Founding of the Music School
For the Whittlesey family music was in their blood. Their father had made a living manufacturing ivory for piano keys in Saybrook,
Connecticut. At this time, Connecticut had 90 percent of the market on manufacturing ivory.
In 1801, the same year Oramel Whittlesey was born, the family moved to Salem, Connecticut and purchased the “Little Red Cottage” which is currently the oldest home in Salem still standing. Oramel’s father Rev. John Whittlesey became a zealous Methodist minister who raised the boys with rigid discipline. The family would accompany their father as he preached for half of the year in New York City and summered in Salem the other half.
From their travels and father’s background in manufacturing the Whittlesey boys became interested in music at an early age. As a result, their father purchased a second-hand piano but would not allow the boys to take time off from their chores to take lessons. With great passion and intrigue the Whittlesey brothers went to New London for piano instructions on their own time. They would arrive in New London at 8pm and not return until 3am.
When Oramel was 21 he joined his brothers in taking apart and reassembling their first piano which resulted in a superior instrument. Caused by their success in 1826 after getting married, Oramel, his new wife Charlotte Maconda Morgan, and his two brothers left Salem for New York City and later Buffalo where they learned how to better build pianos. Upon returning from training the three brothers started a piano factory producing one-of-a-kind instruments that found a market in New York City and elsewhere.
Two pianos made by the Whittlesey brothers are seen here and remain permanently on display at the Salem Historical Society. The pianos were made of rosewood and mahogany with ivory piano keys that had been sawed by hand with mother of pearl inlay letters and ornamentation. On the inside of every Whittlesey piano was a brass plate bearing the family name. Henry and John excelled in the mechanics of manufacturing these priceless pianos, while Oramel leaned more to the instruction of music. Oramel had developed quite a little fame in the neighborhood as a musician, as he had always been interested in the study and teaching of music. He was requested by many parents to take pupils and there was a growing demand for good instruction.
Beginning with a few students from Norwich, New London and nearby vicinities, Oramel Whittlesey soon found that his time was filled and his fame had spread. Pupils from a distance applied to be received as boarders thereby causing Whittlesey to erect a music school to hold his applicants. At first the school that was built was known as Mr. Whittlesey’s music school, but afterwards as Music Vale Seminary and Normal Academy of Music.