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Copyright & Permitted Use of Collection Search the Collection Browse the Collection by Interviewee About the Oral Histories Collection Oral Histories Home Dr. Herbert L. Sebren, Emeritus professor, served on the faculty of the English and Music Departments from 1948-87. Among the topics discussed are his role in various music groups in the area, including first clarinetist of the Norfolk Symphony Orchestra; his involvement with various music programs at ODU, including band director; and, students and courses in the English Department.


[March 14, 1975]
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Today, I am pleased to be interviewing Professor Herbert L. Sebren of the Department of English at Old Dominion University. Professor Sebren has been on the staff for many years.

Q: The first question I'd like to ask you Professor is, tell me about your background, including some of the colleges you attended and what your early interests and career plans were.

Sebren: Well, I suppose you want to know where I'm from, so I will start with that. My home is Asheville, North Carolina where I went to high school. I graduated from Asheville High School, and then I went to Morris Hill College which is a junior college right outside of Asheville. I graduated from there. Then I went to Berea College in Kentucky. This was largely an economic problem and I was lucky to get in Berea which at that time charged no tuition and I could just afford to go there. I graduated from Berea and I came to some crossroads. I had a fellowship to the University of Michigan and at the same time I got an offer to teach at a college that I graduated from, Morris Hill. So, I decided to take the job instead of going on to graduate school at that time. I taught at Morris Hill for three years and then I went into the military service. This was from 1939 to '42 when I taught, and of course this was also a very hectic time as far as the military was concerned, draft wise. So, I volunteered for the Air Force and spent thirty-nine months in the Air Force.

When I got out of the service I came to Norfolk and taught at St. Helena's for two years. Then I decided that I had to go back to graduate school so I had, had one summer of graduate work at Louisiana State University, and then I decided to go to Northwestern University. It was at that time a very fine school of music. I was doing band directing and also teaching English. I took both of those subjects at Louisiana State and also at Northwestern University. But I concentrated on music and got a masters in music from Northwestern. Then...I came back and taught at what was the Norfolk Division at that time, and decided to go on for a doctorate. So I went to Peabody in Nashville, Tennessee and decided that I would go ahead and pick up a masters in English since I was teaching English, along with directing the band at the Norfolk Division. So, I thought I would go ahead and get the masters degree while I'm working on the doctorate. So, I got--I completed the MA in English down there and stayed on to complete all my work for the doctorate at Peabody's.

I had also had a little bit of graduate work at the Catholic University in Washington because I was asked to go up there and teach some graduate courses in music during the summer--a couple of summer sessions. So, I thought that while I was up there I would just go ahead and take some classes, too which I did in English and Music. So, that's about the extent of the educational background as near as I can recall right off hand.


Well, I'd always had in the back of my mind that I was going to teach. I was not sure what I was going to teach. I wanted to be a band director, and so, I became a band director. My first employment opportunity as I told you a minute ago was at the school I graduated from, Morris Hill. They wanted someone who could do two things: direct the band and teach English at the same time. There didn't seem to be too many people at that time who could come up with that combination. So I worked at that and organized the first band at Morris Hill College in 1939 and was director of the band and also was the director of the orchestra there, while teaching English.

When the war broke in, I had planned to go back there, but a friend of mine by the name of George Bebe, who was head of the History Department at the beginning of the St. Helena Extension of the College of William and Mary, and called me and asked me if I would be interested in coming to Norfolk in serving in the double capacity as both band director and teacher of English. So, I took that opportunity and came to Norfolk and served in that same double function up until about 1955 I guess, when I went away for a year of graduate work at Peabody. When I was gone during that year, they had to get some--they had to hire two people to take my place. One to direct the band and one to teach the English.

When I came back, Dean Peele told me that I should make a decision about concentrating on one or the other. The school was growing so fast that it would be hard to do both. It wasn't a very hard decision to make at that time, because the music situation was at a comparatively low ebb because of the Korean conflict. A lot of students had gone off to the war, so we just didn't have the music students available at that time, and the band was not really too good, as much as I would like to have seen it. So, I went into full-time English and that is what I have been doing ever since. Although I have continued to teach Applied Music--the clarinet. I taught it for the College for I guess ten years after I gave up the band.

Q: About the St. Helena Extension in 1946, you're the only member of the faculty here, I believe, who taught there. I want some information on that. What students you had and where it was located? What went on there; was it a smaller version of the Norfolk Division, or what did it amount to?

