Wow…Loved reading the CSMTA Teacher Tales. Ev’s idea for this project was truly stellar. Great way for us to know our colleagues better, amazing how different our backgrounds are. My tale encompasses seven+ decades of historical relevance.
Since moving to Colorado I completed an Orff Schulwerk certification, a Master’s degree at the University of Connecticut and oodles of piano based workshops and studies. I began teaching private piano along with my public school duties in 1976. It is my pleasure to note the many wonderful students and colleagues in Colorado with whom I have been blessed. I am a member of the Columbine MTA, the Denver MTA and the South Suburban MTA. In CMTA I have held the offices of President, Vice President, Secretary and Treasurer. I am currently serving as the Certification Chair for the CSMTA. My musical experience also includes local, state and national offices for the National Federation of Music Clubs. If we are immersed in music, our cups quite runneth over!
My tale begins on a farm in Nebraska (just outside Atlanta, home to 150 people). When I was born there was no electricity to the farms. President Roosevelt was introducing the Rural Electrification Association—REA to our area. And, as my parents said, “just in time” too since I had tipped over our kerosene lamp and nearly started a house fire. My dad was ‘johnny-onthe- spot’ to assist when the linesmen came to attach the electric lines to our house.
Being in the country my brother and I had few peers to play within a mile radius. That may have contributed to our individualistic ‘can-do’ attitudes and making due with what we had to entertain ourselves. When I was ten my parents bought me a Wurlitzer spinet and I began lessons with Evelyn Perry for $1 a lesson. In Atlanta my brother and I went to a two-room schoolhouse just across the street from our Grandma Sam’s little house. We often went there for lunch with her. It was at our small school that I fell into being a full-fledged musician and mini-teacher. I was the only one who could play the piano so I led all the songfests and played for programs. I did my share of singing and dancing as well and enjoyed the accolades of the audience. My classmates thought I was cool and I thought I was too.
After eighth grade I moved on for High School at Holdrege, a big city of 5,500 people. Quite a change from Atlanta’s 3-5 pupils in a class throughout grades K—8th. The piano was my ticket to friends in the new school district. Kids who were piano students of Mrs. Perry had been my performance friends for a few years before attending classes with them in the new setting. Mrs. Perry was a marvel, why she even had a tennis court in her backyard (a sport that I would eventually come to love as an adult here in Colorado). I know the piano lessons and recitals helped my confidence in the new larger classroom environment. When Mrs. Perry’s husband became very ill she trusted me to take over teaching her students. It was another opportunity for me to see myself as a music teacher.
When I look back over my young life in Nebraska I realize what a wonderful childhood I had and how grateful I am to all the people who loved and believed in me. My father was a farmer who played saxophone with big bands in the winter, my mother was a pretty good singer, and they encouraged and supported me even when I didn’t always practice enough. Maudie Brockett, the organist at our little Methodist church in Atlanta, encouraged me to play the hymns and provide the music for services on numerous occasions. I’m pretty sure that she took random times off just to give me the experience of filling in for her. I found hymn playing fun and looked forward to playing and singing them with our little congregation. In High School I played the baritone saxophone in the concert, marching and jazz bands. Entering my freshman year Mr. Straatman convinced me that there were too many alto and tenor saxes so he relegated me to play the baritone saxophone in spite of the fact my dad had great alto and tenor saxophones at home. Even though I had a good time securing the first chair position in the All-State band competitions my knees attest to their destruction from marching with the baritone sax. At the time it seemed like a good idea and it was lots of fun.
After High School I attended the University of Nebraska Lincoln and graduated with a Music Education degree (Piano major/Voice minor) and an Elementary Education certification. My cousin was one year ahead of me graduating with an Elementary Education degree with a certification in music (Flute). We were the first to do that kind multi-degree program. Now lots of kids do that but at that time we were special. There were several music majors in my sorority, Gamma Phi Beta, and we would practice our extra newly required instruments in the boiler room in the basement. We would hear our sorority sisters outside the door laughing at our struggles with the new instruments we needed to learn in 8 weeks. I was particularly horrendous with the violin! My dog even howled when I practiced at home on breaks. At university I was made well aware that there were many musicians more skilled than I. It was a little hard to take being a “little duck in a big pond” when you were used to being a “bigger duck in a little pond”. I was learning that there was a much larger and somewhat riskier picture for my future. I had the good fortune to travel outside the state which brought into focus some of what might be available for me to learn and do. During my last three summers in college I worked at Giordano’s Italian Restaurant on Martha’s Vineyard across from the ferry dock in Oak Bluffs. Mr. G, as we called him, liked to hire waitresses from Nebraska. We would later credit our sorority sisters in the years preceding us for paving the way. It was tough work but after work we spent many a night on the beach and working with The Vineyard Players, a theater group from Ithaca College. It was the summer of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and I was meeting people I had never before come across. The liberal NorthEast was quite a contrast to the Conservative MidWest and I was all about learning as much as I could about the differing points of view. It didn’t hurt that the Kennedy tradition with which I was enthralled was everywhere. President Kennedy had been assassinated during my freshman year and I was devastated upon receiving the news as I crossed the campus to class. Experiencing that tumultuous time in our history near the presidential compound on Cape Cod brought the historical context of it to me in a close and personal way.
