For more than 110 years, Knapp School of Music has operated on College Avenue in Elmira. In all that time, the business has only had five different owners: Frederick H. Knapp and his wife Anna, Harl J. Robacher, Donald Hartman, and Robert Melnyk.
|Knapp School of Music, 104 College Ave., 2018|
Frederick H. Knapp
|Knapp’s Mandolin and Guitar Orchestra, 1904|
Frederick Knapp seated front row center
for Knapp School of Music,|
Elmira Star-Gazette, September 14, 1911
On May 20, 1919, Knapp hosted A.A. Farland, the world’s greatest banjoist. Farland played a recital at the Park Church with Knapp’s 35-member mandolin orchestra serving as an opening act. In the 1920s and the early 1930s, Knapp and students of the school played at events throughout the region. The school’s full orchestra played at the Knights of Columbus ball in 1920, its banjo sextet played at the Sons of Italy in 1927, and its 12-piece banjo band played an evening concerts at En-Joie Health Park in Endicott in 1930. At the park concert, the musicians dressed in Hawaiian costumes and were joined by ten tap dancers. There were also annual recitals by the students at the Hedding Church Annex.
At 10:30am on December 20, 1934, Frederick Knapp died unexpectedly of a massive heart attack at his home at 104 College Avenue. He was 56 years old. He had spent 35 years teaching music and was noted as one of the first local musicians to realize that “jazz” would become widely popular.
Anna A. Knapp
Just months before Frederick Knapp died, he had
moved his studio from its longtime location at 112 College Avenue to 104
College Avenue where he had remodeled a house and equipped it with a series of
modern studios. His wife, Anna, continued to run the school at that location.
The annual recitals also continued with nearly 500 people attending the
performance in 1935. In 1938, local newspapers started running advertisements
for instruments for sale at the school. By 1943, Knapp’s was selling radios and
phonographs as well as banjos, violins, saxophones, xylophones, and accordions.
|Advertisement from Elmira Star-Gazette, January 1, 1935|
Harl J. Robacher
Harl Robacher became proprietor and director of
Knapp School of Music in 1944. He also operated the American Musical Institute
in Syracuse and worked as a basketball promoter. He is credited as playing a
key role in bringing professional basketball back to Elmira in 1946. He created
the Knapp School of Music basketball team, made up of established sports stars,
as a member of the semi-pro Pioneer League. During his time as director of the
music school, students continued playing at banquets, balls, and recitals. Robacher
ran the school until June 21, 1953 when, at 12:25pm, he died unexpectedly of a
massive heart attack at his home at 104 College Avenue. He was 50 years old.
|Harl J. Robacher, Elmira Star-Gazette, June 22, 1953|
Hartman remembered his father driving him to Knapp’s for banjo lessons when he
was a child. When Frederick Knapp died in 1934, Hartman was hired as an
instructor at the school. Eighteen years later he became manager and after
Robacher’s passing, became owner of Knapp School of Music. Throughout the 1950s
and 1960s, the school expanded with as many as 40 affiliated studios within a 75-mile
radius of Elmira including in Owego, Corning, Ithaca, Bath, Canandaigua, and
Hornell, as well as, Tunkhannock, Montrose, Williamsport, and Dushore,
Pennsylvania. The school also had a weekly radio program on Saturdays on WENY.
|Donald Hartman at Knapp School of Music, |
Elmira Star-Gazette, July 23, 1963
By 1963, the “Eight Week Trail Plan” had been established at the school. The plan harkened back to Frederick Knapp’s early idea of giving all students a chance to learn music without having to make a large financial investment to start. Students paid for eight weeks of lessons and were given an instrument to use for free as a way to determine if they were really interested in serious instruction. After the trial period, they could purchase the instrument and continue with lessons.
|Robert Melnyk at the Knapp School of Music, |
Elmira Star-Gazette, January 25, 1966