Oliver! Cast Picture, 1990

Memories from an Educator (Part 1)

Yesterday I unexpectedly reconnected (on Facebook) with a student, a working musician now for 20 years, from my last year as a music teacher over 25 years ago. He messaged me out of the blue: “Hello, were you a middle school chorus teacher in Georgia?” I replied: “Well, yes. But I’m thinking that was about 245 years ago now.”

The name was very familiar to me, and I’m terrible with names. And then suddenly, after seeing his Facebook profile pictures, I remembered him specifically. I could see the face of that little 8th grade boy in the photo of what is now a 40 year old man. I remembered him as a cool, laid back kid who sort of marched to his own drum beat. We did a huge production of Oliver!, and he was one of the stagehands. I’m astonished I remember that.

He’s been a working musician now for 20 years, an acoustic guitar and bassist. “Needless to say you were a huge musical influence in those 3 short but still formative years. So, just wanted to say thanks for being a teacher to me.” He asked if we could catch up over the phone last night. Well, of course.

He’s very easy to talk with, and wanted to tell me all about his music-making. Such conversations are always very rewarding for former teachers—an affirmation that you made a very real difference in someone’s life.

What Makes An Impact?

The 8th grade chorus, back in the day, was so huge, it had to be spilt into 2 class periods, and I decided to do something radical: one period would be the 40+ boys, and the other period would be the 60+ girls. It was a brilliant stroke of luck. For the first time, I was able to get middle school boys to actually sing with their changed and changing voices and not act all weirded out and self-conscious because of the girls.

This former student said that his first real musical experience was when I taught the boys their parts in a Christmas piece, and, not remembering the name, he vocalized the tune in our phone call. It was Carol of the Bells. All these years later, and he still remembers the tune. He said the boys thought the song was boring and didn’t really like it. He said that I had told them to trust me. “When the girls add their parts, you will love it.”

And that was the magic. He said when the two groups (boys and girls) got together for the joint rehearsals just before the concert, he was totally blown away. “It was so awesome, man. That was the first time I really heard music, really heard the harmonies and the parts interacting. It was just so great.” That’s what hooked him.

He also said that, in music class, I taught a lesson on the Wizard of Oz. One of the parts of the lesson was about all of the mistakes in and trivia about the movie version. He said that every time he sees the movie or hears about it, he thinks of me. He’s taken right back to music class.

It’s amazing to me really. You never know what reaches a young person. Sometimes you can tell that you have connected with them, and with other students you may never know.

Anyway, catching up with him was great.

Oliver! Cast Picture, 1990
The Oliver! Cast Picture, from the 1990 program guide

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Read: Part 2 in the series, Memories from an Educator: I Hope You Say “Yes”
            Part 3 in the series, The Childhood Challenges of Growing Up