Alumni Notes


Music for Life

“Mother insisted that I have the best possible music instruction, so it was decided that I should go to Oberlin College,” Emily Putnam ’26 recalls in her self-published 1998 autobiography, The Story of My Life.

With modest charm and a flare for storytelling, Putnam shares a life filled with family struggles and a joy of music that has spanned decades. After Oberlin, she earned an MSM from the Union Theological Seminary School of Sacred Music in New York and accepted a piano teaching position in Minter City, Mississippi. She also taught piano privately—well into her 80s—and served as organist, director of music, director of religious education, and director of the children’s choirs at Calvary Church in North Carolina.

“Emily was 90-plus when she stepped down,” recalls Lloyd Owens, her replacement at the church. “At 98, she still comes to church and sits in the front row. When I see her I think, ‘I have to do well,’ because she’s a perfectionist. She might nod at me and say, ‘Might need to brush that one up a little more.’ I admire her feedback.”

A 19-year resident of a Tarboro, North Carolina, retirement community, Putnam’s musical influence still motivates her former students.

“Miss Putnam was a very thorough teacher,” recalls former piano student Sally Moseley. “She was serious, but not unfriendly or inflexible. She patiently helped me through Star Wars and You Light Up My Life, but she was always committed to the classics.”

During spring recitals, students would head to Putnam’s home for music, small bottles of Coca-Cola, and peanuts. Parents were not allowed.

“When I think back over the trials and tribulations of my early years, I have to be very thankful for all that has happened to me,” Putnam writes.

–Yvonne Gay


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