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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

Media Contact: Jan Wenzel, 401-874-2116

Music professor pens biography
on Tennessee composer

KINCarolyn LivingstonGSTON, R.I. -- June 30, 2003 -- When Carolyn Livingston was a graduate student at the University of Florida in 1981 she decided to write her dissertation on a Tennessee composer named Charles Faulkner Bryan. She had all the material she would need. An extensive collection of the late composer’s work had just been donated to the Tennessee Technological University where she had earned her bachelor’s degree.

Little did the University of Rhode Island professor and director of graduate studies in music realize that she would spend the next 22 years studying Bryan’s life and his work as a music educator, folk music performer, researcher and composer. During many of those years, she wrote her Ph.D. dissertation, nine journal articles about Bryan, gave multiple presentations, and taught full-time at URI.

Livingston’s opus-like examination of the composer is now over. The result is a biography, Charles Faulkner Bryan, His Life and Music, recently published by the University of Tennessee Press.

Although Livingston never met Bryan, she remembers her mother took one of his classes and spoke highly of him. "Like so many of his students, she acquired from Bryan a sense of value for the folk ballads and hymns of Appalachia, often singing them aloud as she went about her household chores and teaching them to the children in her elementary classes," Livingston notes in the book’s introduction.

Bryan was a pioneer in the study of American folk music, working with other researchers and folk performers in the Southern mountains. He was a folklore advocate composing music that both preserved and transformed the regional culture. He also shared this distinct form of musical expression with a wide audience at Carnegie Hall and on national radio, and many other venues, often accompanying his singing on an Appalachian Mountain dulcimer. He was the first composer to write a symphony based on white spirituals. In his folk opera, Singin’ Billy, he incorporated Appalachian folk tunes and white spirituals.

Although Bryan left Tennessee to attend Yale University, Appalachian music continued to be the tune that played throughout his 43 years. Livingston’s biography captures that sound and provides new insights into southern culture, music, musicology, and folklore.

Livingston interviewed Bryan’s widow, former students, and colleagues and friends for the book. Just when she thought she had uncovered every archive, studied each piece of music and was ready to write a biography, Bryan’s widow called her in 1995 saying she had discovered more boxes of her husband’s work. With a sabbatical leave from URI, Livingston returned to Tennessee to incorporate the work.

Livingston would like to see Bryan’s music appreciated, to gain a rightful place in the history of music. "Bryan is just one example of Americans who have produced great music not yet familiar to music listeners," says the professor.

"Tapes of Bryan’s compositions, as well as tapes of his own folk performances, are held in the collection at Tennessee Tech," says the educator who plans to incorporate some the composer’s work into her classes at URI. "I would love to have record producers ‘discover’ this music and decide to produce one or more CDs that would be available commercially."

Livingston also hopes that a few of Bryan’s musical scores that are missing, Birmingham Suite, for example will be located and performed.

Ideally, the URI professor would love to have Americans humming, whistling, playing, and singing his melodies just like her mother did so many years ago.

Rather than being thrilled that the book is published at last, Livingston feels twinges of sadness. She spent so much time with Bryan; she felt she really got to know him. He is like an old friend who will be missed.

But another book is waiting in the wings, one that is focused on Rhode Island’s musical legacy. Livingston and her friend and former student Elizabeth Smith, a music teacher in Westerly will co-edit Music and Music Education in Rhode Island: Historical Essays. The essays, written by Livingston’s graduate students since 1992, highlight Rhode Island’s rich and diverse music history.

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