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From Interlochen's archives: Joe Maddy on the founding of Interlochen Arts Academy

Joe Maddy is wearing a sweater and sitting at a desk that is covered in papers and documents
Interlochen's founder Joe Maddy in his office, 1963

In April 1963, Interlochen's founder Joseph E. Maddy spoke with Frederick Fennell about the earliest days of Interlochen Arts Academy.

In the fall of 1962, Interlochen Arts Academy opened, becoming the first independent fine arts boarding high school in the United States.

In April of 1963, Interlochen's founder Joseph E. Maddy spoke with esteemed conductor (and alumnus of Interlochen's National Music Camp) Frederick Fennell about his vision for Interlochen Arts Academy.

Hear the audio of Maddy's entire talk on demand below. The file has been edited for clarity.

Joseph E. Maddy on the early days of Interlochen Arts Academy
Interview with Frederick Fennell recorded April 17, 1963

Transcript (please note: text has been edited for clarity, but expressions have not been modernized)

 Interlochen Arts Academy began operation last September [1962] with 134 students from 26 states and Canada. The aim of Interlochen Arts Academy was to establish a college preparatory school, fully accredited academically, with far greater emphasis on music, art, drama, or dance than considered practical in our educational system. We realize that it takes many hours a day for many years of concentrated study while very young to develop the muscular skills and coordination necessary for a performing musician or a dancer.

But our school programs do not permit such concentration. [Pianist] Van Cliburn was allowed to go home next door to the school and practice piano when he had learned his lessons at school. So we had to plan a boarding school where students could have many more hours each day for study than in any day school.

Educators are beginning to realize that students of superior talent and intelligence must have special educational opportunities to provide the challenge and motivation that he needs. The Interlochen Arts Academy aims to meet this need by providing such students with individual instruction, personal attention, longer periods of concentration, competition, stimulation, and association with others of similar talents and interests.

President John F. Kennedy addresses Interlochen's National High School Orchestra after their performance on the White House lawn (1962)
Interlochen Center for the Arts
President John F. Kennedy addresses Interlochen's National High School Orchestra after their performance on the White House lawn (1962)

President [John F.] Kennedy said, when he addressed our National Music Camp's High School Symphony Orchestra, which played at the White House last summer [1962], "I know that there is some feeling among Americans that the arts are developed in solitude, that they are developed by inspiration and by sudden fits of genius."

But the fact of the matter is that success comes in music or in the arts like success in any other form of human endeavor, by hard work and by discipline over a long period of time. Parents of truly gifted children have a serious obligation, both to their children and to society, to see that these unusual talents are recognized and properly developed.

The basic philosophy of Interlochen Arts Academy is founded on the belief that success in any field is dependent upon a proper balance between talent, energy, ambition, and interest span. That wholesome competition is an effective stimulus to educational attainment, as it is fundamental in our American way of life.

The Interlochen Arts Academy is an independent, co educational boarding school for students eligible for grades 8 to 12 who have demonstrated superior talent in music, art, drama, dance, or creative writing.

The school is affiliated with the National Music Camp [now Interlochen Arts Camp]. It is assumed that each student enrolled in the academy is a candidate for an institution of higher learning. Every opportunity for individual growth is directed to that purpose. The essential difference between Interlochen Arts Academy and the other college preparatory high schools lies in the fact that both our academy and arts instructors and faculties are available to our students from 8 o'clock in the morning until 8 o'clock in the evening, five and a half days a week.

The Interlochen student has a schedule which is tailor-made to meet his special needs and interests. The Academy is dedicated to providing a sound academic program together with superior artistic curriculum, a program which will permit the rapid learner to advance at his personal rate of growth under the guidance of faculty members chosen for knowledge, personality, and teaching skills.

The experience of living and growing with other people with similar interests, talents, and ambitions in a beautiful setting close to nature inspires academy students to maximum efforts to achieve success in their chosen fields of endeavor. The academic faculty is composed of skilled educators who, in addition to successful teaching backgrounds, have a common interest in the creative arts.

When the National Music Camp was established in 1928, many school administrators believed that red-blooded young Americans would not be willing to give up their summer vacations to study music, that music did not have sufficient appeal to American children.

How wrong were they?

More than half of the colleges and universities in America now offer summer training in music to high school students, and many thousands of young musicians spend their summers in intensive music study. Last year, [1962] when Interlochen Arts Academy was still in the planning stages, music educators as well as school administrators opposed the idea [and believed] that highly accelerated activities programmed in the National Music Camp would be too much for students in a year-round boarding school like the proposed Academy.

What has happened now that the Academy has been in operation for a year, the students have accomplished at least twice as much academically as well as artistically under the persistent competition which prevails in every activity. The Academy's motto is "curriculum geared to talent, and promotion geared to attainment."

Interlochen founder Joe Maddy holds building plans and looks at a construction site
Interlochen Center for the Arts
Joe Maddy looks on during construction at Interlochen (1963)

We hope to give every youngster promotion whenever he's ready for it, regardless of whether the rest of the class are ready to move along or not. The class schedule is quite surprising. From 8 o'clock to 10:30 every day, six days a week, arts activities. That means private practice on instruments, painting and other practice studios.

From 10:30 to 3:30 five days a week, academic classes. That's comparable to what they get in high school anywhere else. 3:30 to 5:30, five days a week, arts activities, that's orchestra, band, drama, dance, and so forth. Then from 6:45 to 7:45 every evening, seven days a week, special activities: clubs, lectures, recitals, concerts, opera rehearsals, and so forth. And from 8 to 9:30 at night, study table for students who are below standard in academic classes.

The answer to how such a program works is a visit to the school where the spirit of accomplishment abounds. For one thing, our 75-piece high school symphony orchestra presents a complete symphony concert every week. That means 32 concerts in 32 weeks. There are also weekly dramatic programs, student and faculty recitals, operas, oratorios, band, choral, and ensemble programs. Skiing, snow sculpture, snowshoeing, fencing, tennis, folk dancing, archery, and all other sports that provide physical fitness.

Physical development, more particularly the acquisition of muscular skills and coordination, which are required of a professional dancer or instrumental musician, must take place during the youthful years. To become a great musician or dancer, one must concentrate many hours a day for many years while young enough to benefit from such concentration.

Interlochen Arts Academy dancers rehearse during the 1962-63 school year
Interlochen Arts Academy dancers rehearse during the 1962-63 school year

The special purpose of the academy is to provide opportunities and methods which will enable students to master subject matter and to develop skills at a more rapid rate than is possible under traditional learning conditions. Each student is encouraged, each student is encouraged and directed to make the maximum progress of which he is personally capable.

Promotions and graduation are based upon examinations and performance tests, not merely on a number of hours spent in class or on assigned tasks. Just as the personality of the individual should be integrated, so the things the individual learns, both his ideas and his skills, should be brought into relationship with one another.

Everything that the individual does in life has a moral implication. It should be good for something or someone. It must be understood and put into practice so that it will make a contribution to a useful and balanced and morally responsible life. The Academy provides a climate of mutual interest and the kind of guidance and motivation that highly talented students need.

[That climate includes] individual instruction, personal guidance, longer periods of concentration, a competitive atmosphere, and the stimulus provided by association of others with similar talents and ambitions. The curriculum is geared to talent, while advancement and promotion is geared to individual attainment.

We invite you to visit Interlochen, winter or summer.

Thank you.

Joseph E. Maddy, recorded April 17, 1963

Dr. Amanda Sewell is IPR's music director.