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Friday, June 19, 2015

The Gift Of a GREAT Teacher

Lessons Learned

The Best Piano Teacher

She had a stunning reputation for excellence. Unquestionably, in a very wide geographical radius, she was the best of the best. She was the Head of Piano at the local liberal arts college, and every music student there was indelibly enriched to pass through her brilliant tutelage enroute to his or her degree. She could be handed a pencil-scribbled accompaniment manuscript on opening night, and, in the shadows of the dimly lit orchestra pit, she could carry the entire cast of performers through the show magnificently without a single glitch. Her excellence was their confidence. She could play anything. To me, she was magic. As a high school freshman, I was handed many scores of very difficult music in preparation for accompanying several of the high school choirs, as well as vocal and instrumental soloists. As incompetent as I felt, I knew that in lugging this bag of music to her home for weekly piano lessons, there was hope for me as long as a little of her magic could rub off. Through the weeks and months, she taught, she played, she explained, she modeled, she mentored, she tutored, and she led me by the hand through this treacherous bag of music. Unrelenting, we worked note by note and phrase by phrase without any doubt that this all would be fully accomplished in the necessary timetable. I had my doubts, actually, but she never did. She believed. She encouraged. She ran alongside. She made me believe, too. The concerts and performances freshman year were accomplished beautifully and with significant relief on the part of the young accompanist. The sophomore, junior, and senior years flew by with increasingly challenging and greater volumes of music, but with this precious tremendous piano teacher leading the way, no musical challenge was insurmountable. We worked, oh how we worked! She informed me that “impossible” was not an adjective, it was a choice; a choice to surrender. And no student of hers would surrender. Handel’s “Messiah.” Beethoven’s “Halleluiah Chorus” from the Mount of Olives. Books full of vocal solos by Haydn. Trumpet solos by Vivaldi. “Mass” by Leonard Bernstein. Gilbert and Sullivan. Rodgers and Hammerstein. Lerner and Loewe.  Scores spanning the centuries were dissected and reassembled in her living room as this very active learning process surely kept every single neuron firing. Side by side we worked. Side by side I learned every drop of musical understanding I could from her. Infinitely blessed was my life through her gifts and her time. Changed forever was my life because of her tireless pouring of musical passion into my heart. How does one begin to quantify or even explain this sort of teaching excellence? Genius? Yes, I believe she was a genius. She was a genius who felt music with every one of her senses and exuded its fire and glory through her every pore. We corresponded for many years after I went off to college and on into a career in teaching and the creative arts. She remained a strong encourager and a profound voice of inspiration in my life until her passing. An unfathomable love of music, an incomprehensible passion for teaching, these are among the treasures she planted in my heart, and these are among the blessings I pray I bring to my students.