Sunday, October 26, 2014

Why I Teach Music

Teaching Never Ends

“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” – Henry Adams

     I hadn’t heard this quote until sometime during the past year, when I read it in something a former voice student had written. And I hadn’t really thought about teaching in those terms until I read this quote. But this particular student of mine had also become a teacher of music, as have quite a few others … some in a classroom, some with a private studio such as mine.
     Recently I contacted a former student who is now singing with the Metropolitan Opera chorus and asked him how many years he’s been at the Met. His response surprised and delighted me: this year marks the start of his sixteenth year. I vividly recall his lessons with me; I was working with him late in his high school years, helping him prepare to study vocal performance and music education. 
     He did so well with his undergraduate studies he went on to graduate school as a vocal performance major in my alma mater, the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. I will never forget the teachers at that school, and the way music unfolded for me under their guidance.
     I opened my voice studio thirty-five years ago and I have since met several hundred people who wanted to learn how to use their voices better and learn more about music. I think I helped nearly all of them, at least to a point. Some have stayed in touch with me, which is very gratifying. Some I see fairly often because they continue to live nearby; some I see occasionally. Some I have reconnected with thanks to Facebook.
     This weekend I saw three former students perform, two in an excellent community theater production of Stephen Sondheim’s brilliant near-opera, SWEENEY TODD. One has been out of college for I’m sure over ten years, the other is a fairly recent high school graduate. Both of them seemed so polished, so assured on stage, and presented fine performances. I was very proud of them. They both have wonderful voices and sang particularly well. I’m happy I had a chance to spend time with them when they were high school students, and I could give them some guidance about singing and introduce them to music I love.
     That was Saturday night; then Sunday afternoon I saw another former student in a very different setting. This young man graduated seven years ago from high school, completed college and worked for two years in New York City as a paralegal. Then he made a one hundred eighty degree turn, leaving the city, leaving the law profession, and hitting the road to see the country and to write music – music for voice and guitar. 
     I saw him in a local venue and heard some of the songs he’d dreamed and created and has recorded. It was equally exciting for me to hear what he is doing. His tenor voice works well in the music he’s written and performs. He sounds assured and joyful, and he lets his voice soar. I am very proud of him and grateful to have been in his life.

     The books I write are about the power of creativity, music in particular, in people’s lives, and how it helps my characters deal with extremely difficult situations. But music helps us deal with all situations, really, and gives us joy as nothing else can. I like to feel I’ve helped my students come to at least a sense of that joy. If I’ve done that, I’ve been a good teacher.