A Message from the National Historian on Sinfonia’s 125th Birthday

Dear Brothers,

One hundred twenty-four years ago, Father O. E. Mills set the Sinfonia Fraternity on its course. Until his death in 1920, he gently helped the fraternity stay on its course from different places of loving influence. As your National Historian, I feel moved to write to you all about what we see in his writings.

While it was easy enough to have the men associate for the pleasure of being around each other, he purposefully refocused their efforts toward heightening that mutual affection towards “the development of the best and truest fraternal spirit.” This phrase, which Brother Burrell pointed out in 1908 should be known as well as the key of C to Brothers of Sinfonia, seems to refer to something far more sublime than mere association. He saw the bond as something of a higher importance.

In his 1909 greetings to the Fraternity, he was direct:

“As I was in some measure instrumental and thus responsible for the beginning of a movement that has, during the past ten years, brought many young men in our musical institutions of learning closer together in friendly relations, who, with clasped hands, looking into each other’s eyes, have pledged themselves to be brothers and friends in deed and truth forever, I am deeply impressed with the responsibility we assume when we invite men to become one with us, bound together by fraternal ties that are never to be broken.”

Imagine for a moment what this might have looked like—men generally in their late teens and early twenties, illuminated only by the gas lights and candles in the chapter room, actually looking at the other directly in his eyes when sharing the fraternal handclasp. At that moment, there would have been no room for sarcasm or jealousy, as those would certainly destroy the fraternal bond that we, by our own word, are seeking to develop.

The world outside the Fraternity was already filled with dissensions (“His voice really isn’t my cup of tea”), passive aggressiveness (“Your playing is definitely accurate to what the page says, so that’s good”), selfishness (“I’m here for my music degree so I can get out of here and get a job”), gossip (“I don’t know if you know this, but Pete actually stole James’s recital venue so he could get his degree before he could; everyone knows this”).

The first Brothers of Sinfonia were sick of these. They were hungry for what they knew was right, and Father Mills showed them what this path looked like. Instead of dissensions, it looked like optimism (“He is so passionate about his voice’s development; every time I hear it, it has grown in expression and strength!”). Instead of passive aggressiveness, it looked like sincerity (“I really admire how attentive a musician you are, and I can’t wait to see your next performance”). Instead of selfishness, it looked like sacrifice (“I have a full plate in my schedule this semester, but if I can lighten the loads of my classmates somehow, I’ll have something more valuable with my degree than the paper itself—a stronger connection with others.”) Instead of gossip, it looked like silence on matters not known to be the case.

Father Mills taught us in 1910 that it is supremely beautiful “to see men mutually interested in each other, so much so, that like ‘David and Jonathan’ they are ready to sacrifice, even to the laying down of their lives, for their brothers.” This mutual interest could not exist without everyone in the room being committed to the development of the best and truest fraternal spirit.

Let us ever be mindful of our Object, not in a trivial sense to be occasionally recalled as an empty set of words, but as a true orientation for each of us in our own lives. Remember this Founder’s Day that even though Father Mills died 102 years ago, his ideals and presence are still keenly felt across his movement.

Happy Founder’s Day, Brothers!

Long live The SINFONIA!

Yours in Phi Mu Alpha,

Andrew Owen
National Historian

Andrew Owen National Historian