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The American Musical Instrument Society


The Curt Sachs Award 1998

Robert E. Eliason

Robert E. EliasonThe Board of Governors of the American Musical Instrument Society designated Robert E. Eliason the recipient of the Curt Sachs Award for the year 1998 in recognition of his distinguished contributions to the study of nineteenth-century American makers of brass and woodwind instruments, realized in his scholarly writings and his achievements as a curator of musical instruments at the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, and in acknowledgment of his dedicated service to the Society.

Eliason is well known for his extensive, pioneering research on nineteenth-century American makers of brass and woodwind instruments. His dedicated service to our Society includes his work as Treasurer (since 1978), as a long-standing member of the Journal Editorial Board, and as the program chairman for five annual meetings.

His academic and professional career has combined both scholarship and performance. Following his undergraduate years culminating in the B.M. in Music Education (University of Michigan, 1955), he toured Europe from 1955 to 1957 as a member of the Seventh Army Symphony Orchestra. He earned the M.M. in Performance in 1959 from the Manhattan School of Music, New York City, and played in the Kansas City Philharmonic as principal tuba during the following decade. In 1968 he earned the D.M.A. in Musicology from the University of Missouri, Kansas City, with a dissertation entitled "Brass Instrument Key and Valve Mechanisms Made in America with Special Reference to the D. S. Pillsbury Collection in Greenfield Village, Dearborn, Michigan."

In several ways, the subject of Eliason's doctoral dissertation is indicative of his productive scholarly career following his years of formal education. He received the Olds Scholarship Award for research on brass instruments in 1969 and continued his study in 1970 with a postdoctoral research grant from the Smithsonian Institution. In 1971 he was named Curator of Musical Instruments at the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. Serving in that position until 1985, Eliason contributed significantly to public awareness of the extent and accomplishments of brass and woodwind manufacturing in the United States during the first three-quarters of the nineteenth century through his research and publications, his collection and exhibition of representative historical examples of the instruments, and his presentation of concerts of period music using authentic instruments. During the years 1971-85, Eliason continued to perform professionally on the tuba with the Detroit Concert Band and the Mt. Clemens and Warren (Michigan) community orchestras. He gave frequent museum demonstrations on serpent, ophicleide, saxhorn, and musical glasses, and performed on historical instruments at the Library of Congress and with the Smithsonian Social Orchestra & Quadrille Band.

Following his resignation from the Henry Ford Museum, Eliason has worked as a technical writer for several firms engaged in the application of computer technology. In 1988, he and his wife, Ellen, founded Toad Hill Music, a computerized music typesetting business. He also performs regularly with the Yankee Brass Band, the Dartmouth Symphony Orchestra, and the Heritage Brass Quartet.

Over a period of almost thirty years, scholarly articles by Robert E. Eliason have appeared in the following periodicals and reference works: The Galpin Society Journal, The Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society, The Herald, The Selmer Bandwagon, TUBA Journal, The International Trombone Association Journal, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, The New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments, The New Grove Dictionary of American Music, The New Harvard Dictionary of Music, and The Tuba Source Book. He is also the author of three published books: Keyed Bugles in the United States (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1972), Graves & Company Musical Instrument Makers (Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village, 1975), and Early American Brass Makers (Brass Press, 1979). Although Eliason has written extensively on musical instrument collections and the history of brass instruments, most of his published studies concentrate on the production, design, and use of American instruments of the nineteenth-century, specifically brass and woodwind. His ground-breaking research has unearthed significant information on the following American makers: Nathan Adams, J. Lathrop Allen, George Catlin, Charles G. Christman, Isaac Fiske, Samuel Graves, John Meacham, Thomas D. Paine, Benjamin F. Quinby, and E. G. Wright. Eliason has also written two important (unpublished) works that he has generously made available to interested scholars: "Early American Makers of Woodwind and Brass Musical Instruments" (a directory of basic information gleaned mostly from city directories) and "The Hall Letters, Describing the Careers of Nineteenth-Century Musicians D. C. Hall and Rhodolph Hall of Lyme, N.H." besides his productivity as an author, Eliason's professional activities have included work on exhibitions of musical instruments and related items. He designed an exhibition of the Don Essig Collection of Musical Instruments at the University of Missouri-Warrensburg in 1969 and went on to create and supervise the Music Instrument Gallery at the Henry Ford Museum, an exhibit space of 3000 square feet devoted to the display of instruments used in the United States. He has also served as a consultant for "Grand Concert! New Hampshire Town Bands," a special exhibition at the New Hampshire Historical Society that traces the history of bands, instrument making, and music composition and publishing in that state.

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