Storer College and Music
NOTES DA CAPO – By John L. Puffenbarger, WVMEA Historian
1867 John Storer, a Maine philanthropist, became
interested in Reverend Brackett's one-room school for freedmen at Harpers
Ferry. He offered a $10,000 grant to the Freewill Baptists if the school
would become a degree-granting college.
over 88 years, the place of education ultimately known as "Storer College"
stood high above Harpers Ferry on Camp Hill.
Storer grew into a full-fledged degree-granting college open to all races,
creeds, and colors. Former slaves who were thrown into the world with no
training, no skills, and no education found at Storer a place to learn to read
and write, to teach others in their community, and to develop marketable
skills. For many years it was the only institution in West Virginia offering instrumental music to
In 1938 Storer became a college. Although the school
granted four-year degrees, it was never accredited, and the college was forced
to turn away some students. A year after the U.S. Supreme Court Brown vs. Board
of Education decision in 1954, Storer College closed its doors forever.
In 1869 ninety-five students were enrolled. The school
catalog stated that “Instruction is given in Vocal and Instrumental music to
those who desire it.” Tuition and room rent were $3.00 per term. (Terms lasted
three months.) In each room was a stove, double bedstead, chairs, and a table and
washstand. An extra charge was made for Drawing, Painting and Instrumental
Music classes. Washing, fuel and lights were also extra. Board provided in
family homes was $3.00 per week.
Storer was a very important part of music education in Jefferson County.
Miss Martha J. Stowers was the first music teacher at the school. One of
the early band directors, Colonel McKinney, organized three bands. Band
students played on instruments that were furnished by the school.
The music faculty wanted to give each student an
understanding and appreciation of outstanding music compositions, both
comtempory and classical. Miss Pearl
Elise Tatten taught several courses in the early 1900’s. She taught sight singing, voice, piano and
pipe organ. The training students at the
school received enabled them to teach music as well as other academic
subjects. Miss Tatten was the conductor
of the outstanding glee club and choir.
A graduate of the school, Dr. Randolph E. Spencer,
recalled the enthusiasm of the students who participated in Miss Tatten’s
groups. “Our glee club was to appear at a distant community in West Virginia and, at
the time of our departure, we discovered that a baritone singer was
absent. Some of us went to his room in
the dormitory, to find him unconsicous as a result of an injury that he had
sustained the day before. Our biology
instructor administered first aid, and he immediately regained consciouness.
Notwithstanding his condition, none of us could dissuade him from going. He
prepared himself for the trip and there was no recurrence of the condition.”
The school offered a five-year course to voice
students. The course
encluded Solfeggio, Harmony, History and Music Appreciation. The course in piano was designed to enable
the students to play simple accompainments without difficulity. Each student was awared a certificate after
twenty books were completed.
Sight reading was
an important part of the curriculum. All
students were required to take the course.
The songs books used contained unison, two part, three part and four
part selections. Exercises from several classical, sacred and secular songs
from operas and oratories from the Italian school were sung.
The campus was once the home to
Donald Matthew Redman, one of the school’s most successful graduates. Of all
the students of Storer College
during it’s illustrious eighty-eight year history, no
one had the impact on the world of music like Don Redman.
According to a Don Redman Web-site,
he was born in Piedmont, West Virginia on July 29, 1900. He began
playing trumpet at age three and by the age of sixteen he came to Harpers Ferry
to study music at Storer College.
Graduating in 1920 Don Redman’s talent for jazz music was instantly recognized.
He became known as “The Little Giant of Jazz”, and the first great arranger in
jazz history. Until his death in 1964, Don Redman continued to have a profound
influence on the evolution, direction and development of this uniquely American
Many Storer College
graduates distinguished themselves in the field of music despite the barriers
they faced. The
students enjoyed many exacting and caring educators who were dedicated role
models and taught children to do the best they could with what they had. Today the Harpers Ferry National Park
Service continues the college's educational mission by using part of the old
campus as a training facility.