MUSIC IN OUR LIVES

MUSIC IN OUR LIVES

That used to be the name of the standard Music Appreciation course, recommended by NY State’s Education Department to satisfy the NYS Regents HS graduation requirement for one unit in Music or the Arts. Recently, however, Music in Our Lives has taken on an entirely different, very personal and profound meaning for me. Let me explain.

One week before Christmas, a former colleague died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 50. As you might expect, his death sent shock waves through the ranks of his family, friends, fellow teachers, and his students (past and present). We had taught together and collaborated closely on musical endeavors for about 15 years (between 1986 and 2001), but had only been in touch sporadically over the last decade.

When I attended his memorial service, I was reunited with students we had taught during the last two decades of the 20th century many of whom referenced a tribute page that had been set up on Facebook. The outpouring of love and support from former students and colleagues was remarkable and helped me realize what “Music In Our Lives” really meant to generations of students. Let their words speak for themselves.

Dawn wrote:

…I wish he knew everyone and everything he had an impact on. It’s ENORMOUS! Other teachers who read this told me, they wonder if they will be remembered like he was, if they are impacting the students’ lives like he did. … And so many schools want to cut the arts. … I really hope Prep understands the depth to which he was a part of our lives, and helped SHAPE our lives and our futures. (bold and italics are mine) 

Elaineadded:

Music teachers-you are SO important. The gift of music is so very precious, and it's one that your students will carry with them their whole lives. Music helps you express your joy, escape and heal from emotional pain, and when in a group helps you create bonds and incredible, lasting memories as we have seen. Never doubt how important your work is, and how much you are valued. Thank you for doing what you do, my life is better for it. Not just because of Mark, but because of all the music teachers I've been privileged to learn from. Thank you. (bold and italics are mine)  

My response:

Thank you for your posts about what music in school has meant to you, and how grateful you are to your teachers. You have made a very powerful argument for Arts Education! 
…The Prep is indeed a very special place, but this experience is not unique to SFP. Over the last dozen years, I have heard students and alumni of two public school districts (Pleasantville NY, where I served from 2001-2004 and Rockville Centre NY, where I have been since 2004) relate experiences similar to yours. They have told me how much their experience in school music gave them confidence, a sense of belonging and acceptance, a work ethic, organizational skills, an appreciation for beauty, and gratitude for the teachers who helped them develop these skills and understandings…

Meghna summarized beautifully:

As a teacher, and a musician (amateur) I can't agree more with Dawn, Elaine and Mr. Zuar. At Prep, I had some amazing teachers across the subject areas. The passion they brought to their teaching inspired me to major in science, and eventually become a teacher myself. However, it is being a part of the music department that continues to shape who I am (and who my kids are) today. BECAUSE I joined percussion, BECAUSE I had Mr. T as a teacher (for that ONE YEAR mind you), I joined the Johns Hopkins Band as a percussionist. While a percussionist in a very small college band I learned a LOT about the behind the scenes work and brought a lot from my HS days to Hopkins. It's not a place known for its band (that's Peabody). I was pre-med, and stressed, but being in the band made me whole and made my 4 years there great. After college and grad school, I joined the Columbia Concert Band here in Maryland where I just celebrated 10 years making music. Many of the percussionists and musicians I play alongside are music teachers, but most are regular people like me who played when they were younger and continued on. Some are 17, some are 87. It is amazing. Music brings joy to us as humans. I delight in teaching my daughter the piano or seeing my 9 month old son point his little pointer finger and move his arm up and down when he hears ANY kind of music. It is because of music in my life, that this is possible. What Mr. Zuar says is so true. As a teacher I was always trying to get my 5th graders to work as a TEAM. There is NO BETTER way to learn this than playing in a band or orchestra.... the sound is the proof. Mr. T was the epitome of a great teacher. He was quiet, did his work without fanfare, and made his students LOVE the subject matter. It still saddens me that I will never get to tell him this. How did 15 years ago by without me pausing to reflect on the impact? (bold and italics are mine) 

Meghna’s message was echoed in the Rockville Centre Herald recently in a front page article about South Side HS valedictorian Emily Passarelli and salutatorian Carly Roman. Both students are high academic achievers and both are skilled musicians. The Herald reported thatPassarelli has played the clarinet for nearly eight years, while Roman is a drummer. “Music has been the thing that has steered me,”Passarelli said. “It’s had a stabilizing effect. It’s a release from stress.” (bold and italics are mine) How similar Emily’s sentiments are to Meghna’s!

Soon after reading these posts, I got an invitation to the 85th birthday party of my high school English teacher. Not only did he instill in my classmates and me a love of literature and language, but also an appreciation of theater and music. I recall that he took my class on several “field trips” to Manhattan see musicals on and off Broadway. When I attended his party, I made sure to tell him what a difference he had made in my life and how his sharing his love of music, literature, and drama had shaped who I am, and what I do for a living. At first, he looked a little puzzled, but as my message sunk in, a smile spread across his face.

You see, we educators do not always know the effect we have had on the lives of the young people we teach. They graduate and go on to live their lives. Sometimes we find out years later, and sometimes we never find out what Music In Our Lives meant to them. If there was a teacher who introduced you to the wonders of the art, music, dance, theater, or poetry and literature, don’t wait… tell him or her today how much it meant to you.