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Biographies A-B

Baxter, James

James Baxter was a gifted musician and teacher who founded the Baxter Academy of Music in Friendship, N.Y. We include here two biographies of Baxter:

In our obituaries section, we include an obituary on James Baxter's wife, Harriet (Davis) Baxter.


 

Transcribed from "Allegany County and Its People", John Stearns Minard, Georgia Drew Merrill. W. A. Fergusson & Company, 1896.

Prof. James Baxter, son of John W., and grandson of John Baxter, a maimed soldier of the Revolution, was born at Palatine, N, V.. Nov. 28. 1819. Family tradition says he descends from a Capt. Richard Baxter, of the 6th Irish Vol. Regt., sent to America by the English government in 1634 to protect the colonies from the Indians. Both his grandparents were brought by their parents to this country from Scotland in infancy. Two brothers of his paternal grandmother. Seth and David Whitlock of Connecticut, were quite prominent violinists. In June, 1820. John W. Baxter and family made their home in Friendship. Here James grew to manhood, the third of his parents' 12 children.

He had more than the usual hardships of pioneer children, for his was a delicate, sensitive temperament, keenly alive to suffering and enjoyment and peculiarly susceptible to the many diseases incident. His musical talents early manifested themselves in attempts to manufacture various musical instruments. At 14 he was apprenticed to a master millwright for 7 years study, at 16 he was playing the violin at parties, the bugle at "trainings" and “singing in the choir." He early began to teach singing classes gratuitously. These classes developed into paying ones of vocal and instrumental music. which by the time he was 21 occupied the entire winter season. He had never seen a music teacher (aside from the church chorister), nor a book of instruction except church music books and one on bugle music.

In 1847 he was sent to Rochester to purchase instruments for a brass band. While driving back he mastered each instrument and prepared a score of the new kind of music, was competent to teach it. and at once organized in Bolivar the first brass band in the county. Before 1851 he personally organized and instructed brass hands in Friendship. Phillipsville, Angelica, Almond. Nunda, Pike, Rushford. Cuba. Hinsdale. Limestone. Bradford. Jamestown, Smethport and Coudersport, and taught singing schools at Friendship, Phillipsville. Scio, Wellsville. White Creek, New Hudson. Nile, Richburg. Ceres. Bolivar, Genesee, Farmer's Valley, Smethport, Middaugh Hill and elsewhere.

He purchased in the 40's (and still owns) the first piano forte known in this section. His skill and fame as an instructor had become widespread, and in deference to urgent requests from many he opened in Friendship, on March, 1853. the first institution of musical learning in the United States […]. Prof. Baxter's methods were original and successful. In connection with his institute he had a publishing house, from which several musical works written by him were issued, Baxter University Record, a monthly magazine, and other publications.

Prof. Baxter has had the usual fate of men far in advance of their age. He has met with many obstacles and many persecutions. But it is pleasant to note that he is now beginning to be appreciated as never before, that as musical progress has advanced, he is seen in a clearer light as a true benefactor of the people, as a high priest at the Temple of Music, one whose name should be revered and honored. For the last 12 years he has given his time to the preparation of a series of instruction books based on his methods and 40 years of experience. Eight volumes are now in hand.


Transcribed from The Voice, Nov. 1880; Edgar S. Werner, editor and publisher.

Dr. JAMES BAXTER,
FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT OF BAXTER UNIVERSITY OF MUSIC.

Dr. James Baxter is the son of John W. Baxter, one of the early pioneers of Western New York, whose ancestry dates back to Captain Richard Baxter, of the Sixth Irish Volunteers of the British army, sent out to America in 1632, to aid in guarding the colonies against the depredations of the Redmen. James Baxter was born in the town of Palatine, Montgomery County, N. Y., November, 1819. The family removed to Friendship, N. Y., in June following and took up their residence on a tract of land in the almost unbroken forest, where the father had made a little opening and prepared a house of logs for their reception. Here the young Baxter received his first impulses and impressions of musical culture in the songs of the birds and in the voices of his parents as they sang the songs of earlier days and more conspicuous position; both having been vocal performers of considerable repute in their more youthful days; the father being also a good player upon the flute and skilled in the military use of the fife and the snare-drum.

