By STEVEN NALLEY
Elva Kaye Lance once knew the woman her award is named after.
The late Edythe McArthur was a band director at a high school in Wayne County in the 1960s, Lance said, at a time when few women taught band in Mississippi and most were at the middle school level. She said her own high school band director was McArthur’s husband, but the McArthurs often worked together with students in Waynesboro like her.
“Edythe often critiqued our band rehearsals and performances and provided additional instruction,” Lance said. “When I was a music major at MSU, the McArthurs were directors in the Starkville schools, and they provided me the opportunity to teach private lessons in the system and work with the students in the band program. It was through this opportunity that I really began to learn the instruments, the literature and the rehearsals skills necessary to be a band director.”
Since 2002, Lance has been Mississippi State University’s first female director of bands, and she was recently recognized at the Mississippi Bandmasters Association’s state clinic for her work with the first Edythe McArthur Outstanding Director Award.
Linda Davis, band director of South Panola High School, was one of the founding members of the Women’s Band Directors Association of Mississippi, which selected Lance as the winner. The women’s association itself is only three years old, she said, and the award was created to recognize those who blaze trails for women’s success in band directing the way McArthur did.
“(McArthur) did do a lot to establish that women could be successful band directors in our state at the high school and junior high levels,” Davis said. “Because of (Lance’s) record, she too has done a lot for women band directors. Starting out with high school bands, and now at the university level, it’s pretty terrific what she’s done to not only mentor women band directors but also music education majors in the state.”
Lance said McArthur earned recognition simply by excelling at her job, by developing music students who performed well above their grade level.
“Whether with students or other colleagues, she was recognized for her direct, no-nonsense approach and the successful performances of her student musicians,” Lance said. “She was never reluctant to challenge her students or her colleagues, and her demanding style produced outstanding musicians. While my teaching style reflects my personality, I have tried to model the fundamental approach to instruction and the expectation of achievement established through those early experiences.”
Jay McArthur, son of Edythe and president of the Mississippi Bandmaster’s Association, said Lance has become a success in her own right.
“She has developed through her tenure a very fine program at Mississippi State,” Jay said. “She has a tremendous desire to make sure her students are as prepared as she can possibly make them to tackle what is a very difficult profession. She and my mother were very close. There could have been no more fitting first winner (of this award) than Elva Kaye Lance.”
Lance was hired as assistant band director in 1992, becoming associate director of bands in 1999 and then director of bands three years later. She said she is proud to serve the college and the Famous Maroon Band she graduated from years ago.
“As director of bands, I have the rare privilege of working with the MSU students of the present, interacting with the students of the past, and working to identify and recruit MSU students for the future,” Lance said. “The opportunity to have that interaction is something that I find very special and really enjoy. As a musician, the opportunity to explore music with our top musicians is a treat and is the highlight of each day. As an alumnae, it is also fun to be a part of our athletic environment and support the Bulldogs.”
Lance is also the only female director of bands in the SEC, but she said opportunities for women in music education have progressed well beyond what she faced when her career started and even further beyond what Edythe McArthur faced in the 1950s.
“There are many women band directors around the country enjoying success in various positions throughout the secondary schools and at the university level,” Lance said. “In the early years of my career, one most often found opportunity for women to teach band at the middle school level. The greatest challenge is always balancing your personal life with the performance demands of your own program, the demanding schedule as an active clinician and adjudicator, and the recruiting and administrative challenges of running a band program. I think a positive work environment and colleagues that you respect and enjoy makes juggling all these responsibilities much easier and work much more fun.”