Warren County fourth-graders encountered music making on the big stage recently when they visited Tennessee Tech University and the Bryan Symphony Orchestra.
One of their number, Irving College student Zoey Weber, wound up in the spotlight as guest conductor in a playbill featuring the music of composers ranging from Italian opera Titan Giuseppe Verdi to American contemporary Joan Tower.
“For most of these students this is the first time they’ve been in a live music concert,” Irving College teacher Heather Williamson said. “It’s also the first time they’ve been on the campus of a large university. They were pretty much blown away.”
“The cultural enrichment of a live concert by a professional symphony orchestra has great value in and of itself. But just traveling outside their home ZIP code may have an even greater impact on many of these children,” said Chad Graves, vice president of The Rotary Club of McMinnville, a BSO community partner in sponsoring the concerts.
BSO music director and conductor Dan Allcott has been immensely popular for his lively, child-friendly interactions with students at the annual education concerts. During Monday’s program, he called Irving College’s Zoey to join him on the podium. At center stage before 2,300 fourth-graders from five Upper Cumberland counties, she assumed the duties of assistant conductor under Allcott’s direction.
“All of us in Warren County are proud of Zoey for her confidence and poise in taking the conductor’s baton in hand and leading this first-class professional orchestra,” Graves remarked. “And we deeply appreciate all of the students, their teachers and principals who represented Warren County with their positive behavior and good citizenship.”
The concert was staged in Memorial Gymnasium, a venerated landmark on the Tech quadrangle. For their restroom break after the 45-minute musical performance the 496 Warren County pupils, teachers and chaperones were bused to the massive Hooper Eblen Center.
“Many of them have never seen a stadium or arena like this,” Williamson offered. “They were blown away.”
The Bryan Symphony is celebrating its 60th year as the only professional orchestra regularly performing in any rural area of Tennessee. Consisting of professional players, Tech music faculty members and advanced students, the orchestra is named in honor of the late Charles Faulkner Bryan, a McMinnville native who gained international recognition for his compositions celebrating the folklore and indigenous music of Southern Appalachia. His Bell Witch Cantata premiered in New York’s famed Carnegie Hall. Other major works include The White Spiritual Symphony, The Birmingham Suite and Singin’ Billy, a folk opera first staged at Tennessee Polytechnic Institute, the predecessor of TTU.
Faulkner’s ancestral home, a Federalist-style two-story mansion, stands today along the banks of Charles Creek a few miles north of McMinnville.
The BSO education concerts date back to 1976, and in the first several years served only the students of Putnam County. Warren County joined the series in 2011 with Rotary Club underwriting and promotion. Soon afterwards, White, Cumberland and Jackson counties came onboard as the orchestra expanded its educational outreach.
The enrichment experiences are a thoroughly collaborative community effort, McMinnville Rotary president Michael Barnes explained.
“Our contributions are combined with support from individual donors, foundations and organizations to make these events possible for our youth,” he noted.
Among the other supporters are the Tennessee Arts Commission (TAC) and the GFWC Cookeville Junior Women’s Club, according to BSO executive director Rachel Wingo. Colorful and imaginative automobile license plates, available from any Tennessee county clerk’s office, provide funding for TAC grants for hundreds of creative arts projects and programs in the state.