By June Mathews
Ever since she can remember, music has played a pivotal role in Gloria Moody’s life.
The Tuscaloosa native and Birmingham resident early on exhibited a natural flair for the piano that set her on a lifelong course of supporting and promoting the arts.
As a 4-year-old, she’d sit at the keyboard and play by ear; as a 6-year-old, she started taking lessons. At the ripe old age of 12 or thereabouts, Moody began studying the instrument in earnest, thanks to a chance encounter at summer camp.
“I was at Girl Scout camp between sixth and seventh grade, playing the piano for everybody to sing,” Moody recalled. “A nice man came up and asked my name, and without missing a beat, I told him. Then he asked me how to get in touch with my parents, and I again continued to play as I told him what he wanted to know.”
Turned out, the nice man was Roy McAllister, a longtime, much revered piano instructor at the University of Alabama, and he was mightily impressed with the youngster’s talent. Not long afterward, the head of the university’s school of music called Moody’s father and suggested that she begin instruction at the university on a more advanced level.
“From there, I became serious as a pianist,” she said.
She went on to earn a Bachelor of Music at UA, as well as complete some graduate studies there. She later did graduate work at The Julliard School in New York.
As her horizons expanded, Moody’s interest in the arts expanded to include more and more related activities.
Over the years, Moody has served as chairman of the board of the Tuscaloosa Symphony Orchestra and in the same capacity with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra. She has also served on the boards of the Alabama State Council of the Arts, NPR’s From the Top, the Alabama Shakespeare Festival and Red Mountain Theatre, as well as on the advisory board of the Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center.
Even when she and husband Frank spent some of their summers in Connecticut, her volunteer efforts continued, landing her on the board of the Berkshire Opera Company and on the board of overseers with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at its summer home at Tanglewood.
Though her husband died 24 years ago, his legacy lives on in the Frank M. Moody Music Building at UA, which, at his wife’s strong urging, he was instrumental in building.
“He did it for a good night’s sleep,” she laughed. “I wanted a new music building, and I wasn’t going to let him rest until I got it.”
About to turn 83 in December, Moody, who has six children, seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild, is unable to be as active as she was in her younger days. But she still manages to lead bus trips from her retirement community south of town to Friday morning Coffee Concerts with the Alabama Symphony. These events are in part sponsored by the Gloria Narramore Moody Foundation, an entity established by Moody’s late husband to further the arts “and keep me busy the rest of my life,” she said.
But for all the busyness and joy the arts continue to bring her, Moody sadly foresees a time when interest could fade away unless schools begin placing more of an emphasis on the arts.
“I can’t imagine life without the arts – beautiful music, beautiful art and wonderful books to read,” she said. “But I believe if we don’t do more arts education in the schools, children won’t have the same opportunities we have today. And the schools can’t afford to do it without the people who love and support the arts.”
In the meantime, Moody plans to keep doing all she can to further the arts locally, which for her is simply a way of life. But having seen arts-related efforts in and around Birmingham bearing so much fruit, she considers the cause more than worthwhile.
“We’re very blessed here,” she said. “Birmingham is the best kept secret in terms of the arts. We have so much.”