One of the best moments of Brenda Wildes’ teaching career was witnessing a hearing-impaired toddler utter his first intentionally formed syllable.
It was a simple “ba.”
But that one sound meant he was learning, was making his first steps toward talking, and it happened in Wildes’ class.
She’s not a speech pathologist, though. She’s a music teacher. The class sang scales using the sound “ba,” and he wanted to do it.
“That will forever be one of the most fantastic moments of my life,” said Wildes, a resident of Spring Place. “He had not even done ‘ma’ yet.”
When Wildes retired to Murray County with her now deceased husband Wendell in 2007, she had planned on only teaching her Beba’s Music Box class to infants and toddlers. And that’s all she’s done so far, though she spent most of her life also teaching piano and organ.
When a parent of one of her students offered to give her an organ for her home, Wildes changed her mind. She knows fewer and fewer people play the organ now, especially since many churches have dropped the traditional organ in favor of more contemporary forms of worship.
Wildes has decided to begin teaching organ, hoping it won’t become a lost art. The private lessons are for adults and teens who are already proficient at reading music and playing the piano and who have an interest in playing the organ for a church. Students must be able to play congregational hymns or classical music.
“There’s not a lot of organists around these days,” said John Rossing, pastor of Christ the King Lutheran Church where Wildes is the organist. “It’s a skill and an art that’s not really common these days. We were looking for an organist and didn’t know where we would find one. We kind of stumbled on Brenda.”
The former organist at the Lutheran church was ready to retire so Rossing said church members began looking for someone to take her place a year-and-a-half before they found Wildes. She’s been there for more than a year now.
“We feel really blessed to have her,” Rossing said. “She’s a talented organist and a very warm and friendly person. She fit right into the congregation. She has added a lot to our worship service. ... It’s a common situation for churches nowadays to have a hard time finding an organist. We felt really fortunate to have found the one we did. The skill is getting harder to find.”
The organ is still an integral part of many church worship services, including the Lutheran Church, of which many famous composers, such as Johann Sebastian Bach, have been members.
“There are people in the church who wouldn’t miss the organ music if we didn’t have it,” Rossing said. “I think there are a lot of people who would feel something was missing from worship life if we didn’t have organ music at least some of the time.”
Wildes, a native of Tifton, began playing the piano at age 7 and the organ at 12.
“I was at Northside Baptist Church the first time I played the organ,” she said. “That was the beginning of my love. I started taking pipe organ lessons from Julia Gray who had a pipe organ in her home, which was really unheard of even then. She is the one that made me know I wanted to play the organ and I wanted to teach.”
Wildes took several music classes at Florida State University while her husband was there on an athletic scholarship. She worked in the continuing education department as an event coordinator and was able to take the classes for free. The Wildes married their freshman year of college while at a small junior college in 1963.
“He got to play ball, and I got to play the piano and organ,” she said.
Wendell Wildes was a high school coach, physical education teacher and driver’s education teacher. Brenda Wildes was often a music teacher in various school systems, though she never received a teaching certificate.
“When I first started teaching, I would lead children’s music classes with the condition that I could also teach piano,” Wildes said. “There were no restrictions on that then. I taught piano in the (Ashburn) school system, worked with the chorus and literary team. I did that up until 2005. I was not teaching as a certified music teacher. It was as a volunteer mainly. I could take students (for piano) in the morning, or at lunch, during P.E. once a week. There’s no way that would be done today.”
The couple retired to north Georgia to be closer to their four children and their families. Wendell Wildes passed away a couple of years ago.
Brenda Wildes had been teaching Beba’s Music Box for several years. It’s a franchise of The Music Box, a program geared toward exposing children to music from birth. Beba was Wildes’ childhood nickname and is what her grandchildren call her.
“I take babies when they can sit up through 4 years old,” Wildes said. “I use (The Music Box) literature and add a little to it. I add some traditional children’s Christian hymns, such as ‘Jesus Loves Me.’ I thought that’s all I would do when I quit teaching.”
“If churches have a need for an organist, I want people in this area to have the opportunity to take lessons,” she said. “I signed a manifesto (at a conference) that I would teach at least one person how to play the organ. I’ve never forgotten that.”