The Ossian Everett Mills Music Mission
“Back in the dawn of history in the days of Troy we learn that when the pest rages beneath the city walls it was driven away by music. In Rome 364 B.C. Etrurian flute players dancing through the streets banished the plague which was depopulating the city. The harp cured melancholia as demonstrated in the case of Saul. Melodious sounds were often effective in freeing the victim of demoniacal possession. Pythagoras wrought wonderful cures through the systematic ministry of melody. Many physicians prescribed music for the recovery from madness. The great Galen recommended melodious strains as an antidote for the bite of a viper or scorpion.”
- “Music as a Healing Power” from The New Old Healing by Henry Wood, 1908.
Central to being a Sinfonian is the belief that the manly musician is one who loves music, not for the sake of music itself, but as a means to elevating others. Through the Ossian Everett Mills Music Mission (MMM), dedicated Sinfonians exemplify this principle as acts of musical service. In keeping with Mills’ deep interest in the social and moral welfare of students, the MMM also instills a sense of social responsibility and charity in the Fraternity’s members. Each year, Sinfonians touch the lives of thousands through the MMM.
The MMM honors the memory of Sinfonia’s Founder by carrying on his work to uplift those less fortunate with music. Mills’ “Song and Flower Mission,” was one of the largest and most well-known charities in Boston at the time, and is one of the first known organized efforts to improve the quality of patients’ lives with music. The MMM was created in 1998 as a modern day revival of our Founder’s charitable spirit and work. Today it is Sinfonia’s official philanthropy, and the only ongoing, large-scale service project in the Fraternity’s history. Through this grassroots project, Sinfonians nationwide perform annually for tens of thousands of nursing home and hospital patients. As brothers exemplify the spirit of self-sacrifice, they more personally experience music’s power to elevate the human spirit, and grow better as men from helping others.
Ossian Mills devoted himself to uplifting the souls of the less fortunate with the beauty and power of music. In the 1880s Mills had originated the idea of visiting the residents of the Boston hospitals on Easter and Christmas day, and he carried on this charity for over thirty years. Most frequently he took the Flower Mission to the City and Homeopathic Hospitals. On occasions when more participants were available, two separate parties were formed, and visits were also made to Vincent Memorial Hospital, St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, Good Samaritan Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital. When two parties were available, the visit to the City Hospital was led by Ossian Mills and the other party was led at times by his brother, Clinton James Mills.
The number of participants in the Flower Mission varied from year to year, but Mills was typically accompanied by ten to twenty students from the New England Conservatory who provided musical entertainment in the form of vocal and instrumental solos (usually on violin, mandolin and guitar), and by the Euterpe Club of Boston, a small chamber ensemble which consisted of various combinations of mandolins, guitars, violin, cello and bells. Recitations were sometimes given, and the musical entertainment was always accompanied by the distribution of flowers, cards and good cheer.
The continuation of the Flower Mission was dependent upon the generosity of the public. Flowers that were used in the morning Easter services were collected from churches by Mills and his assistants, and many of the florists who were paid filled orders with an amount of flowers that “far exceeded the amount that the funds supplied would usually cover.” By 1895 it was written that Mills “has now only to announce his annual tour to receive as many flowers as he and his assistants can distribute in a whole day.” Over the years, his Flower Mission gained a reputation as one of the most generous and beautiful of Easter charities and was awaited in the hospitals with much expectancy. As one nurse remarked, “What would Easter be without Mr. Mills, the music and the flowers?”
The many hours spent at the bedside of the unfortunates brought returning hope and confidence to all. As the singers walked through the wards singing carols and hymns, each room which was the scene of silent suffering so many weary days of the year was changed into a place of good cheer and happiness. Mills was also joined by assistants who gathered the flowers used in the morning Easter and Christmas church services and distributed them through the city hospitals. A report in the New England Conservatory Quarterly (May 1898) describes their work:
"Easter Sunday witnessed again the beautiful charity that a favored few of the Conservatory students are privileged to dispense, in the annual visit to the city hospitals with flowers and music. About 50,000 flowers were given away, or some fifteen bushels, - enough to supply each patient with a generous cluster. There were pathetic scenes as the flower girls went from cot to cot, for many of the patients were from the streets, poor and discouraged as well as sick, and a kind word, except from their attendants, or a gift of anything so suggestive of beautiful sentiment as a flower, was almost a faded memory with them."
Sinfonians are called to serve mankind through ideals and music, and the MMM is one means by which Sinfonians unite as a Brotherhood to fulfill this noble obligation. A unique force exists when music and love are combined to bring peace and comfort to those in need, and through the MMM Sinfonians gain first-hand knowledge of that powerful combination. The Sinfonian will find the MMM useful as a practical training ground whereby he may gain first-hand knowledge of that force, as he devotes himself to using it for the uplift of his fellow man.
If you have a suggestion for a future Mills Music Mission, feel free to contact us.