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Tennessee Tech celebrates Bryans legacy of music
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Warren County’s greatest contribution to the musical arts, composer Charles Faulkner Bryan, will be celebrated at Tennessee Tech University this fall in the centenary year of his birth.
Leading in the revival of interest in his music will be the professional orchestra named in his honor, the Bryan Symphony Orchestra, which will be marking its own 50th anniversary in 2013. One or more of Bryan’s compositions will be featured in the opening concert of the BSO next October 9, according to Dan Allcott, the orchestra’s music director and conductor.
 Bryan was born in McMinnville July 26, 1911, and grew up in the family’s 19th Century ancestral home, Falconhurst in the Faulkner Springs community. The two-story brick Federalist-style home remains a landmark today, currently occupied by another of Warren County’s creative geniuses, Roy Davis, who explored and mapped Higginbotham Cave and in the 1950s developed it as an internationally known tourist destination under the name Cumberland Caverns.
After his formal education in music, Bryan served on the faculty of Peabody College, now part of Vanderbilt University, 1947-52, and later taught at Tennessee Polytechnic Institute, now Tennessee Technological University, in Cookeville.  Tennessee Tech’s stately fine arts building on North Dixie Avenue, housing the music and visual arts programs, was named in honor of the Warren County native.
 Bryan was among the first significant figures in American music to recognize the value of indigenous folk songs. With a technologically primitive and bulky sound recorder, he traveled into the most remote places in Southern Appalachia to capture and preserve the authentic music of people who rarely if ever had contact with people and art forms more than a mile or two from their birthplace.
He wove those folk idioms into large compositions for orchestra and chorus, and thereby brought this regional music to worldwide audiences. One of his best known works, “Singin’ Billy: A Folk Opera,” premiered in 1952. Another of his folklore-inspired pieces, “The Bell Witch Cantata,” had its premier in New York’s storied Carnegie Hall. Because he championed the home-spun music of the common people, he is often described as the “American Kodaly,” a reference to the celebrated Hungarian composer of the early 20th Century who also promoted the village music of his rustic compatriots
Bryan died suddenly August 7, 1955, victim of a presumed heart attack. His widow, Edith Hillis Bryan, was a high school teacher of Latin and English, and is fondly remembered by grateful students, including this writer. The Bryans’ son, Dr Charles F. Bryan Jr, retired in 2008 as executive director of the Virginia Historical Society and is expected to take part in his late father’s centenary observances at TTU.
Also slated to participate is biographer Carolyn Livingston, whose “Charles F Bryan: His Life and Music,” is the authoritative record of the composer and musicologist. (University of Tennessee Press ISBN 1-57233-220-4)
At the request of the Warren County Commission, the Tennessee Historical Society erected a memorial plaque in 1977 in the McMinnville downtown park .  The inscription reads: “A native of Warren County, Bryan was a pioneer in the study of American folk music.  Through his talented efforts this distinctively American form of musical expression gained worldwide fame and appreciation.  He worked closely with the people of the Southern mountains and coves in the study of this music, but his work earned a permanent place of honor and distinction in the highest ranks of academic and scholarly achievement. Presented in his memory by a grateful community.”
“In the late 1950s and 1960s in folk music people were looking at the way this music” originated and evolved, Allcott observed. Folk-music superstars like Pete Seeger and others built their careers and reputations on the pioneering work of Bryan, he said.
As part of the Bryan retrospective, Allcott will be guest speaker August 18 at the Rotary Club of McMinnville (Noon Rotary). While in McMinnville he plans to visit Falconhurst and to see the nearby creek where a very young Charles Faulkner Bryan killed a large turtle to convert its shell into a sound-chamber for a homemade plucked-string  instrument. Known as the turtle-back ukele, that artifact can be seen in glass display case in the Bryan Fine Arts Building at TTU.