication are:

A. A. Harding Band Building

The University of Illinois Bands moved into the Harding Band Building in 1957. In 1928 the bands had moved from basement space in University Hall into the Military Office Building, a 1915 wooden frame structure east of the Armory, and remained there until 1955 when work was started on the new building occupying the same site at 1103 South Sixth Street, Champaign.[12] This new 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". Most of the rehearsal and practice rooms were built to achieve maximum acoustical effectiveness. These include 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. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 Sousa Archives and Center for American Music. A. Austin Harding Papers, 1895-1958
  2. Burford, Cary Clive (1952) We′re Loyal to You, Illinois Danville, Ill.: The Interstate, pp.51, 57
  3. Burford 1952, pp.50, 103, 105
  4. Sixteenth Annual Concert of the University of Illinois Military Band at the Armory Saturday March 3rd, 1906, 8:00 P.M. A.Austin Harding, Conductor; T.H. Guild, Cornet; Earl E. McCoy, Violin; Miss Irene Parsons, Accompanist. Unpublished printed concert program.
  5. Illini 11 April 1892 p.13; 25 April 1892 pp.14-15. Items in the student newspaper announcing the upcoming concert.
  6. 1 2 3 4 Library Gateway: University Archives. Harding, Albert Austin (1880-1958),
  7. ″Initial Twilight Concert on Campus Grounds Tonight″. Daily Illini (University of Illinois) 26 April 1911, p.1.
  8. Library of Congress. John Philip Sousa
  9. 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,
  10. Burford 1952, pp. 529–550
  11. 1 2 Gill, Michael. Humanities. A Nation on the March, November/December 1997, Volume 18, Number 6
  12. Silverberg, Ann L. (1995) A Sympathy with Sounds,Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, School of Music, pp. 43-44.

External links

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