Bright School students slapped bongo and conga drums, tapped a marimba with mallets and took great pleasure in banging a cymbal and gong. Through this loud conglomeration of sound, students learned about each instrument, how to play it and appreciate it. This is the experience of Bright Music Days, which included a celebration of the two alumni who made it possible.
The Lee University Percussion Ensemble visited Bright for two days as artists in residence, funded by the generosity of two Bright alumni Fontaine Patten Moore and Henry Aldridge, who were honored with the school’s highest alumni awards.
Ms. Moore and Dr. Aldridge, both from the class of 1955, created the Aldridge/Patten Fund for Visiting Artists last year to bring musicians to their alma mater.
Last year, the Atlanta Symphony Brass Quintet visited for one school day, performed two concerts and held workshops for each grade to learn about and try to play the instruments.
During a special event on Nov. 8, Head of School O.J. Morgan presented the Jack McDonald ’45 Service Award to Ms. Moore. This award is given to alumni who have contributed significantly to the welfare of Bright School and exemplified the highest standards of the school through selfless devotion to the interests of the school. Previous recipients include Gordon P. Street Jr. ’50 and Lucy Bright Thatcher ’41.
Mr. Morgan mentioned Ms. Moore’s contributions to scholarship and music at the school, which has been a part of her family since its founding. “Her family has very deep roots in our history. Her great uncle, George Holmes Patten, was the school’s first board chair, and his nephew, her father, Lupton Patten, followed as the second board chair, each serving the school in that capacity for a total of 38 years,” he said. Her parents, sisters, son and many cousins also graduated from Bright.
“I’m deeply appreciative of this honor. Bright School has meant a great deal to me and my family,” Ms. Moore said.
Austin Center ’85, chairman of the board of trustees, presented the Fletcher Bright ’43 Distinguished Alumnus Award to Dr. Aldridge. This award is given to alumni who have exhibited brilliant and distinguished lifelong work in a significant field of endeavor or service. Previous recipients include Mai Bell Hurley ’40 and Franklin McCallie ’52.
Mr. Center remembered being a student at Bright and enjoying Mr. Bright and his bluegrass band, the Dismembered Tennesseans, when they played at school. “Bright alumni have been on Broadway, and we’ve had musicians inducted into the Grand Ole Opry was because of programs like this and because of what you all have done,” he said.
Dr. Aldridge is emeritus professor of electronic media and film studies at Eastern Michigan University, where he has taught since 1972. He began the electronic media major and minor, the film studies concentration and interdisciplinary film studies minor. He also is an organist and was instrumental in saving and preserving the pipe organ at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor.
Dr. Aldridge told the audience that he and Ms. Moore met as students at Bright in 1948 and have been friends ever since. He recalled Miss Bright and all her teachers and his favorite classes. “We had art, manual training, we had plays, we had movies on rainy days … and we had music, music, music, music all the time,” he said. “My cousin Percy Aldridge Grainger wrote a piece called ‘Country Gardens,’ in 1923 or '24, and Miss Bright, because it was popular at the time, said we’ll use that as a theme for the school. So we played it in rhythm band and then ocarinas and flutophones after that,” he said. “It was a wonderful experience, and when we had an opportunity to do something for Bright School, Fontaine and I wanted to pay back Bright’s for what it had done for us. …I hope Miss Bright would be pleased.”
Dr. Aldridge and his brother, John Nuckols, dedicated their family’s 1912 Steinway, given to the school by Dr. Aldridge, to their mother Jane McIntosh ’35. The piano, which Dr. Aldridge restored through the Steinway company, is in the Centennial Theater and will be used in performances.
“We are so grateful. It is a treasure,” Mr. Morgan said. “It’s an opportunity for our students to be introduced to something really magnificent. Many students will have the opportunity to play upon this instrument in the years to come.”
Dr. Aldridge’s grandmother bought the piano for her daughter, Mrs. McIntosh, who was an amateur musician, and then the piano went to Birmingham, Alabama, where Mr. Nuckols lives. Eventually, Dr. Aldridge moved it to Ann Arbor. It was moved again to Chattanooga this summer. A small plaque with a dedication inscribed on it was placed on the piano.
The Lee University Percussion Ensemble held two concerts for students and met with each grade individually. For the younger grades, the musicians read aloud a book and played drums that represented each character, and the students got to touch and bang each drum. Then they sat in a circle and played different rhythms with sticks and shakers. The older students got to learn about and play a variety of instruments such as the marimba, snare and bass drums, triangle and other smaller percussion instruments, bongos, congas, cymbal and gong.
The Lee University Percussion Ensemble is directed by Dr. Andy Harnsberger and includes Noah Backus, Susannah Clabough, Aaron Forde, Alex Loftin, Andrew Patzig, Luke Shreve, Dolan Sipes, Dakota Steele, Jeanette Trouten and Laud Vaught.
“Music has always been an essential part of a Bright School education. From the school’s earliest years, since its founding in 1913, you’ll find pictures of young girls and boys in band uniforms, singing in plays and performing a variety of instruments, growing all the while in their appreciation of the importance of music in our lives,” said Mr. Morgan.
This is the first year of the school’s partnership with Girls Preparatory School’s Cadek Conservatory of Music, in which Bright students have music lessons at school with Cadek instructors. Currently, 80 students are taking trumpet, piano, guitar, harp, violin and voice lessons through Cadek.
The Bright School, founded in 1913 by progressive educator Mary G. Bright, enrolls more than 330 students in junior pre-K through fifth grade. Their mission states, “The Bright School builds a foundation upon which students become wise and compassionate citizens of the world. Its century of progress fosters the intellectual, artistic, physical, and moral growth of young boys and girls.”