The Pied Piper of Country Day
September 3, 2008
The only time we cooperated with our music teacher when I was in fourth grade was when we got to sing “Drill Ye Terriers Drill.” Later, as a school principal, I watched music teachers cope with kindergartners who cried when the basket of musical instruments was passed around because someone else got the tambourine. How challenging it can be to offer Mozart to sixth-graders when all they want to hear is Hannah Montana! An elementary music teacher asked me, “Why would I teach a classroom of children when I can make the same salary giving music lessons one on one?”
Elementary music teachers are a rare breed, and Aspen Country Day School’s (ACDS) first music teacher, Al Moore, was the most memorable.
Carter Hall, founder of ACDS, convinced several retired teachers from his school in New Orleans to follow him to Aspen. Al Moore was drawn to work well into his retirement years because he loved mountains and wanted to see the Rockies. Al caught a bus to Aspen; he was afraid of flying and moved into one of two small campus cabins.
Al was legendary along the Appalachian Trail. Each summer he hiked the trail, often carrying only his toothbrush. He lived off the land and was welcome in backwoods homes. While enjoying his hosts, he picked up Appalachian folk songs and passed them to researchers, the Bodkins, who published them. If you caught Al in the right mood he would sing, though that is not quite how children would describe it. He belted out songs with a full southern accent and in authentic rural style.
Al did not like cars, so he preferred walking even on the coldest days. After school he would put on his army-surplus wire-frame pack and walk from the ACDS Castle Creek campus into town to pick up mail and groceries. As he was a frequent dinner guest, he did not need a big pack. He stocked up on whiskey, which he consumed in great quantities. If you were his guest he would keep pouring to “drink anyone under the table.” He seemed never to have a morning hangover.
Memories of the Great Depression left Al skeptical of banks. One fringe benefit of his previous job at New Orleans Country Day School had been that employees could purchase Sears stock. When he retired he sold some shares and carried several thousand dollars of the proceeds in his money belt. We tried to convince him that walking alone with all that cash was dangerous, but he felt that banking his earnings was a greater risk.
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Children loved Al’s music class, and it provided more than music. Al Moore was a talented storyteller. One of his favorite stories was his version of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. I remember watching 10-year-olds intently listening throughout an entire lunch period, completely engaged in an Al Moore adventure. He first earned his title “Pied Piper of Country Day” in New Orleans and carried it well in Aspen.
Adults were equally enchanted by Al’s personal stories. Al came from an educated family in South Carolina. Each generation of his family sent the eldest male to law school. After a couple of years preparing to study law at Wake Forest University, Al told his father that he wanted to be a musician, and his father cut off support for college. Al headed to New York and landed a job as rehearsal accompanist for the Ziegfeld Follies headliner Fanny Brice. Between stories of Appalachian bears and tales of his time in New York, Al could keep any crowd awake until the wee hours of the morning.
Al was losing his hearing when he came to ACDS. Teachers accompanied their students to his music class to keep order and they often had to help him. If a student asked a question or made a request that he did not hear, he would answer with any comment that came to mind.
Al enjoyed the Rockies, but he longed for his roots and returned to assist his brother with his summer camp. This school year marks the 40th anniversary of the founding of Aspen Country Day School. Al Moore, modest to his core, would scoff to hear the magnitude of his contribution to the institutional character of the school.