Aquila Patterson Read
Aquila Read, organist and voice teacher, has enjoyed a varied career as a music teacher and church musician. Born and raised in Florida, she started piano at age eight. Although both of her parents had a natural ability in music, they had not had an opportunity to develop their talent.
Aquila attended public school through grade school and graduated from Bay County High School in Panama City, Florida, in 1950. That fall, she enrolled as a pre-nursing student at Madison College, a self-supporting Seventh-day Adventist school in Tennessee.
By the end of her first year, she had come to the realization that she could have a career in music and changed her major to music education with piano and voice as her major performing areas. She studied voice with Patricia Templeton Ostrander, piano with Sylvia Mitzelfelt, and organ with J. G. Rimmer.
While at MC, she met John Read, who was also pursuing a music education degree. When he graduated in 1953, they married and that fall began their teaching careers at Campion Academy in Loveland, Colorado, where he directed the band and she taught piano lessons.
A year later, they accepted an invitation to teach at Shenandoah Valley Academy in Virginia. They taught there for the next seven years, John initially doing both band and choir and Aquila teaching piano and conducting the girls' chorus. It was an experience they both enjoyed and would later recall as a satisfying time in their lives.
In 1961 they accepted positions at Collegedale Academy in Tennessee but left after a year when they were invited to teach at Southwestern Junior College, now Southwestern Adventist University, in Keene, Texas. They arrived at a pivotal time for the school, just as it was beginning the process of becoming a four-year college. By the end of the 1970-1971 school year, the school had been renamed Southwestern Adventist College, gained accreditation, and been totally transformed by an extensive building program.
John, who completed a doctorate at the University of North Texas in 1968, chaired the music department from 1967 until 1975. While chair, Read presided over the introduction and development of a rigorous music education degree program patterned after the one at the University of North Texas.
Aquila, who had not quite completed her degree at Madison College when she married John in 1953, enrolled in the new degree program and completed a B.Mus. in music education, with a minor in organ, in 1974. She studied organ with Jan McKown Sutton and Emmett Smith, a teacher at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, who also served as an adjunct teacher at SWC.
Aquila taught at the college, giving voice lessons, teaching music appreciation, and assisting as needed with organ duties at the college church. During the time the Reads taught at SWC, a small Casavant two-manual pipe organ was installed in Evans Hall, the college auditorium. John had led out in fundraising for the instrument, which Aquila greatly enjoyed playing. The removal of it in the early 1980s, after they had left the college, was devastating to her:
I was leafing through the AGO journal and turned to the back where I liked to look through the ads. There was one for a pipe organ with a local telephone number that I recognized. I couldn't believe that this could be our organ, which was listed for $7,500, if moved by the buyer.
I called the college president and asked him why he was selling it. He said it wouldn't fit in the recital hall of the Mabee Center [newly constructed music building]. I said that all you have to do is get an organ builder and it could be done. He responded, "It's just an old organ." I told him it was hardly broken-in, since it had been there less than 25 years. I was really upset and told him that he was also giving it away at that price and if they were going to sell it, they should be asking for more. They ended up selling it to a Roman Catholic Church in upstate New York for a little over $40,000.
Every time I would think about what was happening, tears would roll down my cheeks. I mourned the loss of that instrument. It was a wonderful instrument, particularly for playing music by Bach. They replaced it with an electronic organ.
When John had left the college, he worked with the Texas Conference office in exploring ways to develop a church music program in the conference. He also explored possibilities as a school administrator and in the late 1980s, he served as principal and teacher for a year at Greater Dallas Academy and then for two years at Valley Grande Academy in Weslaco, Texas. Aquila taught history and directed the choir during their stay at VGA.
Following an interim year of teaching in a public school in Weslaco, the Reads returned to Keene, where they both worked as music therapists at a residential treatment center for children, and John also served as chaplain. For the next four years, until they retired, the Reads worked at the center.
In addition to maintaining a private studio in her home, Aquila has held Sunday church positions for over fifty years. She was organist-choirmaster for the Church of the Holy Comforter, an Episcopal church in Cleburne, for several years. Since 1992, after returning to Keene, she has held the position of choirmaster-organist at the Presbyterian church in that community. She has also substituted for the organist at the Catholic church in Cleburne, playing masses when scheduling permitted and performing for weddings and funerals. Because of her work with different denominations and the friendships she has had with many Christians, Read has come to believe that believers from many churches will populate Heaven.
Although at first her reason for holding Sunday church positions was to supplement the low wages she and her husband were paid in Adventist schools, in time Read realized that being a church musician had become her calling. She attended many workshops and sought to widen her repertoire, becoming an adviser for other church musicians. She continues to innovate and be creative with her music for services and seasonal programs.
Read, who enjoys gardening and lawn work, has also been active in community organizations. She has served for several years on the board of the Layland Museum in Cleburne.
The Reads have four children, three sons and a daughter. Although all were musical and participated in music throughout their school years, they have not pursued music careers.
Source: Interview with Aquila Read, 25 September 2007.