After graduation, January 1968, I taught for a semester in Independence, MO just down the street from President Truman’s home. I learned so much from that first teaching experience. Again I was blessed by mentors and folks who were invested in my future. I had a very tough music supervisor who would not accept anything but excellent endeavor. The Mary Helen Richards charts were introduced to me then and I would use that resource for years after my first teaching experience. I did not return to Independence in the fall because after spending our last summer at Mr. G’s my friends and I went to Europe for four months. Can’t really believe it now, but we hitchhiked most everywhere we went. I went to Mozart’s Magic Flute opera in Vienna, the Mozarteum and the Sound of Music tour in Salzburg. We traveled by car, truck, vegetable van, ox cart, street car, train and foot. Seeing the French cathedrals, Italian art, the beauty of Austria, Germany and Switzerland, the impressive sounds of Spain and Portugal expanded my visions of the world. My life had truly moved away from our little farm in Atlanta and I was enjoying every moment.
Upon returning from our first European visit my friends and I were able to secure jobs in the Fall River, MA schools from January to June. We were written up in the local paper because at that time it was unusual for three young women from Nebraska to be teaching in the city’s schools and to be hired mid-year to boot. My job assignment could not have been more challenging. In the mornings I taught general music and orchestra at two junior high schools, Henry Lord and James Madison Morton (this was Lizzie Borden’s school and her house was just across the playground). The irony of my lack of success with the violin was not lost on me in those orchestra classes. In the afternoon I traveled to numerous schools teaching band instruments in private and small group sessions. Unfortunately the eight weeks I had spent at university in the all-instrument preparation did not make me feel very competent in that area of instruction. I often look back and wonder if my then students got anything out of their time with me. My takeaway was that if I planned to continue with that assignment, I’d best get a lot more knowledge and experience in order to survive with any excellence.
I did hate to leave Fall River but fortunately I was able to secure a position more in my area of competence teaching elementary music in the Arlington MA Public Schools for the fall. I was responsible for the music in all grades at three separate schools: Crosby Elementary was a Title One school where a matronly unmarried principal was responsible for the public schools’ sex education classes. By the way she was eventually replaced by a very nice lady principal who was normally intoxicated by noon. The custodian was often charged with getting her home safely. Parmenter Elementary was fashioned after the then popular British Open Living School philosophy. Most of the students were children of MIT and Harvard University parents. No pressure there. And lastly the school in the neighborhood where I lived, Bishop Elementary. The principal was someone that everyone hopes to have in the leadership of your school. We had several Boston inner city students who were bused to Bishop for integration purposes. The families at Bishop expected an excellent education for their children and were grateful when you fulfilled that expectation. One of the mom’s was a drama teacher and we worked together on the musicals. How lucky to be able to learn from her.
In the summer between Fall River and Arlington my friends and I returned to Europe. This particular trip took us primarily to the British Isles and France. The Investiture of Prince Charles in Wales and a trip to Belfast Northern Ireland were the notables of this time. On the first trip I had met my future husband at the American Embassy in Paris and I was returning to visit with him. It was during the infamous Vietnam Peace Talks. He was a Marine who had recently come home from Vietnam to be placed on diplomatic tour duty in Paris. In the fall of that year my husband quite literally followed me to Boston and we were married the following summer. I continued teaching in Arlington for seven years while my husband attended college on the GI bill. During that time our son, Ian, was born.
My time in Massachusetts was filled with wonderful music, culture and knowledge about good music instruction. I studied and practiced the Orff and Kodaly methods and I played lots of duo piano music with my friend, Carol Schiavone. She was the string teacher for all the elementary and junior high students in the Arlington Public Schools (ironic that a new friend would be a string teacher). She drove a lime green fiat convertible with her cello poking out through the roof as she drove from school to school. My awareness of the uniqueness of others had grown substantially. The Arlington Public Schools had a corner on the market for great music instruction. The city provided string, woodwind, brass, percussion and piano specialists who went to all the elementary schools for private and small group instruction. The school concerts were spectacular and often included musicians from the Boston area symphony and universities.
In 1975 my husband’s work brought us to Colorado where I was blessed to secure a job at Normandy Elementary in the JeffCo Public Schools. Such a wonderful school where my previous experience truly helped me to instantly feel compatible with the community goals. Nine years later I was able to work with a team of five teachers, a principal and principal’s secretary to open a new school: Coronado Elementary. We opened the school with the mantra of being a performance based school…a dream come true.
It is amazing how cathartic it can be to put pen to paper about one’s life. I suppose it is even more so being in the autumn of one’s life. I am blessed