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Upcoming Performances

October 1, 4:00 pm Eastern
Guest recitalist, First Presbyterian Church, Gainesville, Ga.

October 15, 4:00 pm Eastern
Guest recitalist, First United Methodist Church, Gastonia, N.C.

October 22, 4:00 pm Eastern
Inaugural recitalist, Allen organ, White Bluff United Methodist Church Savannah, Ga.

November 12, 3:00 pm Eastern
Guest recitalist, Charles Town Presbyterian Church, Charles Town, W.V.

February 11
Inaugural recitalist, Casavant organ, Forest Lake Presbyterian Church, Columbia, S.C.

March 9, 2018, 12:15 pm Eastern
Guest recitalist, National City Christian Church, Washington, D.C.

March 11, 2018
Guest recitalist, Waldensian Presbyterian Church, Valdese, N.C.

May 13, 2018, 5:00 pm Eastern
Guest recitalist, First Presbyterian Church, Wilmington, N.C.

« Franck-ly speaking, Part IV: Pièce Héroïque | Main | Franck-ly speaking, Part III: Cantabile »
Monday
Oct132014

Dear Teacher

Students of Mildred Andrews called her “Dear Teacher.” Surely other teachers have been similarly endeared, but she was the most famous of the nicknamed. Recently one of my classmates called our own teacher Clyde Holloway that, which isn’t surprising, given that he was an Andrews student himself. Here is an excerpt from a hypothetical letter I might send to my Dear Teacher today, were he still around:

********************

... I remember those long Tuesday evening studio classes, listening to people perform their recital pieces. Two, sometimes three hours. It felt like family; we were glad to be there. For the first time ever, my studio resembles yours. I have eight students now, including three grads. Everyone now speaks the same language, because they have studied with me long enough. The older ones are shepherding the younger ones (for the most part). If there’s one thing I do differently in my studio, it is in disallowing people to look down upon others slogging through Gleason exercises while everyone else breezes through Vierne, Buxtehude, Bach, and Roger-Ducasse. One should never become smug about being done with Gleason, because the fellow actually doing it just might come up and pass you before long. I saw that happen in your studio more than once...

... I miss your smooth, soothing voice full of good advice. I miss going to Luby’s and catching up. I miss seeing you show up at my performances in Houston. But I believe I miss most of all any opportunities for you to hear some of my students play. You heard only one, but you should have heard THESE. It is such a feeling of connection to know that my students speak the same language you taught me and that if they were to fly to Houston and play in a blind competition in your presence, you could identify them as mine...

... Let me tell you about my students. They love to get together. They love to eat. They love to go to Kilgore every year for the festival. They love to gossip. They love to compare notes on church politics, beautiful music, and performance critiques. I say to them all the time how I wish they could play some Gleason for you. Imagine how NERDY that would sound to any other studio but how absolutely thrilling it would be for you and me. Alas, you heard only one of my students, but you could tell that I was on the right track as a teacher, and that means everything...

... I was particularly excited about one student who NAILED every lesson, every assignment, every detail, the first time. There are a lot of details in what you and I do, and consequently there are many lessons I am prepared to re-explain the following week, student after student. But not this student. This one was, to use your word, a thoroughbred...

... Then there was another student who played better and better, having discovered inner genius. Also a thoroughbred, but it took a few years to get used to the saddle...

... Then there was the student whose lousy practice habits reminded me of a story you once told about Mildred Andrews. She had instructed a student that he was to practice that evening and was not to attend a certain recital in Oklahoma City. He went to the recital anyway but had a flat tire on the way home. Miss Andrews passed right by him in her land yacht, glaring at him the whole time. Teachers can always tell that a student hasn’t practiced, but we always have other ways of finding out why, don't we. You and I don’t set out to find out these things – the information just comes our way. I have plenty more stories of students goofing off, but then when a thoroughbred shows up the next semester and starts providing some competition, the game is on. Such is this studio now. There is a lot of traffic on the practice organ, and people are making weekly rather than monthly progress...

... I tell your stories. I use your vocabulary, at least the cleaner parts. I can still hear your voice saying some things I now say word for word. I channel you every time I walk into a lesson. Even so, I have found ways to keep Gleason from feeling like punishment or boot camp, and I’m constantly searching for ways to speed things along. For example, I teach all new students twice per week during their first semester: once on hands, once on feet. That gets them going faster and into “real” music sooner. The material covered is the same; perhaps the biggest difference between you and me is that I’m never late for lessons. :) ...

... Perhaps the ultimate closeness to you comes from now owning your practice organ, Aeolian-Skinner Op. 1457-B. I think of you constantly when I’m sitting there. (That's why I'm writing this letter while seated next to that organ, rather than practicing on it.) Many people have commented to me that they took many lessons on that organ. I don’t recall ever having taken a lesson on it, but as it turns out I taught some Gleason on it within two weeks of setting it up in my house! Anyway, I have named the organ Clara Belle, an amalgamation of your first two initials, the first two letters of your first name, and my own last name. I have nicknamed the console Clyde, not only after you but also for the fact that that console has worked harder than a Clydesdale. And I have nicknamed the bench Big Mac, in honor of your love for all things Apple/Macintosh and also for the fact that that bench weighs five thousand pounds. Really? Solid PECAN for the bench top?...

... You played so well and worked so hard. But you didn’t know squat about organ maintenance, did you. Your Aeolian-Skinner needed a fair amount of voicing and regulating at my house. I fixed things that should have driven you crazy. With an organ that close to my ear, I need things perfect. But I also noticed that the organ was beginning to show signs of under-use, as if it hadn’t been turned on in a few years. I am saddened to think why...

... Remember before my final doctoral recital some notes on the Rice organ that were out of tune? I was going crazy not because of the tuning but because every time you climbed up there to tune something, you knocked something else out, whether with the tuning knife or with your butt. So I committed a crime one night by bringing a friend over after hours. She held notes, and I tuned the problem notes, plus those that you knocked out. I never told you that, and I enjoyed a quiet triumph at our next lesson when you announced, “Hmm, those notes seem to be fine now. The whole thing seems to have settled down. I won’t bother.”...

... You loved your gadgets and your technology, and you had no idea how to use any of it. You had read all the promo materials to know what something was supposed to do, but you didn’t read the manuals and had no idea how to do it. Even the phone at the Rice console was a mystery to you in some ways. It is all now very endearing, but I was a nervous wreck when your learning interfered with your teaching...

... I have had several mentors, none of whom was perfect. I have spent countless hours in therapy (most of it with wonderful counselors you recommended), learning how to hold on to the good stuff and ditch the rest from my mentors and parents. You were no exception, but the good stuff I get to keep from you is far greater than anything I needed to ditch from you, and what I am able to keep has given me the tools to maintain a reputable career in teaching and another one in performing. I really do owe you everything. There was no way to repay you even when you were alive. The best any student can do is pay it forward to his own students. Rest in peace...

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