Maurice D. Taylor of Montrose
Date of Birth: 04/13/1906 Date of Death: 11/14/2001
Life was a lot different in 1914. Children were expected to work hard on their family farms or the family business, and were encouraged, when needed, to get an outside job to help support the family. Fourteen year old Maurice Taylor, freshly arrived in Montrose from Dixon, Pennsylvania, took a temporary job driving delivery wagons for Mr. Lee Hamlin, a local grocer. Maurice was from a fairly poor family, and any money that could be earned was appreciated.
Maurice had a hankering to buy a used horn, but it cost an unimaginable $6. One of his brothers offered to loan him $1, he just needed to come up with the rest somehow. So, he sought a loan from his boss, Mr. Hamlin, who, of course, loaned him the money, and Maurice was grateful to him decades later. Upon hearing the news of his death, Maurice wrote a letter to Mr. Hamlin's children telling them the story, writing, "So, your father made a very real contribution to my involvement with music; over the years I have never forgotten that fact." That $5 loan changed the course of music education forever.
After obtaining the loan and buying the horn, Maurice and his brothers began teaching music to local students, allowing him to pay back the loan and acquire more instruments. They also formed Taylor's Band in Montrose in 1923, as well as helped other municipalities establish bands of their own. Maurice graduated from Montrose High School in 1924, but was unable to afford college. He continued with his music business, renting and fixing musical instruments, as well as giving lessons. He was approached by the administrators at Montrose High School about forming and teaching band there, even though he was not certified. To get around that, the school listed him on the payroll as a janitor.
Maurice quickly realized that traditional teaching was not going to work with a band of this size and under time constraints. He came up with a new way to teach the entire band at one time, as a whole. At a clinic Maurice gave in South Charleston, West Virginia, Maurice explained, "I organized the Montrose, Pennsylvania, High School Band in 1927. Early in my career I noticed there were few band method books, so I began to write exercises down on paper for my students to play. Some of those students wanted those exercises to play at home, so I began to duplicate them to hand out. This gave them the essentials they needed to progress." There was no other material like this that could be purchased for the school. "I discovered that the books that were available were either written over the students' heads in language they could not understand, or were beyond the beginning level of musicianship. Even the way they were printed was intimidating."
In 1939 Maurice published his method, and the Easy Steps to the Band series was born. It is estimated that some six to eight million children learned to play using this method, which is still in use today. According to a 1996 article in The Binghamton Press & Sun Bulletin, Richard Mackey, a former student of Taylor's and a Boston Symphony French horn player, believed that half of the brass and winds section learned to play from the books.
The books became very popular, and the demand for more sections and instruments became so great that Maurice retired from teaching in 1955 to devote more time to his publishing business, Montrose Music House, which he’d founded in the 1930's. He went on to publish over 150 titles before selling the business to Mills Music, Inc. of New York City. He returned to teaching in 1967 (he did eventually get his teaching certification) and retired again in 1972.
Another of his contributions to entertainment in the area was the organization of Massed Band Concerts every year. In 1935 he brought 604 players to Montrose, which drew an estimated attendance of 12,000 music lovers.
Maurice married Margaret Beach in 1926, and had four children. Tragically, he lost his wife and three of his children over the years. His faith was unshaken by these sorrows, however. His daughter Janet Taylor told the Press & Sun Bulletin that Maurice wanted to be "remembered not for his music, but as a Christian Gentleman." Maurice remarried in 1985, and was survived at his death by his wife, Charlotte.
He received several honors for his achievements over his long career, including being made an Honorary Life Member of the PA Music Educators Association, being named "Bandmaster of the Year" by Phi Beta Mu-Nu Chapter, receiving an "Honorary Doctor of Music" degree from Susquehanna University, and was awarded a "Citation of Excellence" by the National Band Master's Association. But he was not enamored of his own success. In an interview given to the Press & Sun he said "Don't lay it on too thick."
It's hard not to marvel over the story of a young boy, raised simply with his four brothers, who taught himself music on a $6 used horn, then went on to influence millions of students from around the globe.
Jack Yeager, a fellow teacher from Montrose high school, and the husband of Maurice's niece, Ruth Taylor Yeager, is proud to have been colleague, family and friend to Maurice, and wants to honor his achievements. Jack has established the Maurice D. Taylor Memorial Music Scholarship Fund at the Community Foundation of Susquehanna and Wyoming Counties. Surviving members of Maurice's family, his daughter Janet from River Forest, IL and brother A. Ralph Taylor from Elizabethtown, PA, have enthusiastically supported this endeavor.
The Scholarship, which will benefit a student from either Montrose or Elk Lake, will be awarded to a graduating senior with a GPA of at least 2.5, who has actively participated in the high school music program, either vocal or instrumental, and will major in music in college.