West Asheville. Hank Williams, Jr., David Allen Coe and Waylon Jennings.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Family Musicians

Sara Lena Poole (standing), teaching organ lessons to an unidentified student

In the mid 1940’s Mrs. Espy (Sara Poole Espy) became a decades-long member of the Decatur Piano Ensemble, a group consisting of twenty pianists playing ten pianos. The group gave occasional concerts, mostly in the Atlanta area. However, the ladies also gave at least one out-of-state concert, performing in Spartanburg, South Carolina.  - Beverly

My grandmother Edith Vann, second from right.   She and the others in the photo were Sara Lena Poole's pupils.

Edith's sister, Grace Vann (Brannon), tells us more about Sara Lena Poole.  She also talks Edith's piano lessons, and her own.  Here' s The Robin's Return, the piece Edith was scheduled to play at the recital.

Sara Lena Poole's granddaughter (and my cousin), Carolyn Dayries, displaying some of her talent.  She also has other videos on her YouTube channel.  Carolyn and her older sister Amy inherited some of the musical skills their grandmother had.  They also are related to Sarah Frances Espy (Sidney/Lee) on their father's side.  She too was a musical gem in her own right.  Click here to learn about Aunt Frances' gift, and how that gift made its way to her niece, Aunt Marilyn.  There are others in this family line who also have musical talent:  my brother Mark and cousin Melanie come to mind.   All this reminds me of the Nature vs. Nurture argument.

Here's a wonderful piece that Beverly wrote about her mother's history with the piano:

Sara Lena’s family first noticed her interest in music when they purchased their piano.  It was told that while Sara’s siblings just wanted to play in the box in which the piano was delivered, that Sara headed to the piano and didn’t want to leave it.  The family gave her piano lessons.  Shortly after her father died in the 1918 flu epidemic and Sara was only eleven, she left Warwick, Ga. and went to live with her father’s oldest sister in Leslie, Ga., where she remained until she graduated from high school.  Sara’s youngest brother later said that a maternal aunt paid for Sara’s piano lessons during that time. 

Sara graduated from Piedmont College, Demorest, Georgia in 1927. While at Piedmont she received a medal in piano in 1925 and a Certificate in Piano in 1926.  She received Piedmont’s first Bachelor of Music degree, graduating Cum Laude in 1927. 

While teaching in the Headland, Alabama school system after graduation, she helped the children put on operettas and formed a small orchestra.  She gave private piano and voice lessons and played the piano at the Headland Baptist Church. 

Several years after her marriage to John J. Espy, Jr., and after their move to Decatur, GA, she began giving private piano lessons. She  also sang in the Oakhurst Baptist Church choir.   During the 1940’s she continued her music studies, taking pipe organ lessons with Miss Edith Bartholomew at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Atlanta, and with Dr. Dieckmann at Agnes Scott College, Decatur, Georgia.  She continued her piano studies with Mrs. Lillian Gilbreath, teacher at Agnes Scott College and Director of the Decatur Piano Ensemble.  She also attended many piano workshops. 

In Decatur, almost every single person called Mother Mrs. Espy. Not only the pupils, but the parents of the pupils. Even the neighbors, and most of the parents of my friends. Of course her sisters and brothers called her Sara, and a few very close friends. But she was definitely known as Mrs. Espy. As I write this, I can see my mother straightening up, standing tall and erect, with her shoulders back - very dignified.

In the mid-1940’s, in addition to giving private piano lessons, in order to supplement the family income, Mrs. Espy began doing piano accompanying at Agnes Scott College.  She played for various gym classes in dance, the Dance Group, May Day Festival performances, and for some guest artists who came to perform at the college.  She continued this work for about ten years. 

She served as head of the choir at Nakanawa Camp for Girls at Mayland, Tennessee for two summers. 

In the mid 1940’s Mrs. Espy became a decades-long member of the Decatur Piano Ensemble, a group consisting of twenty pianists playing ten pianos.  The group gave occasional concerts, mostly in the Atlanta area.  However, the ladies also gave at least one out-of-state concert, performing in Spartanburg, South Carolina.   

Over the years Sara was offered many positions in music, and had to turn down many.  In the mid 1950’s she served as organist at Holy Cross Episcopal Church in Decatur, Georgia.  During that period she gave piano lessons during school hours at Toney Elementary School in DeKalb County.  She continued to give private piano (and some organ) lessons. 

