by Betty Gabrielli
Alumna Elaine Amacker Bridges' love of music, devotion to music education and loyalty to her alma mater are almost legendary. She's living proof of the adage: work is love made visible. "I have known I wanted to be in music since I was three," she said, speaking from her home in San Angelo, Texas. "And when I went to Oberlin, I knew exactly what I wanted to do: teach. But the glory of the education I received is that it is the strongest possible undergraduate grounding one can have, in all facets of music! It gave me the freedom and the tools to lead a full musical life, no matter what challenge was tossed at me. I'm most grateful. That's why I've always supported Oberlin and will continue to do so."
That glory has taken Bridges '59, one of the Conservatory's earliest double-degree students, to widely different milieus. She has taught music in such places as a migrant farm in Tulsa, an oil camp in Venezuela and an open school in Colorado. She also has earned the master of music degree from the University of Texas at Austin; performed in Mid-Life Crisis, a Denver women's rock group; sung with the Denver Cathedral Singers, the Midland Texas Symphony Chorale and with numerous churches; fought a disabling voice ailment that took her from Duke University to the Mayo Clinic; and most recently, overhauled the symphony in San Angelo.
It is her passion for music and teaching, enriched by her years at the Conservatory, that powers Bridges' music advocacy. Her discovery of the Otto B. Schoepfle Vocal Arts Laboratory in the 1980s drew her back to the Con, and since that time she has served as a class agent, a member of the Trustee Search Committee and many reunion-gift and planning committees. Three years ago she established a scholarship in honor of Herbert Henke, emeritus professor of eurhythmics, who supervised her student teaching. Currently, Bridges is in a second three-year term on the Conservatory Committee and has traded her class-agent duties for those of class president.
Last May, "in recognition of outstanding and sustained service to Oberlin College and its extended community," Bridges was awarded the Alumni Medal by Alumni president Peter Kirsch '79. Midge Brittingham '60, who has known "Tex" since they shared a class, says Bridges single-handedly introduced culture in the form of Oberlin Conservatory students and faculty to San Angelo.
"People don't realize how big Texas is," Bridges explains. "If you look for San Angelo on a map, you can't find it although it's a city of about 90,000 in west Texas. Only one airline from Dallas flies here. It's really easy to get stuck, so musicians rarely come. And we don't have the teachers for one-on-one coachings. You have to be really dedicated if you want a private lesson as the nearest big town is 90 miles away."
From 1996 to 1998, when Bridges presided over the San
Angelo Symphony, connecting it and Oberlin seemed a natural step, so she funded and organized visits by members of the Conservatory community as guests of the symphony board. In 1998, the Prometheus Wind Quintet and the Miro String Quartet spent week-long residencies in San Angelo, accompanied by assistant professor of wind conducting Tim Weiss. It was the second visit for Weiss and the Miro Quartet.
"We've had Oberlin students by here by the gazillions: violinist Lisa Kim '96 and pianist Gregg Punswick '96. Next February, the Miro will perform with thesymphony as part of its regular season.
We just do not get people of their caliber here to visit schools, offer free public concerts, and perform in a benefit concert with the chamber orchestra. You should see the letters I've gotten. They do wonders for the kids.
"We have a little girl who is 12 years old, a phenomenal violinist, the best that's come along so far. One of the Miro gave her a private lesson, and it just opened her eyes! Now she goes down to Austin to take lessons and she made first chair in the Disney National Orchestra that just performed at Ravinia. The Miro did that."
Even during her undergraduate years, Bridges had an impact on the Conservatory: "The rule that you can't have so many transfer hours from another school was probably written on account of me," she recalls, laughing. "I took correspondence courses from another school and spent my summers studying psychology at Indiana University. But then I've always been single-minded. I have two speeds--stop and full out! That's the way I work best. My senior year, I was doing practice teaching and because I had a strong psychology background, they gave me all the problem kids. I also was president of the Music Education Club and we formed the Music Educators Conference that year. I had a finger in a lot of pies!
"Years later, when I lost my voice, I hated that I couldn't sing or teach anymore. But I've since discovered there are a lot of ways you can be good at music. What Oberlin did was expose me to such a wide range of musical activities--not just in class but in all the extracurricular programs. I was with ODA and Gilbert & Sullivan. We did everything; it was excellent training.
"Of course a college must teach kids to think, to study hard and apply themselves, but nobody does it with the intensity that Oberlin does. And its finest idea is the double degree which enables students to excel in their instruments but also to be able to make a living in the real world."
Betty Gabrielli is a poet and senior staff writer in the Office of College Relations.