Laura Ann Warner gives credit to others
By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | April 28, 2015Laura Ann Warner gives her parents credit for providing opportunities, her students credit for enriching her life, her husband credit for keeping her sane and her children credit for keeping her in touch with popular music. You get the picture; she takes credit for nothing. Her students, on the other hand, wrote letter after letter in support of her nomination for an AAME Arts Achievement Award.
Warner says her parents gave her lessons in art, dance, piano, organ and horseback riding and took her to "an amazing number of concerts and performances. When it came time to choose which route I thought would be best, I chose music – although horseback riding came in a close second." She has a bachelor's degree from Hollins College and a master's degree from Columbia University. She also studied at Juilliard.
"I did not have a full-time position until after our third child was eligible for kindergarten. I sought employment in the Bristol Tennessee School System in 1962, hoping to teach piano in an elementary school during the student's school day. That did not materialize, but Dr. Atkinson, superintendent, offered me a job teaching third grade for a year, until the schools became integrated, and there was an opening for elementary music teacher.
"Teaching third grade was a real challenge because all my education courses had been in music. Without the support and encouragement of my husband, which I have had all through our over 60 years of marriage, I would never have made it. But I will remain thankful for that year, because it made me aware of the many pressures the classroom teacher faces, pressures I did not have as a music teacher. I realized that if I were to be successful as a teacher I had to teach as if I actually was responsible for the child's progression to the next level.
"Consequently, it became my ongoing goal to broaden their horizons, sharpen their imaginations, trigger their creativity and deepen their love for and understanding of the many voices of music. Hints of some measure of success come when former students stop me in the grocery store or elsewhere to remind me of some special occasion or piece of music, or to report their continuing involvement in and love for music resulting from childhood experiences in music classes. Some former students have embarked on careers in music and are imparting that love to others, the seeds of which they attribute partially to those early experiences."
She taught in the Bristol, Tennessee School System for 31 years and says, "It is my sincere hope that the public schools of today will continue to see the importance of the arts as a necessary component of a well-rounded education."
Warner was instrumental in saving and expanding the East Tennessee Children's Choir (now the Mountain Empire Children's Choral Academy), although she gives the credit to others.
"In 1990 I became a member of the board of directors of the East Tennessee Children's Choir, at that time directed by Dr. Carl King, who had formed the choir earlier. When he had to give it up because of other duties, I was chairman of the board. We decided not to disband but to search for a director. In 1994, Beth McCoy agreed to direct the choir, so we got it restarted. The first few years it was just the two of us, and I assumed the duties of accompanist, publicity chairman, concert arranger, grant writer and coordinator who signed the children in each week, met with parents and dealt with the needs and concerns of both, thereby encouraging Beth and freeing her to do her job.
"It was her knowledge, skill as a director, creativity and her love of music and children that started the choir on its road to the magnificent organization it is today at MECCA under the direction of Jane DeLoach Morison. I consider this as one of the most rewarding experiences I had."
Although Warner is retired, she certainly hasn't stopped working. She is the secretary of The Bristol Music Club, serves on The Paramount Chamber Players' board of directors, works on music club committees, plans for and works at the music club's scholarship auditions and the Virginia Federation of Music Clubs' District 1 Junior Festivals, and organizes receptions for The Paramount Chamber Players and other artists.
"Music will always be a vital part of my life as will be the desire to share it," she says. "Music and all the arts give us ways to express ourselves in new and different ways, broaden and enhance our lives, and connect with others in deeper, more meaningful ways than we are able to do with verbal conversation alone. There are many needs in our lives for survival, but the arts make survival worthwhile.
"When I look back at my life, I realize no one could ask for anything more or better than to have a professional career teaching about a love of my life to young people I love, and I look forward to continuing to share that love in as many ways as I can.
"You ask me my thoughts on winning this award. First of all I am deeply humbled and honored to have my name listed along with these four amazing artists who are making such significant contributions to the artistic life of our community and making a difference in this world. The award is something I never envisioned or anticipated and feel it is undeserved. I really don't consider it is mine. It belongs to my parents who gave me every opportunity possible to experience the arts, to my husband and family who have encouraged me, supported me and many times given me guidance, to the dear friends who have inspired me and been with me at every turn, to the teachers who taught me necessary skills and deepened my understandings, and to the precious students who responded to the music we shared. Anything I have accomplished has been the result of all these invaluable and unforgettable influences, gifts to me that have so enriched my life. I have been truly blessed."
The arts community, for once, disagrees with Warner. She is the blessing.
AAME achievement winner: Richard Rose
Laura Ann Warner with Steve Fey at a Bristol Music Club meeting.