Sebren: I'm not the only one from St. Helena actually. There have been several other people who came over from St. Helena, too, but it's possible that they have all retired. I think Dr. Wichard was there when I was there, and Yates Sterling was there when I was there. I don't recall if there is anyone else who is actively teaching now, who was there or not, but I do remember that those two people were there when I was there. That school was established by the State as a branch of the College of William and Mary because right after the war there was such an influx of students, GI's, that the State didn't have room for them in the colleges that they had at that time. I think the Governor had made a commitment or someone in high authority made a committment to the veterans that they would be given an opportunity and an opening in a Virginia school if they wanted it.


Because of the crowded conditions, they decided to open up what had been an old Navy barracks at St. Helena. I do not know the exact street names and all but it was in the south Berkley area just right near the Navy piers, near the fertilizer companies. Since they already had this Navy barracks there plus some wartime barracks-type buildings what they called not permanent buildings but temporary buildings. They converted those into classrooms and dormatories for boys, so they just had all GI students there. Mostly from Virginia, but there were a number from out of state like Pennsylvania and New York. I remember several students from those states that I had. We had close...I would say close to two thousand students there. I maybe wrong on that figure but it was something like that at that time. This school was called the St. Helena Extension of the College of William and Mary. I think probably the connection with the College of William and Mary, is what attracted me to come to Norfolk; the chance to get into a well-known established college--four year college, rather than going back to the junior college where I had taught, Morris Hill. They had only the first two years.

It was just an overnight development of a school. It was just a miraculous thing the way they developed that thing, staffed it, furnished it, and equipped it, almost overnight. I guess from the--well, from the end of December 1945 until the following September they worked on it. And I'm not sure that they knew that in January of 1946 they were going to have the school. They just developed it overnight. They brought in faculty from everywhere. A lot of them were from Virginia but many were from out of state. They had them from Wisconsin. The head of the English Department was from Pennsylvania. They had English teachers from New York. One of them I remember was a man who sounded like a Brooklyn cab driver, but he did a good job. They had people from the Philippines teaching here, people from everywhere. They had a fine faculty.

I taught mainly the freshman English courses there, and sophomore literature. After awhile they decided they could offer some advanced courses, and I was one of the first ones to teach advanced composition. I also taught advanced composition at the Norfolk Division. I was one of the first instructors in that course. That school operated for only two years, so after those two years everyone was left on his own to try to find what he could in the way of a position. It so happened that there were a few positions available over here at the Norfolk Division, as it was called. I was lucky enough to get one of those positions teaching English and they wanted someone who could organize and direct the band at the Norfolk Division. So my double qualifications and double ability came in good stead again. So, I was the first band director at the Norfolk Division which is now Old Dominion University.


Q: You mentioned that in the early years you taught the freshman and sophomore English courses. I would be interested in your impressions of the Norfolk Division students in the late 1940's and how those students compare to today's freshmen in the composition classes.

Sebren: Well, students are students and they always have been. They have their weaknesses that go with the times. You will always going to have good ones and you're going to have bad ones. I think that one thing that motivated the students in the early days especially at St. Helena was the fact that they knew they were being given a chance that they may not have had ordinarily. By the Governor opening up this special extension for veterans gave them that chance. So, most of the students there worked hard and tried hard to get through if maybe they were not as well qualified academically as students who go to your standard colleges. They made up for that I think by hard work.

I remember one of my classes I had two boys by the name of Whitehurst, Hal and Al. You may know Al Whitehurst, the judge, one of the Norfolk judges today. There were a couple of other boys in there that I remember, have gone on to become doctors and lawyers. One student, I don't remember if he was at St. Helena or at the Norfolk Division, by the name of Juny(?) Bradshaw, who is very active in state politics in Richmond. He's a pretty high state official. He was in my English class. He was a good tennis player, by the way.

But so far as the quality of the students, I think they were about the same. Given equal opportunity I think they were about the same but maybe a little bit better motivated back in the "olden days" than they are today. They didn't have as many choices back then. They had to work pretty hard for it, so they took advantage of it. Today's freshman classes I find to be actually...from the standpoint of background, of having read a whole lot, I find them to be not too well prepared. But I think that's a universal weakness and not peculiar to this school. There again you have some students in the class who are well-read, so it averages out. You can't say that the students of the 40's were any better than the students of the 70's. I've had some very good students today, some well-read students, some motivated students, just really a very fine quality people today, just as I had back then. I'm thankful for it.