As an evidence of the wildness of his primitive home, Dr. Baxter frequently describes the effect upon himself at sight of the first woman he ever remembers to have seen, other than his mother. He says that he saw her enter the little cleared spot in which the house stood. She was dressed in white, or at least in some quite light color; and, as she approached the house, he became seized with a sudden fear as he saw her eyes bent upon him, and he turned and fled and hid under a pile of partly-burned logs. Here he lay with palpitating heart and dilated eye until after the greetings of the stranger by the family within; when, being missed, a search was made and he was discovered and drawn forth, against his most determined resistance, and was carried into the house.

Accustomed to the voices of his parents and other members of the family who had joined them, the boy acquired a considerable repertory of vocal music and could sing either part to some scores of pieces; when, at the age of eleven, he commenced the practice of a small flute of the most primitive construction, formed from an elder-bush, and was able after much tribulation to coax from its mysterious depths something that would sound like a tune. A few years later we find him with his companions in possession of something in the shape of a fiddle; modeled after something of the kind they had seen and heard in the hands of a distant neighbor and which they had made from a block of pine for the bottom and neck and covered with a piece of shingle reduced in thickness, and supplied with strings from the mother's ball of home-made linen thread. This instrument soon gave place to a real violin, procured as only boys can procure when bent upon accomplishing a deep-seated desire. From this we soon find the family in possession of two or three of these fiddles supplied with real strings and accompanied by a sort of half-sized violoncello, upon which different members performed while others joined in with their voices.

We must not omit to mention the fear that came over the parents when they first discovered that there was a real fiddle in the family, such a thing having long been associated in their minds with dissipation and dissolute habits. The father, therefore, on coming to a full knowledge of the situation, ordered that the thing be committed to the flames and the much-coveted fiddle went up the chimney in smoke. The effect of this seemed to be only to diffuse itself through the surrounding atmosphere to become the more deeply distilled in the hearts of the despoiled and luckless aspirants. Of course, the result was only a temporary staying of the current, which, accumulating by the obstruction, soon broke forth with redoubled vigor in the securing of more and better instruments and the addition of books and the use of notes, as already described in orchestral and choral performance.

Quite early in these efforts we and the youth apart from bis companions engaged in the practice of some instrument or piece of music of more than ordinary difficulty; and at the age of sixteen we find him playing the violin for his associates, playing the bugle or the clarionet in the field of military training; and at seventeen teaching singing schools, assisting the choir in the church and taking part in family worship. At fourteen he was put to the trade of mlll-wright, which was that of his father.

It is, perhaps, needless to say that at the age of twenty-one, and when his term of apprenticeship had expired, the trade of mill-wright fell into disuse with him as he became more deeply engaged in the prosecution of his musical studies, the teaching of singing schools and classes and the organizing and conducting of bands. The bands of that day, too, were materially different from the brass bands of our time and required a much more elaborate preparation for the mastery of their management; being composed of clarionets, piccolos, bugles, trumpets, slide trombones, bass-horns, French horns, serpents, bassoons, etc.

Forty years ago a piano was by no means a common thing in Western New York, and before our hero had ever seen the inside of an instrument of this kind he was called upon to bring one back to conditions of usefulness from which it had long before departed. Upon examination it was found to require a new sounding-board, to be mostly new strung, and a number of missing pieces supplied to the action and a complete overhauling of the whole. He completed the job, and put the instrument in tune at "odd spells" during three or four months, and the method of tuning devised for that occasion is nearly identical with the one now in general use; and the instrument was returned to the owner and received with entire satisfaction. This work afforded a double degree of interest to the operator in that it furnished an opportunity for the exercise of his inclination and love for dealing with both mechanics and music at one and the same time.

Dr. Baxter's mind is not one of those to jump at conclusions and think it is "all well enough;" but is rather one of those who consider every point and bearing when arriving at conclusions; coupled with a marked degree of self-criticism and persistent determination that knows no surrender when a course of action is once entered upon. He plays, or has played, fairly well nearly all instruments usually met with, and some of them with fine artistic skill. This he has done, not so much perhaps for the mere object of performance as to study their susceptibilities and the best method of developing their use in the hands of the learner; and his text-books constructed in accordance with these principles are quite unlike anything that have preceded them.

