Inspiring Teacher of Music

Contributed by BetteJo Hall-Caldwell

Miss Annie M. Sykes

Ilion Citizen, Thursday, April 4, 1907

Her Long and Useful Life of Nearly 86 Years Brought to a Close was Music Teacher for Half a Century.

The last issue of the Clinton Courier contained an extended obituary notice of Miss Annie M. Sykes, who twenty odd years ago was well known in Ilion and Herkimer, where she had a number of pupils whom she instructed in music. She was a very lovable lady whose life was a long and useful one. The tribute to her memory was written by her nephew, H.B. Sykes, one of the editors of the Clinton Courier, and from it we make the following liberal extracts:

Annie M. Sykes

"Miss Annie M. Sykes, one of the oldest and best known natives of Clinton, died in Lyons, Wayne co., Thursday morning, March 21st. Among those who gathered to pay the last tribute of respect to the aged teacher were three ladies from Ilion, former music pupils of Miss Sykes in that place and representing a large class which she taught in the village some twenty years ago and who became devoted friends of their instructor, whose life work as a teacher of vocal and instrumental music had won for her distinction far beyond the bounds of her native town and even of Central New York. These ladies from Ilion brought floral offerings which they were permitted to strew with loving hands over the casket containing the mortal remains of one whom they had learned to love and revere long years ago, when she was nearing the close of her remarkable career as a musical instructor and they were entering upon the hopeful activities and joys of young womanhood. This somewhat unusual bond of friendship between teacher and pupils manifested after so many years of separation from the time when it had its inception in the faithful and superior instruction rendered, has apparently grown and ripened with the passing of time, and its simple and touching manifestation at this time is but an earnest of what these true friends have it in their hearts to do to honor the memory and friendship of their revered teacher. For they have asked and been granted the privilege of placing a simple memorial stone to mark her earthly resting place. There are probably hundreds of the former pupils of Miss Sykes living all over the country, who were under her instructions during the long period of years when she taught music in the various ladies seminaries in Clinton who would be pleased to learn of the thoughtful and spontaneous act of her former Ilion pupils. Their offer has been accepted with appreciation of the beautiful spirit which prompted it and in view of the peculiar circumstances which drew it forth. No teacher was ever more devoted to a profession than was the subject of this sketch to hers, and having devoted her entire active life to its labors, it seems entirely fitting that her pupils should be given the privilege of jointly expressing in this modest way their recognition of her worth and their reverence for her memory.

"Annie M. Sykes was the eldest daughter of Orrin and Nancy [Catilin] Sykes, and was born in Clinton, Aug 4,1821. Her rudimentary education was obtained in the common schools of those early days, and it is traditional in the family that she was a remarkably bright pupil, having learned to read and write by the time she was four years of age. In her young girlhood she enterd the Young Ladies' Domestic Seminary, established in this village in 1833 by Rev. Hiram H. Kellogg, an institution which had a brief but brilliant career, and which became the forerunner of Mount Holyoke Seminary and other famous institutions for the all-around education of young women. Leaving M. Kellogg's school at an early age Miss Sykes at once engaged in teaching school and continued to follow this vocation in this and neighboring towns and in more distant places for a number of years. She early manifested considerable musical talent, and this she cultivated while in Mr. Kellogg's school and in the singing schools which flourished in those days. In these and other ways Miss Sykes developed her musical talents and at length gave up school teaching to devote herself entirely to musical instruction, a career which she followed with remarkable success for a period approximating fifty years. Early in her career Miss Sykes was enabled to go to New York and receive instruction from the noted Italian vocalist, Bassini, whose methods for voice culture have never been surpassed, and as an exponent of which Miss Sykes achieved berilliant success. She was successfully in charge of the musical departments of the White Seminary, Houghton Seminary, Cottage Seminary and Rev. Benjamin W. Dwight's School for Girls, all of which have flourished and faded in this educational center. It was while Miss Syke was in charge of the muiscal instruction at the White Seminary, the female department of the Clinton Liberal institute, which was at the zenith of its prosperity that she became the teacher of a young lady from Jefferson county, Miss Antoinette Sterling, whose marvelous contralto voice later became the wonder and admiration of two continents, and the glory of whose triumphs in musical circles of a generation ago, in this country and in Europe was reflected in no small degree upon and proudly rejoiced in by her early musical instructor, the subject of this sketch. Miss Sterling [afterward Madame MacKinlay, of London,] herself never failed to acknowledge her indebtedness to Miss Sykes, and rejoiced to visit her old teacher and to correspond with her during a period of many years. Miss Sterling died some years ago, after a long and brillanti career, having sung before Queen Victoria and many other of the crowned heads of Europe.

"In 1873, Miss Sykes herself established a ladies' boarding school in Clinton, principally for musical instruction, although other branches were taught. This school opened with much promise, but its career was abruptly terminated at the end of its first year by a fire which completely destroyed the building and caused considerable loss to those interested. It was soon after this disastrous enterprise that Miss Sykes was led by circumstances to take up private musical instruction in Ilion, and in a short time she had a large class there which occupied her time for the greater part of each week. She also had pupils in other nearby places and in Utica and Clinton. During this period, and indeed for many years previously, she gave occasional concerts in Clinton, Ilion and other places, of a character seldom enjoyed in these days, and nearly always drawing a large audience.

"The concerts exhibited the work of her pupils to advantage and were of such an enjoyable character that many of them are recalled with pleasure to this day by those who remember to have attended them. It was during these years of labor among the hospitable and appreciative people of Ilion and its sister villages that Miss Sykes won many lasting friendships and culminated her long and arduous career as a teacher of music.

Miss Sykes had a large and generous heart and a capacity for love and labor rarely excelled in a woman. The fruits of her labors were scattered with a prodigal hand among those she loved. She was devoted to her parents and kindred and gave her entire life to their service and the promotion of their happiness and comfort. Brought up amid the surroundings of poverty and hardship, she hewed out her own career, and in spite of difficulties and labors, that would have disheartened many a man, this woman waged a man's battle with the world and lifted herself and her loved ones toward higher and better conditions of life. She "looked not upon her own things but upon the things of others" and "took no thought for the morrow."

"Gifted by nature with a bright mind" she aptituded herself to her own education using every opportunity afforded. She was an intelligent and discriminating reader and a keen judge of character. Until her latest days she kept in touch with affairs throughout the world, and was well informed upon all public questions. She was strong in her likes and dislikes and held with tenacity to her opinions. She had a naturally religious temperament and although a church attendant throughout her life and holding pronounced views upon religion and submitting to the rite of baptism had never united with any church organization. Of late years she had been a strong adherent of the Christian and Missionary Alliance movement, and found great joy in attending these meetings. She gave generously of her limited means while they lasted to the appeals of charity and religion, and expressed unbounded faith that the Lord would provide for her when her means were exhausted. Indeed until her mind gave way through the effect of the sad experiences of her last illness she lived a life of faith and prayer and gave the utmost proof of her belief in the doctrine of divine healing.

"So lived and died one of God's true servants and more believing children. In common with most strong characters she had her faults as well as her virtues, but the memory of her unselfish deeds and her generous and loyal devotion to these she loved will long remain as a blessed heritage and an inspiration to those who knew her true worth."

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Created 11/18/03
Copyright © 2003 BetteJo Hall-Caldwell
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