Q: In 1948, you became the first clarinetist of the Norfolk Symphony Orchestra. I was wondering how this came about and if you could tell me some more about you association with the Norfolk Symphony over the years.

Sebren: Well, let me correct that date. It was earlier than 1948, it was 1946. I read in the newspaper when I was at St. Helena in the Fall of 1946 just after I started work there that they had some openings for different instruments and one of the instruments was the clarinet. I had just come off of the first tour with the North


Carolina Symphony Orchestra conducted by Benjamin Swalleen. You see when I got out of the service, which I did in 1945, in December, that was the middle of the school term. I couldn't start right in because I had no job, so the symphony of North Carolina was looking for people who were free to tour for a couple of months. Well, it just so happened by chance that I was unemployed and free to move about so I auditioned for that orchestra and was the first clarinetist for the first touring orchestra of the North Carolina Symphony. That was their spring tour of two months. Since that time I think they have made that an annual affair and they tour--the orchestra tours the entire state for a period about two to three months.

When I came to Norfolk, I had just had that experience and had been practiced up on my clarinet you know, so when I read of the opening in the newspaper I went down to the rehearsal which was being conducted by Henry Coles Whitehead. The orchestra met at that time upstairs in the Centre Theatre building in a room that had been designed to be used I think by Civil Defense or something of that sort. It wasn't suitable for a symphony rehearsal, but that's the only place that they had available. At any rate I showed up, played the part, and Henry Coles Whitehead liked my playing and he said, "The job is yours." So from 1946 until the present time, which is--what is the present time--March 1975, I have enjoyed an association of very beautiful music with the Norfolk Symphony Orchestra. Unfortunately, Mr. Whitehead died after my first season with the orchestra. He died just at the beginning of the second season, which would have started in the Fall of 1947.

So, left without a conductor, they wanted to go ahead and preserve the orchestra until they could find a suitable conductor, so they prevailed upon the man who was at that time was head of the Music Department at the Norfolk Division of the College of William and Mary. A man by the name of John Paul, to conduct the opening concert and he would be assisted by a man over in Newport News, who would conduct half of the concert. This other man's name was Cary MacMurren. So, each conducted a half, each one conducted I believe each one conducted a concerto. I forget the name--Mr. Paul conducted the... I believe it was the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with Larry Mednick as soloist and Cary MacMurren conducted the Grieg Piano Concerto and I don't remember the name of some girl who played that but I could find it. So, after that concert they were able to look around and located Edgar Schenkman in New York who was willing to take over as conductor. And he came then, that was either at the turn of the year, either the beginning of 1948 or right at the end of 1947. He remained as conductor for...well, until about 1965, I believe it was when Mr. Stanger came, '65, '66, somewhere around there. As I said, I have been the solo clarinet player with that orchestra up until the present time. Let's see I believe I was telling you that I played the solo clarinet in that orchestra. I don't know how much detail you want to go into about the Norfolk Symphony. I played every concert--never missed a concert, and only a couple of rehearsals because of sickness, except for the year's leave of absence that I took when I was away working on my doctorate.

When Mr. Schenkman left because of the conflict between Norfolk and Richmond. You see Mr. Schenkman was a fine conductor and a fine musician but he began to divide his time between Norfolk and Richmond. He was also conductor of the Richmond Symphony. Well, the Richmond people wanted him fulltime and the Norfolk people wanted him fulltime, especially since both places were paying him what they thought was a fulltime salary. So, they said why shouldn't we have his services fulltime. This forced Mr. Schenkman


into the position of having to make a choice. He elected to go to Richmond. That left Norfolk again without a conductor. I was on the committee that searched for a conductor. They interviewed several people and had about eighty applicants for this job--this position of conductor and they finally selected Russell Stanger, who before he had come to Norfolk was an Assistant Conductor with the Minneapolis Symphony.

Q: You also played clarinet for the Feldman Chamber Music Society in 1949 and I wondered if your association with that group was as long as with the Norfolk Symphony or did you just play with that group in 1949?

