Women during this time period were expected to give credible performances on the harp, piano or guitar. Music journalist, James Huneker explains that during the period between 1800 and 1870, “every girl played the piano, not to play was a stigma of poverty- girls devoted time to the keyboard for the purpose of social display.” For these reasons Music Vale Seminary was in high demand.
Music Vale Seminary opened in 1835 with an enrollment of 12 that quickly jumped to nearly 80 students. At one point there were as many as 100 students enrolled at one time. The majority of the students were girls although several boys did attend the school.
The pupils were taught voice culture and there were lessons on the organ, harp and guitar as well as piano. Instruction was given in notation, harmony, thorough-bass, and the general laws of counterpoint and fugue. There were quartettes on two pianos practiced to the click of the metronome. It has been said that Whittlesey’s wisdom and advice to music students for practicing and making sure progress occurred were as good s any found today, if not better.
The Connecticut State Board of Education authorized Whittlesey to give a normal degree to successful students. At that time Music Vale Seminary was the only music school in the United States to confer degrees and it maintained its unique position for years.
The school’s motto was a saying of William Pit, “If it be that I have done so much, it is because I have done one thing at a time.” It was clear that the school followed this singular purpose in order to turn out exemplary students.
The school was conducted with a firm and steady hand. The students at Music Vale seminary were charged $1.50 a day for room, board and instruction. Students had to rise at five o’clock in the morning. They rode from Norwich, Connecticut in the brightly colored carriages for Music Vale called the Bluebird and the Robin. Practice was held from 6am to 47am at which time no pupil was allowed to speak during practice time except to her teacher, or to leave the piano, or to play any other composition except that assigned for
practice hour. Breakfast, dinner, at noon, and supper at 5:30pm followed. Students were required to practice four hours a day. The practice hours were divided into series alternating with the study of theory, and were spoken of as first, second, third and fourth series. The entrance to most of the rooms was from the outside so that each person was isolated from others in practice. A stroke of the gong announced the termination of an hour.
The students were under the immediate supervision of a teacher and were heard every day and required to play a monthly performance before the faculty and guests from surrounding towns in order to learn to perfect their self-control and public presentation.
The average number of graduates each year was twenty. Annual examination of the graduating class was held before a prestigious board of examiners.