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PREPARING TO BECOME A MUSIC EDUCATOR

During my 32 years as a music educator, I realized that many people including a few teachers and administrators had no idea what a “true” music educator was, and what it entailed to become one.  I hope this article will be of enlightenment to you.

As a youngster in my late teens and during my twenties, I was privileged to have studied with the first trombonists of the CBS Symphony in New York City and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.  I studied for one year at Juilliard School of Music in New York City, and then joined the Ina Ray Hutton Band, with whom I was a participant in a big band movie short.  The following years I worked on TV shows, recorded with name bands, and of course played for numerous radio shows, which were called “remotes.”  During those early years, I traveled thousands of miles doing “one nighters” throughout the country as a dance band musician.  I was a professional!

At the age of 25 while “on the road,” I decided to go to college.  I luckily chose the State University of New York at Potsdam (formerly known as Potsdam State Teacher’s College) in upper New York State, considered the most reputable school in the East for Music Educators.  When I entered school I had no idea what the word “Music Educator” really meant.

At this time in my career, I had built a small reputation, and was recognized by a few of the students and professors the day I enrolled at Potsdam.  My glory as a minor celebrity was short lived!  The only thing I knew how to do was to play the trombone, as did my fellow students on their respective instruments.  As I, they also had a good working knowledge of their instruments, as well as piano majors.  These students had been well trained by “Music Educators” at their respective public schools or by private teachers.  All of us had put in many hours and years of practice beginning at a young age. 

The purpose of the school was to show us how to play all the instruments, including strings, learn how to harmonize written melodies, compose simple compositions, conduct, have ear training, and LEARN HOW TO TEACH.  We were taught to sing and breathe properly, how to direct choirs and worked “hands on” in campus school classrooms from kindergarten up.  Each semester we took private lessons on a different instrument supplied by the school to get a working knowledge of each, and then performed a recital before the faculty for a grade.  We were required to play in a beginning band and stringed orchestra with the instruments we were studying at the time.  The professors at the rehearsals pointed out the inherent problems of each instrument, so we’d know what trouble spots to be aware of when we began our teaching careers.  At this time they taught us how to use the proper embouchures (lip positions), to bow properly, and to sit and stand correctly so that our students would not develop bad playing, breathing, and singing habits.  Bad habits are hard to break once you’ve acquired them.  It’s the same with ballet dancers and ice skaters.  Our professors also related many of their personal public school experiences when they’d been teachers.  We were given the opportunity to conduct a concert band with a prepared score, which was of invaluable training.  It truly got me ready for student teaching and my first instrumental job.

While we were absorbing and learning all this material, we continued to study our own major instrument.  The reeds of the woodwinds were sometimes rough on my trombone lips.  We were also taught how to deal with teachers, administrators, custodians, secretaries, and how to write letters of application for a job, for which I was forever grateful.  At the same time we took the liberal arts courses required to graduate college, which were coordinated with the music education program.  We did our practice teaching in different communities away from college at the elementary, junior high, and high school levels during the entire second semester of our third year of school.  Besides receiving my B.S. in music education, I was also qualified to teach K-9 as a regular classroom teacher, which I eventually did for four years.  I later received my Master of Arts degree.

After I graduated college, I again continued my travels on the road.  With the fine vocal training I had received at Potsdam, I toured with a professional vocal group throughout the country and performed at the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas.  After again working with numerous big bands, I was asked to play first trombone with Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians, a famous TV and recording group.  My final jobs were with the show bands of Lake Tahoe, Reno, and Las Vegas when I decided to go into teaching.

When I began my first teaching assignment in Palmdale, CA, I was ready.  But the learning didn’t stop there.  For the next 27 years, I attended conventions and workshops twice a year to reinforce what I had learned at Potsdam.  I found out I never knew enough and that’s the way it is today.  I’m still continuing my education during my retirement.

When I breezed into Potsdam University as a young 25-year-old professional, I thought I had it made because I knew how to play.  How wrong I was!  Any professional who is thinking of becoming a band, choir, or orchestral director, should go to a “reputable” music teacher’s college where they’ll be properly trained.  During my years as a teacher, I’ve seen other instructors, former professional instrumentalists and vocalists (who hadn’t gone to a music teacher’s college), personally give parents a dazzling display of pyrotechnics before or during a beginning band or choral concert.  When their groups finally performed, some were abysmal failures!  I was always amazed that it didn’t seem to faze the proud parents, who would applaud for anything when their children were involved. 

The professors at my college with years of public school teaching were in complete agreement that music teachers shouldn’t teach more than one discipline.  In other words, a band director should only teach band, an orchestral teacher, strings, etc.   A music curriculum that required teachers to teach them all, band, strings, choir, and classroom music, were doomed for failure.  Just the scheduling problems alone can be maddening, especially when classes are taught back to back, from the beginning of the day to the closing bell.  I’ve seen this happen in many communities in Southern California during my tenure as a teacher, where successful districts decided to change, and had their music personnel teach everything.  Within a year their formerly successful programs had deteriorated.  It’s almost like “dumbing down” music education.

Teaching music requires an incredible amount of energy.  It’s one of the most demanding courses to teach.  When a music teacher is required to teach band, strings, choir, and classroom music, they find it necessary to hold back in each class so they can survive the day, the week, the month, so they won’t lose their health.  I advised a new music teacher who was doing an incredible job in all disciplines, to let up or he’d burn out in a few months, which is common among music teachers.  The principal couldn’t praise him enough for his choir and I told him that I had advised the teacher not to overwork.  After a couple of months the teacher caught a cold and lost his voice, which wouldn’t heal.  He took a short leave of absence to visit his family in Canada, and never returned after Christmas as he had promised.  He’d succeeded in doing a superlative job with band, strings, classroom music and choir, but paid the consequences.

