BROCKWELL The Brockwell Gospel Music School has been teaching the young and old alike how to sing and play music for more than 70 years. Students are taught to recognize notes by a particular shape, then present a closing program in a singing-school format.
In recognition of perpetuating these traditional ways of teaching music, the Arkansas Arts Council has awarded the Izard County nonprofit organization the 2018 Folklife Award through the council’s Governor’s Arts Awards program.
Cheri Leffew, Arkansas Arts Council special events/project manager, said the Folklife Award is given to “an individual or group that has made outstanding contributions in the performance or creation of traditional arts and/or folkways in Arkansas and has contributed to the perpetuation of these traditions.”
“It’s quite exciting to receive this honor,” said Beverly Meinzer of Mount Pleasant, manager of the Brockwell Gospel Music School. Mike Haney of Violet Hill, pastor of Wises Chapel Missionary Baptist Church near Pineville, is the assistant manager.
“We have all been very excited about it,” Meinzer said. “It’s so very exciting to be recognized for anything good you do, but for a music school like ours, it is exciting to know we are being recognized for promoting music, especially gospel music. We are trying to abide by what our founding fathers wanted — to give people of all ages the opportunity to come here and learn to sing, play the piano and lead the singing in their churches.
“We are not a fancy, highfalutin place. We are not a high-priced school. We have never turned away anyone who wanted to attend, even if they could not afford it. We are blessed to have donors who help with our costs.”
John R. Way of Cave City was among those who nominated the school for the award. He said he first became acquainted with the school when he moved to the area in 1972, then later, when he wrote a paper on shape-note singing as a student at Arkansas College (now Lyon College) in 1982.
Way’s nomination reads, in part, “Brockwell Gospel Music School is well-qualified for the Arkansas Arts Council’s Folklife Award in that they have impacted literally hundreds of lives of people in the past 70 years. Students have gone on to varied careers, and many have been awarded special honors in their advanced education achievements, due to the early musical training they received at this school. Most of all, Brockwell Gospel Music School has helped perpetuate a style of singing that began in the late 1700s and continued on through the years with dedicated people who gave of their time and talents to train the next generations. They are highly deserving of this award.”
Meinzer, whose “day job” is teaching chemistry and physical science at the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville, said shape-note singing was developed as an easy way to teach people to read music. It matches a shape with each note on a do-re-mi sequence so students learn to recognize the shape rather than notes positioned on a scale.
The school’s slogan, posted on its website, brockwellmusicschool.com, is “Teaching the Do, Re, Mi’s since 1947.”
Founded in 1947, the school’s leaders taught lessons under the shade trees.
“They met in a brush arbor,” Meinzer said. “The structure was made of limbs and brush and had a concrete floor. The sides were open.
“In later years, the building was closed in with walls,” she said. “Then finally, we were able to build a new air-conditioned building with enough space to have classes, private lessons and a closing program. The auditorium now seats 350 to 400 people and has a large stage where the students sing and direct.”
Meinzer said the school now takes place for two weeks in June each year.
The 71st annual Brockwell Gospel Music School will be June 11-22. Classes will be offered from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, with the closing night program set for 7 p.m. June 22. Tuition is $50 per individual and covers classwork and books. Classes will include music theory, sight-reading, ear training, songwriting and directing. Private lessons will be available in piano, voice, violin, mandolin and guitar for an additional $40.
Meinzer said students come from far and wide to attend the school, and many families take their summer vacations to coincide with the date of the school. She said the 2017 school had students from California, Indiana, Virginia, Tennessee and Texas, as well as Arkansas.
“It’s like a big family reunion,” she said. “That makes it even more special.”
Meinzer’s mother, Anna Floyd of Melbourne, served as manager of the school for many years.
“She is part of why we’re still doing this,” Meinzer said, adding that her grandfather, Lindsey Floyd, was one of the early supporters of the school.
Meinzer’s daughter, Natalie Meinzer of Jackson, Tennessee, has a degree in music and comes back to teach at the Brockwell School of Gospel Music.
Meinzer said many former students have gone on to lead music in their churches, play for country musicians and even teach music.
“We’re real proud of our young people who have gone on to study music in college or lead music in their churches,” Meinzer said. “We don’t ever want to stop having the school. We want to remain true to our roots.”
Meinzer and other leaders in the school, including her mother, plan to attend the recognition luncheon, along with other award recipients, March 29 at the Governor’s Mansion in Little Rock.
“We are very excited about it,” she said. “It’s really exciting that other people will learn about what we do up here in the hills of rural Arkansas.”