Editor, McLerran Journal
Assistant Band Director, Center ISD, Center, TX
Elizabeth Green (1906-1995) is regarded as one of the most influential educators, conductors, and authors of the twentieth century. In her lifetime, she wrote eleven books, published six original compositions for strings, and earned several prestigious awards including the Golden Rose Award from the Women Band Directors National Association and the Medal of Honor from the Mid-West International Band and Orchestra Clinic.
Professor Green’s teaching career began in 1942 in Ann Arbor where she is credited with transforming the struggling Ann Arbor High School Orchestra into a formidable sixty-member ensemble. Because of Elizabeth Green’s influence in the district over sixty years ago, the Ann Arbor area has become one of the premiere locations to study strings worldwide. Just last year, according to an article from the Ann Arbor Public Schools’ District News website, a small string ensemble was invited to represent the United States overseas in a concert series organized by conductor Göran Staxäng, a past student of Professor Green.
One especially admirable characteristic of Elizabeth Green was her ambition and love for education. In 1928, she earned a Bachelor of Music from Wheaton College and then a Master's of Music from Northwestern University in 1939. In a time when less than 30% of American women held any college degree, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, Professor Green had two. In 1948, at the age of only forty-two, Elizabeth Green was named Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan. By 1963, she became a full professor. It should be noted that over 75% of American professionals at institutions of higher education were male during this period. In the 1970’s, after retiring from Michigan University, Professor Green enrolled in Eastern Michigan University to earn a degree in Fine Art (specifically painting).
Professor Green is famous for reminding educators to “teach the gray matter [brain].” In other words, teach the students in the most efficient way possible based on the science of the brain. She referred to music as “the greatest instrument for mental hygiene in the curriculum. It requires eyes, mind, ears, and muscular response to work together in split-record accuracy. It develops the whole man, because, in addition to the physical-mental reactions, it is colored with the great notional meaning of life itself.” Professor Green worked to develop a generation of musicians who could make musical decisions for themselves. Educators can simulate this method by making a few minor changes to regular rehearsals like periodically stepping off of the podium to evaluate the musicians’ internal pulse and expression.
As much as teaching was her passion, performance also played an enormous role in Professor Green’s career. She was a founding member and the concertmaster of the Waterloo Symphony Orchestra in Iowa and also performed with the Detroit Women’s Symphony. Her instructors included such famous players as Ivan Galamian, Nicolai Malko, and Clarence Evans. She is credited with assisting with both Galamian’s book, “Principles of Violin Playing and Teaching” (1962) and Malko’s book, “The Conductor and His Score” (1971). In addition to a full-time teaching career and continuing lessons in violin performance, Professor Green finished another book, “Teaching String Instruments” (1966) and regularly wrote for periodicals like the School Musician, The Etude, The Instrumentalist, The Music Journal, and The Music Educator’s Journal. Most of her writing focused on the most efficient methods to either play or teach the violin. She is also credited with publishing multiple pieces of music including “Hohmann for the String Class” (1949) and “12 Modern Etudes for the Advanced Violinist” (1964).
In her over thirty years of teaching, Professor Green made several contributions to the art of conducting. Her belief was that conductors should not only practice the gestures involved in leading an ensemble, but also complete a comprehensive study of the work itself. She was once quoted saying, “Music lives only when the notes fly off the page and soar into glorious sound. The performer, the conductor, releases those notes from bondage through his or her feelings for the message through the power of imagination.” In addition, Professor Green created several exercises to assist in developing independent use of the hands. In her career, Professor Green published several books on conducting including, “The Modern Conductor,” (1961), “The Conductor and His Score,” (1975), and “The Dynamic Orchestra: Principles of Orchestral Performance for Instrumentalists, Conductors and Audiences,” (1987). Her works are currently used as professional references around the world.
After a lifetime of musical and academic achievement, Elizabeth Green passed away in 1995. She was a musical giant with an insatiable desire to learn. The impact of her treasured teachings can still be found in modern conducting and string-playing. Musicians of all levels are encouraged to remember her advice; “Go after your goal in life, but be prepared to make a living.”
“Elizabeth Green Papers.” Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan. January 1996.
Web. April 11, 2017.
“To Beat, or Not to Beat… That is The Question.” John Whitwell. From the Midwest Band and
Orchestra Clinic. December 19, 2001. Web. April 11, 2017.
“Principles of Expressive Playing in Music: Bringing Life to the Notes with Young Bands–Part 1.”
Bruce Pearson. 2009. Neil A. Kjos Music Company. Web. April 11, 2017.
“Elizabeth Green.” Forum 21 Barn and Musik. 2016. Web. April 11, 2017.
“120 Years of American Education: A Statistical Portrait.” Thomas D. Snyder. National Center
for Education Statistics. January 1993. Web. April 15, 2017.
“Director: We have yet to see a music program that parallels the music program in Ann Arbor.“
Ann Arbor Public Schools District News. December 15, 2016. Web. April 15, 2017.
“To Beat or Not to Beat… That is the Question.” John Whitwell. Midwest International Band and
Orchestra Conference. December 19, 2001. Web. April 12, 2017.