Sebren: I thought that I played with them earlier than 1949, now that may have been one concert. Because Mr. Feldman heard me play with the symphony. I remember the first concert that we played--that I played with them we played "The Spinning Wheel" of Saint-Saens, and we also had a program that utilized the chorus, the Beethoven choral work. I forget the name of the complete title of it. And Alec Templeton played a Rachmanonov concerto. I had several little solos in those works. Mr. Feldman was in the audience and he didn't know me and never heard me before, and he came up after the concert and introduced himself. He told me how much had had enjoyed my playing and what a sensitive musician he thought I was and wanted to know if I would play with his group which he had just organized. So, I was glad to do that and I played with them the Mozart Quintet for Clarinet and Strings and what I believe was the first concert by the Feldman Chamber Music Ensemble. If not the first concert, at least the first year of their operation. This concert was played in the Women's Clubhouse down just off of Olney Road, off of the Hague. It was a very intimate place to play, but the place was packed. People were sitting practically in my lap, looking over my shoulder as I performed that work, and it was very, very successful. Now you may--that could have been the 47-48 season for them. Then probably in '49 I had a chance to play another work with them: the Brahm's Quintet for Clarinet and Strings.

Now by this time they'd grown so much; their audiences had grown so much, they needed more room than the Women's Club could handle, so they would hold their programs at that time in the Taylor School, elementary school there on Princess Anne Road. That was a very good program and a very successful program. Then, soon after that the present building housing the Norfolk Little Theatre was completed, a very beautiful little theater building and they gave their programs in there. And I played--lets see, one work that I played there was the Prokofiev Overture on Hebrew Theme, and also did the Schubert Octet with them.

Then they began to bring in out of town artists. It seems that they felt that they could draw more of a crowd by bringing in people from outside than using local talent. So, they brought in a clarinetist from Baltimore, a fellow by the name of Genussa (Sp?) Except that Mr. Feldman asked me to perform the work with the quartet so that they could learn it. Then Mr. Genussa would come in for just a day of rehearsals a head of time before the concert and he was the performer, so I had quite a bit of experience playing other works that I did not really perform in public.


I would like to correct one misconception that I read in the paper about the performance of the Brahm's Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano that the Feldman society claimed had been the first performance Norfolk a couple of years ago with a clarinet player from Norfolk State. I had performed that work just ten years earlier on a program sponsored by the college, the Norfolk Division, in the early days of television when we had our first television series from WTAR. The Norfolk Division put on a program educational programs of different kinds and the Music Department put on several programs. And, I played the Brahm's on that program.

Q: You mentioned that the college band and you said you directed it until about 1955. I was wondering in those days without any major athletic teams just what exactly the band's role was on the campus and whether you gave any concerts off the campus.

The main reason was just to afford an outlet for students who played an instrument and didn't have anyplace to play, but wanted to play. And then if occasion arose, we could put on a concert. Why we'd have something ready to do. The beginning days of the band at the Norfolk Division, or Old Dominion University, whichever you want to call it, were very hectic. We had no rehearsal hall and we had very little equipment. What we had to do was just simply move the chairs out of a classroom and move them back, so we could get the stands, what few music stands we had in there and get the band set up in there. It was very crowded and of course, very noisy. Finding a time to rehearse was a problem. We tried it at noon but that didn't work out too well. Then in the afternoon if we tried to rehearse of course, we ran into the problem of disturbing classes that might be going on in the building. In fact, nearly every time we had a rehearsal, which was scheduled twice a week, we would get a complaint from Dr. Robert MacClellan, who was the Director of the Evening College and Professor of History, and I don't know what all he did. He was into everything here at that time. He liked music but he didn't like it next door to his office, which was where we had to rehearse. So, everytime we practiced Dr. MacClellan would come in ask us to soften it down or how much longer did we have to go, or could we please speed it up, or something to stop the noise.

So, we had our troubles, but we had some fine musicians back in those days. People right out of the service. Boys who were trained with the service bands. We had some superior musicians. As an example, one of the people that was here at the time that I came was Tommy Newsome. You may have heard of Tommy Newsome with the Tonight Show. Tommy Newsome, Jack Lida, Jack Levy, Lucia Montagna, who is in the shoe business here in Norfolk. You'be probably heard of the Montagnas. Also Jahn Dario, Ziggy Harrell, Fred Hewitt, Jr. this was, were all veterans who knew their music, so we could play just about anything and everything. In addition to the students that we had, there were a number of boys who were in the service at that time who were looking for additional outlets to their musical talent, so when they heard that we had a band, they wanted to come over. So we didn't have too much trouble getting good players. They just


volunteered from everywhere to come in. So we played a good high level of standard band repertoire, the overtures, ballet music, the Soussa marches, novelty tunes, all that. And as we developed we began to put on programs for the student body, which were quite popular. We would play for a convocation in the gym, or just have a band program for the students and the faculty. They were very well received. Dr. Gerald Akers played clarinet with the band. We used to joke about the fact that we were probably the only college band in the country that had a PhD sitting on the last stand of clarinets, but that's where he liked to sit and do his bit on the clarinet.

