Bluegrass brings young musician out of her shell

When she was a baby, Sophie Lyle was such an introvert her mother, Michelle Mann, was embarrassed to take her out in public.

At the grocery store, when other infants would be adorable for an audience, Mann said, her daughter would stare intensely off into space and pointedly ignore everyone around her. Years later, she still preferred to sit alone on an otherwise empty curb than join her peers at church events.

As a self-described introvert herself, Mann worried about Sophie's future social skills.

"She was just stubborn and introverted," Mann said. "I'm thinking, 'Oh, no, we're just alike. We just want to sit alone and eat our hot dogs. ... Is she going to have any friends in school?'"

But since Steve Daugherty, the former owner of Mountain Music on Dayton Boulevard, thrust a mandolin into Sophie's hands four years ago, she's steadily been coming out of her shell.

Sophie, now 11, recently won the Communicator Award at Signal Mountain Middle/High School, where she is in the sixth grade. When she speaks, especially about music, her face lights up and the words come tumbling out.

"I like the sound (of bluegrass). It's a cool sound," she said. "When I listen to other music, classical especially, it sounds formal, but when I play bluegrass, it sets it apart from everything else and has more twang to it."

Sophie began taking lessons with Matt Evans of the Folk School of Chattanooga shortly after her mother gave her her first mandolin. She has since added fiddle and guitar to her musical bag of tricks, which she has put on display at events such as Riverbend, Riverfront Nights and the Great Southern Old Time Fiddlers Convention.

She also has taken the stage at the Mountain Opry twice. The first time she was playing solo. On her second visit, she was accompanied on guitar by her sisters, Chloe, 13, and Chelsea, 24, who now join her for her lessons with Evans. Their mother is also studying hammer dulcimer at the Folk School.

Evans said that having a family involved in music is just as important to Sophie's development as her innate talent.

"I think they all help keep each other interested and encouraged," Evans said. "I'm a believer that you get out of something what you put into it. It helps all of them put more into it to have each other to play with and play for."

Last year, Sophie made her stage debut as one of the lead actors in the Chattanooga Theatre Centre's youth production of "Madeline's Christmas." In May, she combined her two passions in a production of "Jack and the Beanstalk" by playing music and by acting in a slew of minor roles.

"When I was playing while they were acting, it was really cool because they would do these dance moves, and it would look really cool," Sophie said.

Mann said she never wanted Sophie to feel forced into music or acting, but she is happy to see the freeing effect participation in the arts has had on her.

"I wanted her to be able to get outside and be able to speak to people, and she has. It sounds like she's not on the curb anymore," she said, laughing.


Sophie Lyle shared the lead role in last year's production of "Madeline's Christmas" by the Chattanooga Theatre Centre's Youth Theatre. Earlier this year, she played mandolin and acted in the Youth Theatre's production of "Jack and the Beanstalk."


* Age: 11.

* School: Sixth-grader at Signal Mountain Middle/High School.

* Favorite song: "Old Joe Clark."

* Favorite musician: Christian rap artist Lecrae.