Monteagle Elementary’s new “Top of the Rock Choir” launched this fall after a summer of planning and organizing. This incredible feat was made possible by impressive community support and the collaboration between the Monteagle-Sewanee Rotary Club, the University’s Music Department, the AmeriCorps program, and the Office of Civic Engagement (OCE). According to the Monteagle-Sewanee Rotary Club website, the group’s charter aims to “encourage and foster the ideal of service as a basis of worthy enterprise.” It achieves this goal in various ways, such as hosting annual Hunger Walks, starting a reading program at Monteagle Elementary, and, most recently, spearheading the formation of the school’s Top of the Rock Choir.
Monteagle-Elementary principal, Veronica Horton, began the process by contacting Laura Rice, a noted opera instructor who lives in Sewanee. Horton says, “We have a wonderful art program, and we’ve always wanted to bring music back to Monteagle, so I started conversations with Laura Rice.” A member of the Monteagle-Sewanee Rotary Club, Rice had an international operatic career and created the Sewanee OperaFest program that takes place each summer. Rice realized the potential for this program to develop significant ties with the University and contacted Kerry Ginger, assistant professor of voice, to determine ways to get Sewanee students involved in bringing this program to life.
Dr. Ginger says the project’s potential was obvious. “This is an example of a really lovely partnership where community partners had an idea, they came to [the University] to see how we can support that, and because of the Office of Civic Engagement, we were able to say yes,” Dr. Ginger says “OCE is really crucial here because they were able to create an AmeriCorps position.” That means students can be paid by AmeriCorps for the time and effort they dedicate to the elementary school choral program. Ellanna Swope (C ‘26) and Peter Haight (C ‘24) are now serving under AmeriCorps to teach musical concepts to students grades 5 to 8.
The impact of fundraising and donations on the overall success of this project cannot be understated. Rice says, “Three pianos were donated, we bought an amplifier for the electric piano, and raised 2,000 dollars to [fix] the really, really fine upright piano that was donated refurbished.” The Steinway upright piano was delivered to the school on September 7, 2023. This new music program not only reflects the importance of community but also gives students new interests to explore, as well as improved skills. Horton says, “Music goes hand in hand with literacy. It exposes so many other facets of content, whether it’s history or literacy.”
Swope adores teaching music to the Monteagle Elementary students despite the novelty of her position. “It comes with a steep learning curve. A lot of what I do is research music, put together packets on how to read music, etc. The most important part of it, though, is going to an elementary school, sitting down in class, and teaching kids music,” she says. Swope takes a very unique and diverse approach to class content. She adds, “We are not singing just in English. I have my students singing in Swahili, German, Latin, Hebrew, Arabic, and Ukrainian.” Regarding the extensive work done by the Sewanee students, Dr. Ginger says that they are “learning hands-on to know how to prep, how to manage a classroom, how to handle groups of students with different needs, how to pick music, whether to play [an instrument] or sing acapella.”
With such a successful program launch, there are hopes that it will continue to improve over time. “Our hopes are for students to be able to express themselves while also meshing content, literacy, and music,” remarks Horton. Future needs for the program include “purchasing risers for the choir and choir attire for the performance at the Christmas Lighting Ceremony,” adds Horton. The choir also plans to present their play on December 11. Overall, though, Principal Horton is overjoyed by all that has happened. She says, “Our community has been helpful and instrumental in pulling this together.”