Edith Eckenroth Gates
Edith Gates, a violinist, conductor, and noted music teacher in the Washington, D.C., area enjoys a reputation as an innovative and effective teacher. During her career, she taught at all levels, from elementary school through the university levels.
Edith was born in Takoma Park, Maryland, and raised in nearby Vienna, Virginia, one of three children born to Edith Carolyn Stalker and Donald A. Eckenroth. Music was an important activity in the home; her mother, though an amateur, was organist in the Vienna Seventh-day Adventist church.
She started piano lessons at age seven and violin at ten. She listened extensively to classical music recordings and, with her mother, attended several live free performances of the Mellon Art Gallery Orchestra in Washington, D.C. Additionally, on occasion she visited Columbia Union College, later Washington Adventist University, and Sligo church, where she would hear CUC violin teacher Jane Ralls play. She later wrote about that experience and another with Minnie Iverson Wood:
Jane Ralls also conducted a small string group. I thought their music was very very beautiful and I was inspired to see a woman conductor! I was able to take a few lessons with her in the summers.
As an academy student, I attended a music festival at CUC where Minnie Iverson Wood conducted. As a member of the massed choir I felt like I had already gone to heaven! I really admired both of these fine musicians.
Edith was active in music while attending Shenandoah Academy in Virginia, singing in the choir and a girls' trio and playing clarinet in the academy band. All during her elementary and academy years, she was encouraged by her teachers to become a music teacher.
After graduating form SVA in 1958, she enrolled as a music major at CUC, where she was encouraged to become an instrumental music teacher and conductor. She thrived in the department under the tutelage of its teachers and then later as a colleague with them:
When I began my studies at CUC Norman Krogstad and Neil Tilkens were wonderful teachers and mentors to me. Upon graduation from CUC, Neil Tilkens who was chairman of the department, offered me a job to build an orchestra at CUC and also to teach music education classes.
I started by conducting the small orchestra at CUC and began to create feeder programs in the area elementary schools, J. N. Andrews and Sligo Elementary. We began to grow in size and quality and within two years some talented wind players from Takoma Academy joined the CUC Orchestra and Youth Orchestra. What followed were several years of wonderful music making. Mr. Tilkens prepared talented piano students to solo with the CUC , and he also soloed with us a few times.
She married Edward L. Gates in 1968, four years after graduating from CUC with a B.Mus. in 1964. Although not a musician, he has an avid interest in music and continues as a solid supporter of her many activities in music.
In 1969, Gates was hired as a full-time music teacher at CUC, having worked for the past five years on a part-time basis at the college and at J.N. Andrews and Sligo elementary schools. She taught music in all three schools until 1972 and then continued to teach at the college until 1985 and at J.N. Andrews until 1988. In those years, she conducted orchestras and string ensembles, taught private lessons and class violin, directed children's and English handbell choirs, and classes at the college in music education, conducting?, and orchestration.
In 1975, Gates started a three-octave English handbell ensemble in the CUC music program, her first, after being introduced to the bells in a workshop at Westminster Choir College. It quickly became very popular with audiences and led to a December 1977 article about the ensemble in the Review and Herald. In the article, she observed, "I've never had an organization that has experienced such instant success with all audiences. Because of the enthusiasm from both students and spectators, I've added another octave this year."
Gates limited membership only to music education majors. Vickie Corey, a senior English major who had observed a rehearsal as she prepared to write the article, closed it with, "Angels We Have Heard on High was drifting over the empty seats when I slipped away. It was so beautiful! I must confess, I was almost ready to change my major."
Gates completed an M.A. in music at the University of Maryland in 1974, where she studied violin with H. Braunlich. She then continued graduate study at UM, where she completed a Ph.D. in 1984. She later wrote about her doctoral study and dissertation:
I was a music education major and was fortunate during my study at UM to take conducting with Dr. Paul Travers. My dissertation, prepared under the direction of esteemed music educator and author Dr. Eugene Troth, included the writing of the usual written document as well as the creation of six units of multi-image, multi-media, six-projector, three-screen presentations. These included music history, art history, literature, and politics units from Medieval through the 20th Century eras.
These were tested on classes at UM with telling results. Students who received the "treatment" of having information presented by the multi-image units versus those who were given the same information in the usual verbal/textbook manner were found to have significantly higher learning scores.
In 1988, Gates was hired to teach music at the Holton-Arms School, a private girls' school in Bethesda, Maryland, where she conducted two orchestras and three English handbell choirs until 1992, when she retired. Following an audition by Stephen Simon, conductor of the Washington Chamber Symphony, a resident group at the John F. Kennedy Performing Arts Center, the choir was given thirteen consecutive contracts to perform with the them at concerts in the Center, and she was invited to conduct the handbell choir in a solo number each year.
In one of those years, it was a solo accompanied by the orchestra, with Gates as conductor. This proved to be especially meaningful to her because one of the violinists in the orchestra happened to be Jane Ralls, the CUC teacher who years ago had so inspired her. Following the concert, Ralls came back to Gates' dressing room where they had what Gates described as a "wonderful reunion."
Sources: Information provided by Edith Gates, 4 April 2010; Vickie Corey, "Bells of Christmas," Review and Herald, 15 December 1977, 12p; "AVA Choir Presents Program in Roanoke Church," Columbia Union Visitor, 3 March 1957, 3; "New CUC Faculty Members Announced," Columbia Union Visitor, 8 September 1966, 19; "Area String Orchestra Students Given Awards," Columbia Union Visitor, 22 August 1969, 5.