Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia | Alpha Rho | University of North Carolina

Chapter History


Phi Mu Alpha came to North Carolina on February 24, 1926, with the chartering of the Alpha Rho chapter at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. The chapter was formed partly under the leadership of Paul J. Weaver (Alpha Gamma’23), who was chair of the UNC Music Department from 1919 to 1929, when he left for Cornell. Weaver was the first president of the Southern Conference for Music Education (1922-1923) and was editor of what is now the Music Educator’s Journal. Weaver was actively involved at the national level of MENC during the 1920s, working alongside Peter W. Dykema, who served as national president of Phi Mu Alpha from 1922 to 1928. Perhaps Weaver’s acquaintance with Dykema had a direct influence on Alpha Rho’s installation. Another faculty member involved in the chartering was William Dey, chair of the Department of Romance Languages, and namesake of Dey Hall on campus. Prior to its chartering in 1926, the group was known as Lambda Phi Epsilon, originally developing in 1924 or 1925.

Though not always as vibrant as it is now, Alpha Rho has played a prominent role in the fraternity’s history in the state, contributing many prominent leaders to the field of music education in North Carolina, as well as assisting in the installation of at least five other chapters. Four of North Carolina’s resident province governors have had ties to Alpha Rho or to UNC-Chapel Hill. Until the chartering of the Beta Tau chapter at the University of Miami in 1937, it was the only chapter in the Southeast, and until the chartering of Gamma Kappa in 1940, was the only chapter in North Carolina.

North Carolina was represented at a national event for the first time in 1928, when Charles L. Thomas (Alpha Rho ’27) attended the national convention in Evanston, Illinois. After what must have been a vigorous start for the chapter, membership was down to eight members in 1930, following the onset of the Great Depression. An article that appeared in the Sinfonian Handbook that year seemed to indicate that the chapter members even considered disbanding the chapter.

The challenges of 1930 seemed to have been overcome within a few short years. In 1933, the chapter sponsored a concert by Serge Rachmaninoff and obtained a chapter room on the second floor of Hill Hall. The chapter used the room intermittently until the mid 1990s, when it was taken over as a full-time computer lab. The chapter room still bears the greek letters Phi Mu and Alpha painted above the door.

Alpha Rho hosted the Eastern Province Convention, the forerunner of our modern province workshops, in 1937. Eastern Province Governor Harold Schwab (Alpha) presided. Among those in attendance were brothers from the Alpha chapter at New England Conservatory, the Alpha Nu chapter at Eastman, the Alpha Zeta chapter at Penn State, and the Beta Gamma chapter at Columbia. Events included a tour of the Duke University campus, a dinner at the Carolina Inn, and an initiation in Hill Hall Auditorium.

For many years through the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, Alpha Rho held a very prominent place among the chapters nationwide. Alpha Rho served as big brother chapter to Delta Sigma at the University of South Carolina in 1949, Zeta Psi in 1955, Rho Tau and Rho Psi in 1967, and for a brief time, to the North Carolina Alpha Colony at what was then Elon College.

Many prominent music educators were initiates of the Alpha Rho chapter. Benjamin Swalin, founder of the North Carolina Symphony, is believed to have been an honorary member, though there is no documentation of his initiation. Earl Slocum (’34) served as president of the North Carolina Music Teachers Association from 1945 to 1947, and as Director of Bands at UNC for many years. Herbert Hazelman (’41) served as editor of the North Carolina Music Educator and director of Bands at Grimsley High School. J. Kimball Harriman (’37) served as president of the North Carolina Music Educators Association from 1949 to 1951. James Christian Pfohl (’31) was appointed Director of the Davidson College Music Department at age 19 and was a key figure in the founding of the Brevard Music Center. It was Pfohl who inspired North Carolina Governor Terry Sanford to develop what became the North Carolina School of the Arts. Thor Johnson (’31) served as conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony, and was Sinfonia’s first recipient of the National Man of Music Award in 1952. Harold Dyer (’30), chair of the UNC Music Department, was also an initiate of the chapter.

