Since the early days of The Bright School, music and performance have been an integral part of a child’s education. This was the vision of founder Mary G. Bright, and it carries on today.
Music is one of the “special area” classes that rotates every six days, meaning students in grades PK-5 attend music class nearly once a week. Junior PK students have 20 minutes of music twice every six days. Students learn about sound, rhythm and pitch in class, and they learn songs and often hand motions for performances. Students in older grades may elect to join handbells or choir, which meet before school, and there are many children who take private lessons for piano, guitar, voice or violin on campus. If a child spends an entire elementary career at Bright, he or she will perform at least 20 times on stage.
In commenting about why she began her own school in 1913, Miss Bright once said, “I wanted to have a personal tie with my children, do things that would enrich their lives, give them music and art, train their hands as well as their brains.”
Bright Music Day
Indeed, Bright is enhancing musical education with more ways for children to experience music. Last October, the Atlanta Symphony Brass Quintet visited for a day, and many students got to try to blow into a tuba, trumpet, trombone and French horn. Bright Music Day was made possible by the Aldridge/Patten Fund for Visiting Artists, established by Henry Aldridge and Fontaine Patten Moore, both 1955 graduates. The quintet began the day with a short concert in the morning, and then held sessions for each grade. In the afternoon, the quintet performed again for grades K-5.
“Miss Bright was a person who believed very firmly the classroom experience was not enough. We had plays, movies, what she called manual training or shop, athletics and, boy, did we have music. We had a ton of music. We started with rhythm band in kindergarten and first grade and we had recorders and flutophones and ocarinas,” Dr. Aldridge told the students at the afternoon concert.
The visiting quintet included Michael Moore, tuba; Stuart Stephenson, trumpet; Michael Tiscione, trumpet; Nathan Zgonc, trombone, and Jaclyn Rainey, French horn. They played pieces easily recognized by the students as either nursery rhymes, children’s songs or themes from movies. The most popular pieces were “The Pink Panther” theme song by Henry Mancini, complete with finger snapping, and the “Star Wars” theme by John Williams.
The musicians talked about their instruments, explained how they make sounds and demonstrated each one by playing specific songs. Mr. Tiscione showed the students a conch shell and played it by blowing into it to show them an early trumpet. Ms. Rainey brought a 12-foot-long garden hose connected to a funnel that she played to demonstrate the French horn.
The second Bright Music Day will be held this fall.
Memories of Bright alumni, going back at least 75 years, almost always include playing “Country Gardens” on the recorder, and let’s be clear that there are no plans to discontinue that tradition.
One graduate from 1940 recalled playing “Country Gardens” at a Rotary Club meeting. “In our first number, ‘Country Gardens,’ I surpassed my classmates by missing seven or eight notes in the melody. When we played ‘Finlandia’ I hit a few shrill notes. So naturally when the Rotarians gave us a standing ovation at the end of the performance, I interpreted their enthusiastic applause not as a tribute to our musical abilities but as a tribute to a great school, my school,” alumna Ewing McAllester wrote in 1961 about her time at Bright.
The first mention of students playing “Country Gardens” was in the 1930s. The song, also known as “English Country Garden,” is a folk song that came into the mainstream after the turn of the 20th century and was first made popular by pianist Percy Grainger, who played it during World War I for the U.S. Army. It regained popularity in the 1960s with singer Jimmie Rodgers’ version. The current Bright School adaptation appears to be a conglomeration of many versions.
There have been changes to the way “Country Gardens” has been performed at Bright over the years. Early on, students played ocarinas and psalteries and later transitioned to recorders and autoharps. Ann Moore, who directed music from 1987 to 2015, started students singing the words to the song. And prior to her arrival, students sat in little wooden and metal chairs and played from sheet music on music stands during performances. “I had them memorize it. I said these kids are smart and they can memorize it,” Mrs. Moore said. “It was much easier this way.”
Stephanie Bowling, the current music teacher, can sympathize with fourth graders when they begin learning how to play the recorder. Fourth graders play “Country Gardens” at graduation with fifth graders. She had not heard of “Country Gardens” and did not know how to play a recorder before coming to Bright. “I had to join numerous Facebook groups to learn,” she said. But now she is a pro, and “Country Gardens” sounds just like it always has at Bright.
Teachers Through the Years
Different music teachers often bring some changes to types of performances, songs that are sung and curriculum in the classroom. Mrs. Bowling has added live instruments to accompany children singing at both Thanksgiving and Grandparents’ and Special Persons’ Day.