We played for civic clubs. We played at the Monticello Hotel for Kiwanis Club or Civitan Clubs or whatever met down there so that gave the students additional incentive and helped to publicize us a little bit. The programs were always very well received. now one first that we can claim, and in fact at this time it was probably the first and only was the marching band. We didn't have enough players to march on our own, but a friend of mine who was the Band Director at Williamsburg, at the College of William and Mary, Allan Stuart, said,"Let's join forces, because I don't have enough players up here to make a marching band. And, you don't have enough down there, but if we get together maybe we can get up a good group."

So we did. We would take a couple of carloads of our students up there, work out formations, and they provided the uniforms. One trip that I remember taking the Norfolk Division band on was to the football game at Wake Forest with William and Mary. We put on a halftime show, the marching band and had a great time. And then we'd go to Williamsburg and march up there in the games. I wish we could--I think it would be a good thing to get a marching band going again of some kind. Just to give practice to the students.

Q: You alluded to the answer of following question, but perhaps you would like to say something more about it. With such an obvious interest in music, I was wondering why you chose a career in teaching English rather than teaching music. If it was just related to the parlous state of the Music department here.

Sebren: I've always been interested in both subjects. I read a lot all the way through high school. I had good English teachers who inspired me. In fact, I told one of them that I was going to be an English teacher. This was before I ever graduated from high school. But as I said earlier, I had always wanted to be a band director, too. So, I was just lucky enough to get into a situation at Morris Hill where I could do both things. And later the demand in Norfolk for someone who could do both things. I had a lot of training in the band field, but I guess the more I got into it, the less I really wanted to do that fulltime. I really have no deep regrets for having given up band directing.


I've worked with some of the greatest directors in the United States and played with them. They were people like Glen Banum, Henry Fillmore, Carl King. They just don't make them any better than those people. But you know, band directing is a very exacting and demanding field, you have to do a lot more than just work with music. You have to be a financial wizard and keep up with uniforms, and the equipment all this, that and the other, so I don't regret not having to do all those things. I love the music, but I'm just as happy to be out of it. I love reading and I love the English and I love my contact with all of the students that I've had as an English instructor.

Q: You find in the college newspapers many many references to operettas put on by the Music Department and I know that you were involved with these. In 1952, for example, two operettas were put on: "Trail by Jury" and "Down in the Valley." Professor Vogan of the Music Department seems to have been responsible for these operettas. I wonder if you thought that he was basically responsible and if he contacted you to come in and join forces with him, or how that came about?

Sebren: Well, the opera production at Old Dominion started in 1948-49. That was when John Paul was head of the music Department here. He had all this talent, as I indicated a while ago; these musicians, and he also had some fine singers like Shirley Thompson and her sister who are both opera stars in Europe and in New York here. They had the urge to do some kind of stage production, so the first opera that they produced was the Gilbert and Sullivan "H.M.S Pinafore."

They had such good luck with that, they decided to do a second one the following year, which was "Pirates of Penzance", that had Bill Martin in it. Oh, I can't remember the names of all the people off-hand. They will come to me after all this is over--the interview is over. Mr. Paul asked me because I was the band director to get the orchestra ready for these productions. So I had to organize an orchestra and find the string players, and rehearse them and get them ready to perform for the show. So that was the beginning of opera and the opera workshop and so forth at the Norfolk Division or Old Dominion University.

