Remembering Miss Nell


I wonder if everyone has a Miss Nell somewhere in their background. She was our music teacher from about the sixth grade straight through our senior year in high school.


Miss Nell (Millard) also taught us to play the piano and was our church choir director.  I saw her everyday of my life for at least 12 years.  She was a combination of tough task master and genial push over.

Her crowning moments were each year in December when she magically transformed a bunch of street urchins into an angelic choir bringing  down the house with our finale – Hallelujah chorus.

Our parents thought we would all matriculate to the Julliard School of Music.  None of us did.

Olivia reminded me this morning about a classic Miss Nell moment when she would delight us with  “The Laughing Song” – does anyone else remember it?  I don’t remember any lyrics but can still she her shaking as she laughed hysterically to the piano music.

Her bun was always falling down because she was perpetually on the move rushing from one school to another, trying to infuse us with a modicum of culture.

If you google “The Laughing Song by George Johnson” you will hear what I believe to be Miss Nell’s song.  It is dated 1898 which is probably the year Miss Nell was born.

14 thoughts on “Remembering Miss Nell

  1. Actually,Emily, I’m not sure how it happened, but some of us had Miss Nell as a choral music teacher in the 1st grade!!! Many(most) childhood memories have faded, but I don’t think I will ever forget how excited (and slightly embarrassed) all of the 1st graders were wearing our flannel pajamas and nightgowns(over our clothes, of course) and standing in long rows and singing “Jolly Old St. Nicholas” on the stage at what was then WPHS auditorium! As I remember, all of the girls were “hams” for that sort of experience, but one of the guys had stage fright so badly he couldn’t move after the song was over and my row was stuck onstage until someone could get his attention to lead the rest of us off the stage!!! Does anyone else remember that Christmas concert in 1954? How fortunate and blessed we all were to have Miss Nell during our formative years!!!

  2. Mary Carr, What a scream! Was that Johnny Gilliland who had stage fright? We must have had Miss Nell in elementary school too if you did since I was one year ahead of you. I was thinking we didn’t start music until we got to Junior High. So much for my memory.

  3. Emily thanks for reminding us of Miss Nell. Every time I hear Peter and the Wolf, I think of her. She introduced us to many classics as well as taught us how to clap the rhythm to every song in a Presbyterian Hymnal!

  4. Emily,
    Yes,we had Miss Nell before 6th gr. because she always called me Barbara and she would not have known to do that had she not also been teaching Barb’s class. Seems like one of our favorite songs in elem. school was Red River Valley. I loved Ms Nell, and often think of her and all the other teachers who were so tough on us, but ended up making us learn because of that toughness.

  5. Maybe we only performed at Christmas…as I said, my memories fade in and out; however, I doubt seriously if “J B” ever had 2 seconds of stage fright in his life!!! There was also an all boys choir singing “Angels, we have heard on high”…soprano and alto….I seem to remember Doug Clark singing soprano! Somebody out there must remember that?

  6. I remember her from church, living down the street from her on south Division and her son Willie and my Senior year at WPHS. I took music that year because it was a class I had never taken. I do not are have I ever had a singing voice and i was terrified of her as she made you try out in front of the whole class. There were some people who were little trouble makers and how she would get upset and take it out on all of us.

  7. I remember a song we used to sing called “Fair Cuba” – I can still remember some of the words after 55 plus years… “Fair Cuba sits enthrowned in an ocean of light, la, la, la.”
    Remember it anyone? I had no idea where Cuba was – thought it was probably somewhere in South Mississippi.

  8. Remember Willie had a glass eye (after some childhood accident). In church we would sit on the back row and he would take it out and toss it around!

  9. We had Miss Nell in elementary school ( West Side ). We would practice in the lunch room on the stage. I did not take choral in high school until my Senior year. I remember the Hallelujah Chorus, the hair stood up on my arm when we sang it. The only way I could hit a note was if I stood next to Eddy Gandy while we sang, at least I thought I was hitting the notesw.

  10. Conley – your comments made me laugh out loud. I stood by Judy White during the Hallelujah chorus and I could also reach the high notes miraculously- so why did everyone turn and look at me? Surprised, I guess.

  11. What great memories I have of Miss Nell and those gosh awful piano recitals! I always think of Miss Nell when we start practicing “The Hallelujah Chorus.” She taught me (among many others) the alto to THC, and I can sing it by heart. I have too many stories to tell, but thanks, Emily, for sparking the wonderful memories of one of the great characters from our childhood. [We honored Miss Nell with a “Class of ’66 Chorus” at our recent reunion. I don’t know if she would have approved, but she would have laughed.]

  12. ” . . . . where the dawn comes in splendor . . . . fair Cuba . . . we greet thee Cuba . . . ” Yes, I remember. . . some of it!

  13. Hello-
    My elementary music teacher was also a big influence on my life (not that I realized it at the time !). Her name was Edith Scopone, and she had a beautiful singing voice in addition to being a fabulous pianist!
    I just happened upon this page while googling to find out more information about one of my favorite songs from those years — turns out it is the same “Fair Cuba” song you’ve been discussing.
    I loved it so much, I remember the words of two verses (there may have been more…) and the refrain:

    Fair Cuba,
    Sits enthroned in an ocean of light,
    Where the dawn comes in splendor,
    And the stars of the night shine with radiance bright,
    Shine with radiance bright.

    Are her fields and her forests of green,
    And the glory they lend her.
    Of all tropical isles, fairest Cuba is queen,
    Fairest Cuba is queen.

    We greet thee Cuba,
    Land of flower and of song.
    The happy birds awake,
    And thy praises prolong (and thy praises prolong)
    O isle of Cuba!
    How thy sweet, tender calm
    Healeth all weary souls with its balm,
    With its magical balm.

    A great song — so much fun to sing! Wish I knew more about it. Was it some kind of “national song” of Cuba? Probably from before the revolution…
    Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

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