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David Rice recently established a music scholarship fund in honor of his wife, Martha, at the Mississippi University for Women.
Daily photo by Emily Saunders
David Rice recently established a music scholarship fund in honor of his wife, Martha, at the Mississippi University for Women.

Scholarship honors woman who loves teaching

By Holly Hollman
hhollman@decaturdaily.com · 340-2445

TANNER — With an abandoned piano recovered from the Saudi Arabian desert, Martha Rice spent the later part of the 1970s sharing American music with children from various nationalities.

She stuck to the classics and some popular tunes but didn’t bring up The King.

“I didn’t tell them about Elvis at all,” she said. “They didn’t know about him. They didn’t know anything about American music. I stuck to what a child might learn in an American school.”

This Tanner resident got her music teaching gig by being married to David Rice, who served in the Corps of Engineers and worked nearly three years in Saudi Arabia.

Martha Rice spent her time teaching children of Corps workers from Europe and Asia at an international community school. Muslims would not allow their children to attend.

“It was very primitive. I had no instruments to work with until a lady told me about a piano left in the desert that we could pay someone to go get,” Martha Rice said. “Mostly I played and taught the children to sing. They were quick to learn. A good many knew some English.”

The Rices lived in a compound, and Martha Rice often taught at the compound or at places such as a former mansion.

She organized a band and asked students to bring instruments if they had them. Most brought drums. The Corps gave her money to order other instruments, such as horns, from U.S. companies.

The children held concerts, the first being a Charlie Brown program.

The children were curious about more than just American music. Martha Rice said she had a class of boys, and one fellow raised his hand and asked if she would teach them songs from their cultures.

“I told them I was hired to teach American music only, and the next day, they sent me an apology,” Martha Rice said. “It was so sweet.”

During her career, she also taught music stateside at Tanner High School and in Charleston, S.C.

“Someone once told me that children around the world have grown up singing what I taught them,” Martha Rice said. “I don’t know about that, but I loved my experience, and I love teaching children.”

Scholarship money helped Martha Rice share her talent by paying for her education at the Mississippi University for Women. She double majored in music when she graduated in 1948 and became a music educator.

David Rice wanted to honor his wife of 57 years and her talent. He found a way to do that and help music students needing financial assistance for college.

He established the Martha Margaret Bailey Rice Music Scholarship Fund at MUW. Starting with the fall semester, the scholarship will benefit a junior or senior music major.

“My husband did that without telling me,” Martha Rice said in a chastising tone and then added, “but I hope it gives students a chance like I had.”

David Rice said he knows it is a gift the couple can offer that, like music, “keeps on lasting.”

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