“Horace True was cocked and primed for a story last night at Auburn Hall, but he didn’t get a chance. He was far too busy.

“’How many singing schools did you ever teach?’ he was asked.

“’I don’t know, maybe 30,’ he said.

“True, decked out in a white top hat, waved his baton to open his singing school’s public concert.”

That’s the way an 1894 newspaper story began its account of a fascinating Turner resident who was known as the singing master throughout Androscoggin County.

Horace True brought music into the lives of countless young people in this area.


His enthusiasm spanned several decades of participation in brass bands and teaching the beauty of song. He also was noted for his farming skills well into his later years. He died in the fall of 1914 at the age of 88 at his home.

Sterling Hinkley of Turner, great-grandson of the singing master, shared some historical notes and copies of news clippings with me this week. Those interviews with True capture the music teacher’s extraordinary passion for voice training, as well as the depth of his knowledge of local musical compositions that were familiar songs to families of his time.

“My father, Col. True, was a natural musician and from him I inherited my love of the art,” True told a reporter more than 100 years ago. “The first singing school that I attended was in the schoolhouse and the teacher was trained in the old style. We had from 30 to 75 pupils in different singing schools in those days. It was the only way to get a musical education and about all the young people attended.”

True had a talent for storytelling and a wry sense of humor.

“Oh, yes. The oldtime singing school was a great institution,” he told a reporter. “This talk about matches being made in heaven is all nonsense. There were more made in those singing schools than in any place celestial or terrestrial. It was there that the young people all assembled and there is something in the human voice that attracts and draws greater than all other things. The young men always went home with the girls and you know what that means.”

In his description of his singing master career, True said, “The first school I ever taught was out-from-under-teach-everything day school. It was up in the little town of Hartford Center. I got $10 a month and boarded around. I taught five and a half days a week and I took my chances on boarding around.”


He said he taught four terms in East and North Auburn, three terms in Turner, five terms in the North Parish and Turner Centre.

“Then I spread out to East Buckfield, West Minot and the old Moores schoolhouse in Greene,” True said.

True’s recollection of his singing school schedule was an hour of practice and then a recess, followed by another hour of practice. This routine was repeated through the day.

Each singing school’s course of study closed with a public concert attended by families and friends. One of the old newspaper stories told of a concert at Auburn Hall.

As one of his interviews drew to an end, True reached up on a shelf filled with many old and new singing books. He explained how styles of teaching changed and he showed several songs in the books which bore the names of towns in and near Androscoggin County. It was an old custom for local composers to name their songs for their hometowns.

“Some of these tunes were too good to die,” True said, as he pointed out pages titled Portland, Hallowell, Turner and others, including Lewiston and Auburn.


The teacher’s great-grandson still owns True’s heavy metal tuning fork that the teacher had a local blacksmith cast for him. Hinkley said his distinguished ancestor paid 50 cents to have it made.

Horace True was born in Turner. He was a direct descendant of Gov. William Bradford of Plymouth, who arrived on the Mayflower. True was married for 60 years to Elizabeth Ellis.

Although the numerous stories highlight True’s vivid storytelling of the singing school days and the era of local brass bands, Sterling Hinkley found a surprising entry in the detail-filled diaries his great-grandfather kept.

An 1884 entry said simply, “Sunday. Married.”

Dave Sargent is a freelance writer and a native of Auburn. He can be reached by sending email to [email protected]

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