Burrell’s 1908 Address

I thought it would be good to occasionally read a Sinfonia writing to be enjoyed on a car ride or any time when one feels like hearing the words of our founders. Above is such a recording of Percy Jewett Burrell’s best-known writing, from the 1908 Sinfonia Year Book.

The President’s Message

Boston, April 1, 1908

Dear Brothers:

“The object of this Fraternity shall be for the development of the best and truest fraternal spirit; the mutual welfare and brotherhood of musical students; the advancement of music in America, and a loyalty to the Alma Mater.”

Wise words to make men wiser; good words to make men better; true words to make men nobler! A new light shines down from above to brighten the realm in which musicians move and have their being.  Every Sinfonian should know these thirty-eight words of high sounding character as he knows his scale of C.  Upon them—as a fundamental clef—he should build his life as a man.  Phi Mu Alpha!  What a triune throne around which every brother of our band shall have his affections cluster and his hopes center!

As one reads of the object of the Sinfonia he is at once struck with the significance of the words, “the development of the best and truest fraternal spirit.”  I purpose to notate, on the few pages that follow, harmonies on this theme.  Ten years ago, when Father Mills started a little club of male students at the New England Conservatory in Boston, he sought not the musician in the institution, but the man in the musician.  No such question was put as, “How well can you sing, young man?” or, “What can you play, sir?” but, “Come on, boys, let’s get together!”  This was the slogan that struck the ear and stirred the heart, for it meant something for sociability’s sake, good fellowship and mutual helpfulness.  The result is to-day the Sinfonia Fraternity of America.

The principle that the development of manly qualities need not be stunted in the enthusiasm for one’s art has found a fine exemplification in the progress of the Sinfonia.  It is a truism that as long as man loves but himself and his art he can never attain to the full measure of manhood or reach the sublimest heights of his art.  He must seek to love men as brothers and art, not for the sake of art itself, but art as a means toward bringing all men up to that verdant plateau where their souls may be fed in very rejoicing in all that is true, beautiful, abiding.

Such are sentiments and principles that move every heart in our midst.  Fraternity seeks to upbuild the whole man, to make of him a manlier man, a more musicianly musician.  Fraternity, in spirit, is not, as some may imagine, a four years’ college course policy.  In its real essence, it is what may be aptly termed a life insurance writ on the tablets of men’s hearts, paying precious dividends on demand.  He has failed utterly to catch the truest fraternal spirit who in the world beyond the college door slinks away from his fellows and shrinks up in some dark corner.  Fraternity is as real as man himself, for it is in and of and for man.  It is not a mere name, a shibboleth, a magic word to conjure up song, shout and shriek for a few student years.  The ground that fraternity covers is not a cellar floor of dark and dire secrets.  Its scope is not confined by some low studded red ceiling and four black walls.  Its place of abode is not a fun factory and a foolish house.  Fraternity’s foundation is a man’s honor.  Its vision is from the open windows of his soul.  Its dwelling place is the temple of Sacrifice.

This mystic spirit of fraternity, permeating a company of men having a common and honorable pursuit in life—music—must make of such men better musicians.  As the student of music soon learns that a Wagner overture and a Bach fugue stand, as one may say, at musical poles, so a Sinfonian is early taught that selfishness and sacrifice are human poles.  The differentiation is not only intellectually posited, but actually experienced, for he learns to practice self-denial.  If he have more of the mule than the man in him, the Sinfonia is a great school for chopping off the fore-legs of the animal and effecting a cure for stubbornness; thus, the process of cutting away the excrescences and grafting on the virtues.  Such a regeneration, taking place in man, will find in very logic, a transmitting and an infusion of these better, nobler qualities into the every composition and performance of the artist and musician.

Beneficial alike to musician and man is the power of receptivity—a willingness, an eagerness, a patience to learn.  He who would teach must first be taught; he who would give, first get.  The man who joins a fraternity generally makes up his mind by either the beneficent force of intuition or some violent external suggestion, that it pays to be obedient and receptive.  He realizes that he must be both well-rounded and on the square—a veritable human peg, able to fit into a round hole or a square hole.  He busies himself now in unraveling the knotty snarls in his mode of living and seeks to lay out before him the silken skeins of Life itself.  If he has found that living is trying on him he makes now a firm determination to try Life.

Is all this a vagary and a dream of some Utopian fraternity?  Not at all.  Put the question to the fraternity man, ask yourself—the Sinfonian—about it?  Is it not true that the Sinfonia which you have sworn by and love so dearly, puts elixir in that man who is willing to learn and eager to grow?  Do you not meet one another as co-workers, as brothers, as fellow Sinfonians?  Is not the spirit of friendship pervading and dominant?  Doesn’t the magic grip feel like a galvanic battery?  Do you not become electrified into a living, aggressive, enterprising, wide-awake student, winning a new independence for yourself through that fraternal interdependence so keenly felt in the Sinfonia?  Are you any longer a mere metronome, keeping time with your monotonous scale practice as you walk from lodging house to class room and then back again?  Have you not learned to beat time in Life’s own sweet, true rhythm?  Is not your tempo marked by enthusiasm, steadfastness, earnestness, manliness, brotherhood?

The seed of fraternity must be sown in the mind and the heart of the young and growing student generation.  What is needed, brothers, is a harmony, not alone of music, but of minds and hearts and spirits.  The fraternal must become linked to the educational in the student life.  Would that there might be a marriage of the two which no divorce court presided over by Judge Jealousy or a jury of musical pettifoggers could annul!  Let our organization ever seek to have the heart of fraternity beat in harmony with the mind of education to the tickings of some great mystic metronome.  Let us be they who use the intellectual telescope to discern and solve the deep and difficult problems of music lore and focus the spiritual telescope to catch a vision of the ideal in Life’s heavens.

Brotherhood!  The brotherhood of men!  What spiritual significance!  Do we catch its true meaning?  Does it give us a real and vital experience?  Do we get a spiritual insight?  Do we look out with a broader vision?  Do we think in terms and live in acts of brotherhood?  If we do, we move in harmony, attuned to both God, the Father, and man, the Brother.  What is music without harmony?  Verily it is not music.  Life without good-will and fraternity—what is it?  Indeed it is not life.  He has not truly lived who has not lived for others, in sympathy and in harmony with his fellows.

If such be our life, it embodies the Sinfonia spirit.  Do you know what it is?  Can you interpret the Greek triad—ΦMA?  These are not the questions.  Do you feel it?  That is what I would know.  The most powerful and subtle emotions in life are oftentimes like the great force of the universe—electricity—mysterious and unknowable, yet a pulsing, moving dynamic about and within us.  There is, in truth, a mysticism in fraternity.  We cannot comprehend or explain all.  It is well so.  What we understand is wont to appear ordinary and commonplace to us.  Yet this spirit of fraternity is none the less real.  Indeed, it is the more real because it is mystic; the more mystic for it is real; tremendously vital for it is both mystic and real.

In few words, we are conscious of an existent fraternity, of this spirit of brotherhood in our hearts because we feel it.  Beyond this there is no standard of measurement, no reduction to terms.  Sufficient it is to feel fraternity stirring our finer emotions, instilling the nobler thoughts, inspiring acts of sacrifice, keeping alive and fresh our highest aspirations.  These virtues are the fragrant flowers of the fraternity seed and they bloom perennial as the fires of brotherhood burn within us.

It is good to be a Sinfonian for “Once a Sinfonian, always a Sinfonian.”

Fraternally yours,


Percy Jewett Burrell.

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