Mrs. Espy served as vice president of the Decatur Music Teachers Association, and she was a member of the Georgia and District II of the Music Educators Association.  Fees were paid to the Music Educators National Conference.  She worked in the National Guild of Piano Teachers and was one of the first teachers to become nationally certified.  She was on the honor roll of the National Piano Guild of Piano Teachers, having had twenty-seven of her pupils rate as “most superior.”  She was an adjudicator for the National Piano Guild.  Mrs. Espy received a Certificate of Merit for twenty-five years of successful teaching.  She received a certificate of Merit for Professional Preparations.  She was an active member of the Music Teachers National Association.  In about 1970 she served as a judge for piano auditions that took place in a designated area of South Carolina. 

The combination of my mother’s efforts and those of many of her pupils resulted in her turning out many very good musicians.  Some used their music training to also become piano teachers or to change direction to become organists, choir directors in schools and churches, or take other avenues in music.  

The pupil who made the most recognized name for himself was George Manahan.  As of 2007 Mr. Manahan was Director and Conductor of the prestigious New York City Opera Company. 

Mother’s love of music was passed on to her one daughter, her two granddaughters, and to her great-grandchildren (eight total).  She taught piano to both of her granddaughters.  One later made All-State in piano and All-State in flute all four years of high school.  That one continued her studies at the University of Georgia, having been given the choice of accepting a four-year scholarship either in piano or flute.  The granddaughters also played the clarinet, violin, and oboe and piccolo.  As of now, three great-granddaughters are studying piano and one the clarinet.  One recently participated in a Piano Ensemble program presented by the same Decatur Music Teachers Association in which Mrs. Espy had once been a member. Another has become very proficient on the violin at a young age, playing classical music as well as fiddle music with a Celtic group.  And one granddaughter is taking voice lessons while several participate in their school and/or church chorus.

Teaching piano became not only Mrs. Espy’s only means of making a living, but it became her main purpose in life.  Along with enjoying her grandchildren, her greatest feeling of satisfaction came with seeing the accomplishments of her students.

One of Sara Lena Poole's great-grandchildren, and her namesake, performing on the streets of Ireland.  Mom and sister look on from inside the café.

Click here for memories one of Sara Poole Espy's piano students has of her.

To see Sara Lena Poole Espy's and J.J. Espy, Jr.'s ("Bud John")descendants today, click here.

Here's another family member who had tremendous musical talent.  This is the sister of J.J. Espy, Sr..


Anonymous said...

I would think Mamie Kate Mitchell is Mamie Kate Atkinson (married Pace Atkinson and they had two daughers Jill and ______ can't remember. Jill was married to Tom Solomon, I think. Mamie Kate would be about Edith's age. Earle Lindsay-I don't know but, wasn't Watty's Grandmother a Lindsay? Could he be a cousin of Watty's? Brenda

Anonymous said...

Your Aunt Grace really remembered my mother accurately! I can't tell you how many parents Mother told were wasting their money on giving their children piano lessons. Some were children of my former classmates, which was rather embarrassing to me. My mother was strict, too. She might not have rapped your Aunt Grace's knuckles with a ruler when she was teaching her piano, but she did tap mine a few times - not enough to really hurt. Your Aunt Grace was also correct in saying I was born in Atlanta.

That sounds just right about the box of candy. My daddy loved candy. During WWII he would take me to an area of what later became Underground Atlanta. Someone had a tiny closet there where they sold candy. He bought candy in huge amounts. Therefore - diabetes. - Beverly

Anonymous said...

I knew Aunt Edith was in a school rhythm band my mother had. I have a photo of her in the band. I think I scanned it and sent it to you long ago. However, I didn't know she had taken piano lessons from my mother. When I went to Natalie's wedding in Eufaula, a woman told me she had taken voice lessons from my mother. I hadn't known Mother had taught voice in Headland either. I did know she headed an operetta the school put on, though.

I was told that Mother used to play at the Headland Baptist Church for J.J. Espy, Sr. to sing. She said "Flee As a Bird" was one of his favorites. She also gave shots to Sr. for his diabetes......I saved some of Sr.'s hymnals when they cleared the Headland house some years ago. They are either in our attic or basement. I recall they have the "shaped" notes.

Your Great Aunt Grace did an incredible job in the video and seems to be doing very very well for her age. My Uncle Keith died several years ago. Uncle Marshall is still living. I haven't seen him in several years, but I understand he is in greatly declining health. His son and two grandsons died some years ago, and he lives with my Uncle Marlin's son and his wife, as does my cousin's mother, also in her 90's. That particular cousin lives in Lee County, GA.


Anonymous said...

That was a really touching tribute to my grandmother!!! I was really close to her.

You know what was cool was that my sister and I were both pregnant at the same time. She named her girl Sarah, and I named my girl Lena. They were born a week apart. I knew my grandmother's first name was Sara but had no idea that my grandmother's middle name was Lena. LOLOLOL My mom put two and two together later, and I thought it was a really interesting coincidence. So it can be said that two of our girls are named after her, even if it may have been accidental.

Caroline (2013)