John Paul left here the following year after the 1949 year to become head of the Music Department at the Catholic University in Washington. So, when he left, we had no one to do that, but we still had the demand, we had the students and we still had some talented musicians. Dr Vogan came in as head of the department following John Paul, so he inherited this operetta or musical production business, and as I said, the demand for it still seemed to be high. He continued with that, with the two works that you have indicated; "Trial by Jury" and "Down in the Valley" and since I'd been orchestra conductor for the previous work, he asked me to serve in the capacity of Associate Conductor,


Assistant Conductor, I forgot what the title was, for his works. That's how I happened to be listed there. But he was--Dr. Vogan carried on the tradition that John Paul started. It continued to grow to the extent that Dr. Vogan who is primarily an organ man--theory man, and not an opera production man decided to bring in someone who could do stage productions. So he hired Harold Hawn to come in, and Harold Hawn was the key figure in the opera workshop here for a number of years.

Q: When the school orchestra came into existence, how long did you play a role in the development of the orchestra?

Sebren: The actual organization of the orchestra, I guess I was the key figure in it for probably three or four years. After that time, the band was the big thing. We didn't really have an orchestra as such on the campus. The need for the orchestra came only for these stage productions. So, when the time came to do one of those, it was my job to assemble, through my contacts in the community with the players that I knew through association with the symphony. It was my job to assemble the proficient players who could put on a show with the minimum number of rehearsals and do the best job. So I was the orchestra organizer, I guess you could call it. Although I did not really conduct. Mr. Hawn conducted the performances up until just the last couple of years of his work with the opera workshop. I think he brought in John MacCormack to help him do his conducting. So that was my role with the orchestra.

Q: Then you came in at the beginning of the opera workshops. You didn't continue with that through the 50's. In the mid-fifties the Division began to offer Junior level English courses. I was wondering what advanced courses you offered and over the years what new offerings in the advanced areas you have developed.

Sebren: One of the courses that I offered in the beginning, in connection with the Engineering program was a course in Advanced Technical Writing. This was set up primarily for engineers. I guess I was the first one to teach that course on the campus. It was English 440, I believe. Normally, they would have waited until they got to VPI. Becayuse they would have transferred, you know, before this became a four year school, to Virginia Tech to take that course in their senior year. But as we continued to grow they decided to offer some of these advanced courses on this campus, and that was one of the first ones in the English Department that they offered.

Another course that I taught on the advanced level was Advanced Grammar, and I've forgotten the course numbering for that. I think it was a 400 at that time. I taught that for two or three years. I was the first one to teach that.

Another course that I taught, and it's kind of interesting to see how these things have all mushroomed, was Children's Literature. That was English 342. We started out with one section of that with eight students in it. And then the following year we had something over twenty students, and then the next semester we had about forty students.


And then we had to split the classes then so that we had not one class, but two classes, and each one of them filled. That course has grown to such an extent that, as you know, it moved from English to Education and then Library Science, and now I think it's moved back to Education, combining Education and Library Science. We now have three or four people teaching that course; Children's Literature. I was glad to be able to start that field at Old Dominion University. I had some excellent work in that from one of the pioneers in the field, Dr. Bruton, who's written many books on that subject.

Q: During the past twenty-five years have you noticed an improvement or a decline in the students' reading skills? Do the students today seem to enjoy reading more or less than when you began teaching here?

Sebren: As I told you at the beginning of this interview when you asked me about the students of the forties, and the students of today, there doesn't seem to be much change. You have some that are well-read, some that never have read anything. You have some that can read fluently, and some who can't make head or tails out of an English sentence. That situation is just as true today as it was twenty years ago, or twenty-five years ago. It's been kind of a standing joke, not only with me but with other members in the department, that if you wanted to have some fun in a course in which you are studying drama, just ask the students to read the parts in the drama. Whether it is a Shakespearean play or a play by Ibsen or a play be George Bernard Shaw, just let a student take the part, the role of the character in the play and read that part out loud in the classroom. It's always amazing at how poorly they do, it's disconcerting.

This is a situation, as I say, that's gone on ever since I've been in the business and it's not just a characteristic of Norfolk students, it's true every where. It may be that oral reading is something that people need to practice more on or never do any of, so when they are called upon to do it, it always comes as sort of a shock to them to have to do it. They do poorly at it. As far as the reading skills are concerned. I don't notice any great improvement in the past twenty-five years. As to whether they enjoy reading more, you have a certain percentage of them who are going to...to read a lot and some who don't. I always get a little questionnaire that I pass out asking them what their favorite magazines are and if they have read any books. Some of them can list some magazines and some of the can't. Some of them list no books that they've read. That is, in the last three or four months just for pleasure or whatever.

Here's an example right here of a student who not only has not read any books lately, but can't even write the sentence stating that he hasn't read any good books lately without misspelling several of the words. you need anymore evidence?


