An Investment in Heart and Soul
Music lessons and music teachers changed my life. As a child I can remember being drawn to any available piano. Some of my friends had one at their house and one of my cousins had one. I would experiment with the sounds that the keys made and admired anyone who knew how to play. I memorized both parts of the “Heart and Soul” duet and would play with any willing partner for as long as possible. One year for Christmas my parents bought a tabletop organ for me and I taught myself all the Christmas songs in the instruction book.
I don’t remember very much from elementary school, but in third grade I clearly remember listening with headphones to record albums that my teacher Miss Petta provided for students with free time. That was the beginning of a lifetime appreciation for pop music from the sixties and seventies, especially Simon and Garfunkel!
In fourth grade, everyone was taught how to play the “flutophone” which was a type of recorder. At the end, we were given the “Seashore” test to measure musical aptitude. Because we did well, some of my classmates and I were allowed to choose a band instrument to learn. My mother had albums of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass and she really enjoyed the sound of the trumpet, so I picked the trumpet.
Mr. Handfield was a gruff, former trumpeter in an Army band. He was strict, but a good teacher and as I practiced daily, I quickly completed the lesson books and made first trumpet in the school band. Through the school, I started competing in New York State school of music association competitions. This qualified me to perform in yearly concerts with the best musicians in my county. Before I could go into high school, my family moved to a new town.
Through eighth grade I had attended public schools, but now my brothers and I had the opportunity to attend a private Christian school. The school was new and had about 300 students K-12. The instrumental music teacher, Mrs. Fulton, was an Eastman School of Music graduate and amazingly started a band of recorders who then progressed to brass and woodwinds. Since she was a clarinetist, she suggested I take private lessons with a brass teacher from our church.
Steve Douglas was a public school music teacher but had attended Wheaton College and then the Eastman School. We worked out an agreement where I would pay for my lessons by helping his wife with house cleaning. They became a second family to me and they invested much time and energy in helping me to succeed in music. With his guidance, I was able to audition and then play with the Rochester Youth Orchestra for my last two years of high school and also played with the New York State concert band my senior year. I was accepted to several colleges and decided to attend Wheaton College with a President’s award as a music major.
I am not telling you all this to toot my own horn! I want to point out that parents and teachers play a huge role in guiding, encouraging, and supporting children in finding their talents and doing what brings them joy. I am so thankful for all my teachers. My teachers at the small Christian school were mentors who cared for my soul as well as my mind. And I can only pray to do this for my students at the Saint Constantine School.