When interviewing prospective music teachers, a panel of well-qualified music personnel with successful track records, including an administrator, should do the questioning.  They’ll soon know if the individual being interviewed is qualified for the position.

In the final analysis, the goal as I’ve clearly stated, is to have dedicated and well trained music personnel at each school, so that our children may receive the best music education possible.

May 5, 2011 Posted by | AV Best Children's Books, Children's Author, Children’s Stories with Morals, Exciting Children’s Stories, Learning Children’s Stories | , , , , | 1 Comment

A LIFE-LONG LOVE AFFAIR

I had just finished my walk and sat in my recliner to take a short nap.  But my mind reverted to my late wife Shirley and I started thinking about our life-long love affair.  We were one of the lucky ones.

When we first met she wouldn’t go out with me.  But after a few days she relented (for years she never knew why).  We had a late dinner at Harvey’s Wagon Wheel after doing two shows at Harrah’s Club in Lake Tahoe (she was a dancer and I was a trombonist with Fred Waring and the Pennsylanians).  While talking we realized we had a lot in common and stayed in the dinning room for over two hours.  At age 32, I had been a dedicated bachelor, but at that one dinner, I fell hopelessly in love and knew Shirley would be the girl I would marry.  Of course she had no such intention because I had three strikes against me:  One–I was from New York, two–I was a musician and she hated musicians, and three–I was shorter than she was!  Somehow common sense prevailed and we got married nine months later, a marriage that lasted 48 years.

Shirley had studied tap, ballet, and jazz, beginning at age eight, and was a first-class professional dancer, having worked on TV, done a movie, and danced with the biggest stars for seven years in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Boston, and San Francisco.  Regardless of her love of dancing, she said she had been trained to be a mother and wife.  She dedicated her entire married life to the happiness and welfare of our son David and I.  We were blessed with a wonderful son after eleven years of marriage, thinking we couldn’t have any children, but David came along just before her clock ran out.  That was the second greatest event of our lives, our first being our marriage.

From the day we returned from our honeymoon, we walked three miles a day for 43 years until she no longer was able to.  We talked constantly during the walks and discussed every topic imaginable.  As I left for work she would wave goodbye to me from the kitchen window, and I never missed calling her on the phone during lunch- time to see how she was doing.  Those short talks were very important to both of us.  When I went on three-day music conferences I always felt an emptiness without her.   During our entire marriage there was never a time that she wasn’t beautifully coiffed or well dressed, never sloppy, like she was getting ready for her next show.  She had a look of class whether she wore jeans or an apron.  It was the quality of her personality and kindness that attracted others to her.  When my father met her, he said, “Son, you have married a beautiful woman.”  He saw the same qualities in her I had seen.  She was my mother’s favorite, as Shirley never missed a week without writing her, keeping her informed how David and I were doing.  Shirley also wrote her parents weekly.

For 17 years Shirley was my children stories editor after I retired and began writing children stories.  I looked forward to seeing what words she had changed or added, or what she had done to strengthen and improve the stories.  She never changed the main ideas of my stories, but with a deleted word here or a turn of a sentence there, those few magical changes made all the difference. 

The last four years of her life were very difficult.  She developed serious rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis.  She took Fosomax for four years that was supposed to develop new bone tissue but just the opposite occurred.  When given an MRI a few years after taking the medicine, they found she had lost 50% of her bone mass.  Little by little small bones began breaking throughout her rib area.  Through all this she was taking very heavy pain medicine that she felt was affecting her mentally.  She said she thought it changed her personality, and found herself saying things to friends and to me she would never ordinarily say or think.  On her own she voluntarily took a minimum of painkillers even though it heightened her pain considerably.   After awhile she was back to normal.  Through all her difficulties and illnesses she continued to work on my children stories until her last days.  She never let the pain interfere with her humor and made me laugh every day.  During this time she had dual spinal surgery, and then broke her femur bone in two places on Christmas morning.  Eight months later she fell out of bed in the middle of the night and broke her hip.  Even though she had a successful hip replacement, she died seven days later in the hospital from pneumonia.

Throughout our marriage we felt we had developed some sort of mental telepathy, as we had the same thoughts at the same time.  This was a common occurrence.  She used to laughingly warn me not to think of other women because she would know. Every week for the last 17 months as I’m on my way to the supermarket, I’ve visited her gravesite.  I carry a folding chair in the car and sit and relate the events of the week to her for a half hour or more.  It is so peaceful and serene and I hate to leave.  Just like at home I sense her presence, and feel that she gives me advice as I suddenly change my mind when I’m telling her about something I’m about to do.  The workers at the cemetery recognize my car and wave at me.  They sometimes come over and talk to me, and I know they give Shirley’s spot special attention because they feel they know her, too.

Cover for 'DIARY OF A 
YOUNG MUSICIAN — Final Days of the Big Band Era 1948-1962'

May 5, 2011 Posted by | AV Best Children's Books, Children's Author, Children’s Stories with Morals, Exciting Children’s Stories, Learning Children’s Stories, Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

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May 5, 2011 Posted by | lancaster mothers day, Mediterranean dinner, mothers day dinner, mothers day dinner in the av, Palmdale mother's day dinner | , , , , | Leave a comment