Q: I was wondering if your involvement with musical performances on the campus declined in the 1960's as the staff of the Music Department began to expand.

Sebren: Well, I don't know exactly what you mean by that question. Of course I have done less playing on the campus since I left the Music Department, that would be easy to understand and would be expected. Up until the late '60's I continued to, as I told you earlier, teach Applied Music. I was the clarinet instructor for the college along with teaching English. So that if someone signed up as a music major to take clarinet as his major instrument, he would take his clarinet lessons from me. This meant that I had to go over to the Music Building in the afternoons and teach clarinet lessons to the college students who wanted them.

As the school has grown there is more demand for me in the English Department and more demand for someone else to do full-time work in the Music Department. Plus the fact that the governor as nearly as I understand it, has said that they would not allow someone to double up now as they formerly did, when I did both areas. So I had to give up that work by decree of the Governor, as a part-time music instructor. But I still continue to play, I don't play with the department as such, but I still continue to play with the symphony and other groups from time to time.

Q: During your career here have there been any committee assignments that you recall as being outstanding or have they been all pretty much routine?

Sebren: I've been on most of the, well, I would say most but a good many of the standard committees that the college has to insure a smooth function. One committee that I served on for a number of years was the Convocation Committee. We had to select programs and then we had to put on the programs. We had to organize the presentation from beginning to end, that is get the auditorium ready, arrange about the dismissal of classes, the whole bit. Then preside over the convocations when the time came. So I enjoyed working with that committee, especially when it gave me a chance to meet people like Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, Eddy Cantor, James M. Caine, and other famous national figures like that.

Then, I was on the Registration Committee for a number of years and the Athletic Committee. I was chairman of the Athletic Committee, at a time when they were thinking about going into the Southern Conference, for the first time. They are thinking about it again now. So we met with the Southern Conference officials in Asheville, North Carolina at their Spring meeting and presented our case. I say "we", but this was Bud Metheny who was at that time the Athletic Director and head of department. We didn't have a chance of getting in then for the same reason that we won't get in now. That is, that we don't have a football team, unless the Southern Conference relaxes its rules on that requirement. But I enjoyed my work as Chairmen of the Athletic Committee. It was a transitional period from the old gymnasium to the new gymnasium.

We were talking about the committes. And I was talking about the fact that I was Chairman of the Athletic Committee of the transitional period moving from the old gym into the new gym. I enjoyed working with that group, and working with Sonny Allen, Jim Gerritt(sp), and so forth. And, I've been on a Student Grievence Committee, and an Academic Standing Committee, and I don't remember what all. Those were the main ones that I recall being on.


Q: What members of the large faculty, which developed into the very large faculty of the English Department have impressed you as the most effective teachers and effective scholars in your career at the school?

Sebren: I don't know if I can answer that question. That's a loaded question. I would say that they've all impressed me for one reason or another. I don't know that I could single out one individual as being more effective or not as effective as someone else. I think we've had a fine group of people here at Old Dominion and there must be some truth in what I say as witness to the way the school has grown. If we hadn't been any good, do you think we would have reached the place we're in now?

I wouldn't be able to single out any individuals. I've enjoyed working with all of them. Each one, each member of the English Department has his own special characteristics and personality that makes him effective in his own way. Each one has his own peculiarities, idiosyncrasies that may make him less appealing to someone else. We all do. I wouldn't want to name any names there unless you force me into it. [laughs]

Q: You have remained now for, under its various names: the Norfolk Division, Norfolk College of William and Mary, Old Dominion College and Old Dominion University for twenty-seven years on the faculty, and I wondered if you ever had any second thoughts about perhaps you might have enjoyed going on to another institution or if you have ever felt bored by staying here, or have been happy that you remained at this college?

Sebren: Well, I'll say that I had my opportunities to move on. I guess everyone has his opportunities. As the old farmer said up in the mountains, a long number of years ago. He said, "Everyone reaches a crossroads and he'll always wish, no matter which road he takes, he'll wish he'd taken the other one." So it's hard to say you know, what would have happened if I'd taken the other road, but the fact that I remained here this long indicates that I've been satisfied and I've just enjoyed watching this school grow the way that it has grown. I've had a lot of wonderful experiences here, and could tell you a lot more stories than we're going to have room to get on this tape. All of them I could document or authenticate if need be.

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