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Charles F. Bryan Memorial Scholarship

The Charles F. Bryan Memorial Scholarship was established in memory of Charles F. Bryan.

American music owes a debt of gratitude to Charles Faulkner Bryan, a young composer and educator whose respect for the folksongs of his rural homeland - the hills and hollows of Tennessee - manifested into both classical and popular music in the mid-1900s.

Bryan, born in 1911 in McMinnville, began his career in Cookeville, at Tennessee Tech, where he taught and studied during the Depression. The university is commemorating the centennial of his birth on Oct. 7, with a full day and evening of public presentations and performances.

I meet many people who come to the Bryan Fine Arts Building out of curiosity or who had a relationship with music at the university, and I've gotten to know several who knew Bryan, says Arthur LaBar, chairperson of the Tennessee Tech Department of Music and Art. Without exception, these people speak with the highest respect, almost reverence, for Bryan. They recount how he, as their teacher, positively affected and inspired their lives. I'm very excited about the Bryan Centennial events.

Classically trained in voice, piano and composition, Bryan wrote in several symphonic forms, often incorporating the simple melodies and lyrics of Appalachian songs. But he also performed the folksongs solo; on tour, he played them as originally written, on piano or dulcimer, the only alteration being his clear and formal tenor.

Landmarks in his career include the 1942 Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra premier of the second movement of Bryan's only symphony, the 1945 Guggenheim Foundation composition fellowship based on his Ballard of the Harp Weaver, and the 1947 premier of his Bell Witch Cantata by Robert Shaw and the Julliard Chorus and Orchestra at Carnegie Hall in New York.

Bryan was certainly ambitious, says LaBar. How else can you explain how a young man from rural Tennessee rose to national prominence in classical music? But he never lost touch with the music of the people who raised him. And he was also ambitious for those around him, especially his students.

Bryan contributed to the folk music revival by collecting music at the source-recording songs in people's living rooms - and going on the road as a performer and lecturer. Stylistically, he foreshadowed the classically smooth Burl Ives and the emerging Pete Seeger more so than the less-studied Woody Guthrie.

But by the time he reached his 40s, Bryan wasn't well. No one knew for sure what was wrong. He suffered inexplicable illnesses, and he'd been born with a hear murmur, which is why he stayed state-side during World War II. Doctors ruled out allergies, brain cancer, endocarditis, and still he suffered. He slowed his pace, taking on a faculty position at a private school in Alabama, and while he never really got well, he refused to let his physical ailment interrupt his career.

On July 7, 1955, Charles Faulkner Bryan died. He was 44 years old.

The potential was there, after such a promising start, to go on to wider acclaim, but dying at such a young age resulted in Bryan's work being relegated to near-obscurity. His family donated his papers to the Tennessee Tech Archives, and the collection is extensive, including boxes and boxes of scores and notes, but most of the few existing recordings of his music are ravaged by time. Had it not been for the scholarly work of his biographer, Carolyn Livingston, the story of Charles Faulkner Bryan and his music would likely have been lost forever.

Scholarships associated with Charles F. Bryan Memorial Scholarship
  • Charles F. Bryan Memorial Endowed Scholarship