In the early period of the exclusively brass band Dr. Baxter was deputed to visit Rochester and procure instruments for a band up in the mountains. No such band nor its music bad been seen or heard in that section, and on his arrival in the city he found several instruments in use that he had hot before met with, viz. : key, trumpet, ophlcleide, etc. He made his selections, Including the strange instruments, and set out for home; studying and" practicing by the way, and on arriving home he had prepared a score of instrumentation and mastered each instrument sufficiently to play it, and was ready to meet the class in the band-room. On a later occasion he was called to teach a band that had already secured the latest-style instruments; and on entering the band-room he discovered to his consternation that the instruments were all new and strange to him; being the first valve instruments he had ever seen. Having, however, already studied the valve principle in the slide of the trombone, a sudden inspiration showed him its application in the valve and he solved the problem of the valve scale on the spot, and he had only to classify the standards of tone of the respective instruments to enable him to prepare the first score of the class before leaving the room.

Such was the demand for Dr. Baxter's educational services that in March, 1863, foreign students began to arrive at his home for the better prosecution of their studies; and this led to the founding of the institution which bears his name. He has never visited Europe for professional benefits. Indeed, such a proceeding would be directly opposed to the genius of his purpose as a musical educator of the American people. He has, however, enjoyed the advantages of association with foreign teachers and performers. He has also at various times improved such advantages as our own country affords for musical culture, and thus secured whatever might be found available to his own educational processes.

From the first Dr. Baxter evinced the greatest interest that others should realize the same sense of musical effect and understanding that he himself experienced; displaying also rare ability and success in imparting to others his own views and sense of perception in musical forms and effects; seldom failing to awaken a deep and sincere enthusiasm in the minds of his associates and friends. As the subject expanded in his own mind the desire to devise definite forms of instruction to that end became the ruling passion of his life. - In pursuit of this subject he discovered a principle by which the inner subtleties of musical sense, understanding and interpretation were rendered plain and intelligible to the popular apprehension, and that, too, without the necessity of learning the performance or the use of the notes; giving the learner the same view and standpoint of observation that is enjoyed by the best minds and which had hitherto been obtainable only after years of assiduous and persevering application.

This placed the whole subject of musical learning in an entirely new light, and the result was the construction of a full and complete school-system of musical learning having daily instruction, recitation, appropriate culture and practice in the respective subjects of study. This was followed by the formation of regular, graded educational courses with clearly defined standards for graduation in the same relative scale of attainment as in other branches of education. It will, therefore, be seen that Dr. Baxter's sympathies are altogether with the people in the matter of musical culture and utterly opposed to that superciliousness so frequently resorted to in the endeavor to sustain an imaginary superiority over the " common people."

Dr. Baxter is not merely a teacher of musical performance and has little respect or sympathy for an aristocracy based on the use of any given class of music; but, uniting the broader qualities of an educator, he inculcates that inner sense of understanding that includes all music and recognizes the same diversity of tastes in its use that are recognized in literature. He holds that music is a divine inspiration in the hearts of men; as much so as the gift of intellection itself and is consequently proportionately important as an element of education; that the art itself is but the means to a nobler end and that the profession of music teacher in any department is a high and sacred calling. Regarding the mooted question of musical graduation he, therefore, holds that there is one and only one legitimate standard of attainment for general graduation at which this distinction can properly be conferred, and that is to compose and perform correctly and in good taste at least one of the four principal branches of musical usage: the church, the orchestra, the parlor, or the band, and that all beyond that may be very properly left for specialties of individual profession.

This sketch Is concluded by the following extract from the Olean, N. Y. , Record:

"We shall not attempt to describe the large buildings or the methods of teaching, but wish simply to call attention to the whole as the work of an accomplished, enthusiastic, energetic and irrepressible man. Dr. Baxter is a remarkable man, and a blessing to any place where he may labor. He is a musical enthusiast, but also a musician of fine ability, and as a teacher is unexcelled. His work is all of good, and has no shadow of evil alloyed with it. It is elevated, ennobling, moral and purifying. It improves and corrects false ideas and habits, and its influence and benefits extend far beyond the results visible to-day. Though gray-haired, Professor Baxter is as young and fresh-hearted as when he first began his labors of love and devotion years ago."

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