As was the case with many chapters across the nation, World War II affected activity at Alpha Rho. Alpha Rho brother Michael Holt {’41) was taken prisoner of war in 1942. Gamma Kappa’s membership was reduced to four people in 1944, only four years after it was chartered. In an article in The Sinfonian, Alpha Rho's faculty advisor and province governor Earl Slocum wrote:

"During these turbulent times it behooves all of us to keep the purpose of Sinfonia well in mind. Let us not only encourage loyalty to the Alma Mater but also to The United States of America. Music should, and will, play an important role in our National Defense Program and we, as Sinfonians, want to be worthy of our Motto, “The manly musician and the musicanly man in America.”

In the decades following World War II, new life was breathed into North Carolina’s chapters. Wallace Kuralt, brother of CBS news personality Charles Kuralt, was initiated in 1957, as was Woody Durham in 1961. One of Alpha Rho’s most well loved alumni, Andy Griffith, was initiated in 1945. Many years later, Griffith recalled his experiences in the chapter:

"I have always been proud to be associated with Phi Mu Alpha. I was not a music major when I was inducted and we only had one room there at Chapel Hill but I remember all the signals ... I don’t remember a lot of our meetings and what we discussed but I do so fondly remember going into the Phi Mu Alpha room when no one else was there and listening to my Ezio Pinza, Mozart aria album and dreaming of the day when I would be on the Metropolitan stage. It didn’t happen, I’m just an actor who sings in the shower. But it was a good time."

In 1952, Alpha Rho alumnus Thor Johnson was awarded the first Man of Music Award. Johnson was a Winston-Salem native who had become well known as the director of the Cincinnati Symphony. During the 1930s, Johnson had been actively involved with the Alpha Rho chapter, serving as president and historian. A Moravian, he actively supported the traditional music of his faith. Upon his death on January 16, 1975, he was buried in God’s Acre, the Moravian cemetery in Winston-Salem.

In 1962, Alpha Rho was named the most outstanding chapter in the nation.

The Greensboro Alumni Chapter was formed and chartered in 1962, apparently in part under the leadership of Alpha Rho alumnus J. Kimball Harriman. Nine of the twelve charter members of the group were Alpha Rho alumni, among them Herbert Hazelman, Harry Shipman, Harriman, and Jay Lambeth. Edgar Q. Rooker was another member of the group. Activities of this group are not known. Regardless, the strong precence of Alpha Rho alumni in this endeavor is another indication of Alpha Rho's strong leadership and potential through the years.

Alpha Rho chapter came off re-organizational status with the initiation of the spring 1990 class. With the reactivation of Alpha Rho, the decision was made to hold the 1991 workshop in Chapel Hill. Compared to the previous year, this workshop was anything but quiet. With Alpha Rho present for the first time in several years, the total attendance was double that of the year before.

In 1992, chapter president Brian Miller and John Heath spend a couple of hours going through the dust-covered cabinets used by the chapter. They began to uncover much of the chapter’s lost history, which they began to slowly piece together. Among the items they found were framed letters from North Carolina governors J. C. B. Ehringhaus and Terry Sanford, as well as chapter correspondence from the 1930s. Under Brian’s enthusiastic leadership, Alpha Rho’s meteoric rise to what it is today began to take off. One of the chapter’s major activities that spring was a pilgrimage to the grave of John Philip Sousa (one of Brian’s heros) in Washington, DC.

1995 brought the initiation of Ryan Travis Ripperton. Four years later, Ryan would join the staff of the Fraternity's national headquarters in Evansville, Indiana. Over the course of Ryan's ten year career with the Fraternity, Ryan rose through several positions, serving as National Executive Director since 2003.

In 2000, Sinfonian James Moeser (a 1958 initiate of the Alpha Iota chapter at the University of Texas) was appointed as the University's Chancellor. Over the course of Moeser's eight year administration, he did much to advance the arts at the university, including the renovation of Memorial Hall, the long-range planning for the campus' Arts Common, fundraising for the new Kenan Music Building (opened in 2008) and the appointment of the university's first Executive Director for the Arts.

Province workshops were held at Carolina in 1997, 2002, and 2007. A special guest at the 2002 workshop was National President Darhyl Ramsey.

At the 2005 province workshop held at Western Carolina University, Alpha Rho brother Charles W. Patton was elected to the office of Collegiate Province Representative, the first Alpha Rho brother elected to the position since it was established in the early 1980s. The following year, Charles would be re-elected to a second term, the first CPR to do so in over a decade.

Alpha Rho continues to gain strength, on campus, across the state, and across the nation. It is a history and heritage that all Sinfonians associated with the University of North Carolina can be proud of.

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