Women’s History Month Throwback Thursday: The Little Rock Musical Coterie

In 1893 Mrs. Elizabeth Pierce Lyman (pictured at left), Mrs. Susie Pierce Stephens, and Mrs. Effie Miller Williams were invited to the home of Mrs. Cora Cross Marshall for tea and the express purpose of forming a music club. From this grew the organization now known as the Little Rock Musical Coterie.

Meetings of the Little Rock Musical Coterie were first held in members’ homes, and by January 1904, the organization had become well enough established to be featured in Arkansas Life magazine in an article marking its first decade as `a notable institution for the promotion of musical talent and higher culture * * * the leading organization of its kind in the Southeast.’

Meetings, with concerts, were held monthly from September through May, and from members’ homes moved to various city locations, including the Masonic Temple, the Christian Temple at Tenth and Louisiana, the Hotel Marion, Robinson Auditorium, and the Arkansas Arts Center.

From its modest beginnings, the coterie was more than just an opportunity for like-minded individuals to get together to make music. Perhaps because the membership has always included a good percentage of music teachers, the main interest and concern has been to foster musical talent in the young and provide financial support wherever possible.

In 1898 similar music clubs around the Nation formed the National Federation of Music Clubs [NFMC], which Arkansas joined in 1915, becoming one of the first States to affiliate with the national organization.

In 1904 the coterie voted to send $25 to the NFMC convention toward prize money for an American composition contest, the first such contribution recorded in the history of American music clubs.

In 1973 the coterie was incorporated as a nonprofit corporation and received tax-exempt status. Over the years, the Little Rock Musical Coterie has been in the forefront of movements that later resulted in the formation of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, the Arkansas Choral Society, the Arkansas Opera Theatre, and the Community Concerts organization.

Annually, the coterie sponsors or promotes competitions and awards designed to encourage young musicians. The Hildegard Smith Award, in the amount of $1,000, is given each year to a university student. The Crusade for Strings competition, part of a national program of the same name, is open to elementary and secondary school students, winners receiving cash prizes and an opportunity to perform on a coterie program.

Programs for young musicians are organized and promoted through 11 junior music clubs and junior festivals are held in February.

The coterie contributes to the Butterfield Endowment Fund, which provides scholarships to the opera workshop and festival at Inspiration Point in Eureka Springs, presents the Stillman-Kelly Scholarship quadrennially, and the Wendell Irish Viola Award.

In the of cutbacks and budget constraints, organizations like the Little Rock Musical Coterie fill the void in school music curricula, as well as touch many other areas of the community through its actions in the cause of music.

On the occasion of the 100th anniversary, Senator Dale Bumpers delivered an address on the floor of the Senate extolling the virtues of the LR Musical Coterie.