Fifth graders sang Rod Stewarts’ “Forever Young” at Grandparents’ Day this year, and their mouths dropped open when they heard the guitar, bass guitar, drums and piano jamming during their performance. “This is why I have the best job in the world,” Head of School O.J. Morgan told the Grandparents’ Day guests after the performance.
Performances are the most visible part of the music program, but the curriculum is what provides a strong foundation. Mrs. Bowling has continued Mrs. Moore’s teaching of folk songs, which is central to the Kodaly method.
“’Ring Around the Rosy’ and ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,’ for instance, are folk songs written with child’s voice. They can sing them well and in tune,” Mrs. Bowling said. “We start with simple concepts like high and low, fast and slow, and loud and soft.” She teaches pitch using solfege and expands the notes as children age, and she introduces students to well-known classical composers such as Chopin, Beethoven and Bach.
With so many performances over the time at Bright, Mrs. Bowling hopes children build their musical confidence through singing. She teaches students that the voice is a muscle and gets better with practice like shooting baskets. “If there is just one thing to learn at Bright it is everybody can sing. It is your built-in instrument,” she said.
Mrs. Moore and Mrs. Bowling followed a long line of music teachers. Alumni from across the decades remember learning different aspects of music. Dr. Aldridge recalled the second music teacher he had at Bright was Mary Jane Garmany, who led the students’ rhythm band. The third teacher was Edith Miller, who taught from 1952 until her sudden death in 1972, and he remembered listening to recordings of Haydn’s “Surprise Symphony” and Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” on a phonograph console. Mrs. Miller was an accomplished musician who was the accompanist for her husband, J. Oscar Miller, a professor of voice at the University of Chattanooga (now UTC) and head of the voice department at the Cadek Conservatory of Music. Mrs. Miller also taught at Cadek.
“She taught us where every instrument of an orchestra sat and to identify the different instruments, rhythm, how to read music, how to listen to music,” remembered Lucie Stephens Holland ’72. “We were very fortunate to have her.”
Today, it is clear music remains a strong part of the Bright experience. “There is something in our brains that clings to music. We use it to learn facts like the ABCs, and it fosters a different side of our brain to be innovative. It helps us know it’s OK to be sad and happy,” Mrs. Bowling said. “Without music, you’re not experiencing the fullness and richness of what the mind can hold.”
--Additional reporting by John Shearer ’72
Girls Preparatory School’s Cadek Conservatory of Music will have a second campus this fall at Bright. Cadek instructors will teach private lessons at Bright, greatly expanding the opportunity for more students to learn more types of instruments. Nearly 75 students took private lessons last year through individual instructors.
The conservatory, which was founded in 1904 by Joseph Ottokar Cadek, moved from UTC to GPS last summer. Before being relocated to the University of Chattanooga campus, it was located on Walnut Street in the area that is currently Unum property. The Cadek Conservatory at that time was a full conservatory of music, art, dance and expression. Sonya Cadek Murphy '47, granddaughter of the founder of Cadek Conservatory, recalls: "I will always consider myself very fortunate to have been able to attend The Bright School. During those early years, it is so important to learn appreciation for music and art, while developing team spirit in group musical events. These days, when everyone else is tweeting and Facebooking, developing other creative venues and values is enriching and so important for our minds, our lives. I have drawn from those learning experiences at Bright School for my whole life. I will never forget my schoolmates and my teachers. Special thanks to Eleanor Signaigo, my kindergarten sleeping teacher (who gave out gold stars to good sleepers); Isma Hamilton, our art teacher, with a twist of British royalty (she was so grand while being inspirational); thanks also to manual training where I learned how to carry a saw (teeth always held backwards—I never pick up a saw without remembering The Bright School), and the music classes, where I learned to play the ocarina (which I am sure inspired me to study the oboe and eventually play with the Chattanooga Symphony).
“I will never forget Fletcher Bright '43. That summer before World War II, we were at Pawleys Island together when he killed my pet fly. Then, late at night, he would hide under my bed and make scary ghost noises, sending me screaming into his mother's arms. Fletcher-definitely another innovative, creative member of that illustrious Bright Family. Thank you, Bright School for all this and much more.”
Bright Music Teachers
(based on school records; some years are estimates)
Morgan Bright 1927-1940
Sophia Brown 1940-1942
Frances Osborn 1942-1947
Ann Shelton Greene 1947-1950
Mary Jane Garmany 1950-1952
Edith Miller 1952-1972
Nan Dorrill 1972-1974
Don Munn 1974-1976
Libby Irwin 1976-1983
Joy Van Valkenburg 1983-1984
Jan Johnson 1984-1987
Ann Moore 1987-2015
Stephanie Bowling 2015-present