Appreciating Teachers, This and Every Week
This Teacher Appreciation Week, the CRB team remembers some of the teachers who have made a difference in our lives.
This story was originally published on May 10, 2018. It was updated on May 12, 2023.
Class of 2023:
It’s incredibly difficult to choose just one teacher out of the many who have impacted the trajectory of my life. But the one that comes immediately to mind is Janice Ford, my third and fourth grade teacher, who brought me to my very first Boston Symphony concerts. Her gift for recognizing the individual talents of her students and then inspiring them to use those talents is invaluable. I very recently had the pleasure of attending her retirement party, and the world of academia is a sorrier place for her no longer being in it.
Mr. Jonathan Porter, the long-time band director in Plymouth, MA made a lasting impact on me. His enthusiasm for music and laid-back sense of humor helped him connect with students so well, that at his retirement party years after I'd graduated, there was not a dry eye or empty seat. Through his mentorship, many of his students — including me — learned leadership, improved self-confidence, and how to work as a team. Whatever I've accomplished since my high school years, I give a lot of credit to time spent in that band room, on the band bus, on the field at half-time, and to Mr. Porter. Thanks!
At the New England Conservatory, my piano teachers Victor Rosenbaum, Veronica Jochum, and Gabriel Chodos taught me to hear music in a deep and imaginative way. I'll be grateful forever. But the teacher who came first is my father. He is the composer/poet/professor who has given me an entire outlook -- a way of understanding the world that won't allow for simplification. He's made the universe of words, dance and music seem so vitally and earnestly connected that any time I'm taken into a real state of wonder, I sense that he is behind it.
When I got to high school, there was no music teacher. And then when I was in 9th grade, Mr. Lythgoe came, and created an entire music program out of thin air. And by the end of the first year, we were singing music that high school choirs don’t usually even try! I’ll never forget the disappointed look on his face after our graduation, when I told him I wasn’t going into music at the university. The memory of that moment must have influenced me two years later, when I followed my passion, into music!
One of the most important teachers in my life in music didn’t teach music at all. Bob Reed taught English, Creative Writing, and Outdoor Education at Paschal High School in Fort Worth, where I grew up. And while I gained immeasurable insight, confidence, and knowledge from every music teacher I studied with, Bob was just as important. In his writing classes I discovered ways that language can unlock whole worlds of expression – including that of music. And learning to cope with risk in rappelling, canoeing, and camping proved to be perfect preparation to take the stage in the trumpet section of an orchestra.
When I was in 6th grade, I was required to take a music course: choir, band, or orchestra. Choir was the cheapest option given that I didn’t have to pay for an instrument, so that was what I picked. I didn’t know it then, but that decision shaped the entire trajectory of my life. Chet Laskosky was the choir director, and after my very first day singing in the choir, he asked me to stick around after class, and convinced me to join the concert choir which met after school. He taught me the many joys of being in a choir, but more than that he gave me a sense of personal discipline and the value in long-term growth as a musician and as a human being, and for that I am eternally grateful.
"Be terse, yet cogent." Those were the instructions for every test and essay that Mr. Foster ever assigned. He preferred short answer over multiple choice, and rarely made us memorize dates or other specific facts. Instead, whether teaching world geography or modern European history, he wanted us to see the bigger picture, the grand interplay of people and ideas. His classes weren't so much lectures as discussions, and he loved to hear differing interpretations. But no matter your viewpoint, the key was always to express yourself as clearly and succinctly as possible. Whether I'm on the air, writing a blog post, or just trying to gather my thoughts, I'll always have his words in the back of my mind.
Besides my own family, there was nobody more influential on my young life than my violin teacher, Lillian Chen. I saw her every Monday at 5:00 PM from second grade - when I could barely hold my quarter-size violin under my chin - until my high school graduation, at which point she said, "You graduated. I can't teach you anymore," and we both cried. Never short on wisdom, Mrs. Chen taught me everything from vibrato to how to cure a case of the hiccups (the secret: eat a spoonful of sugar, or peanut butter — both work), and I idolized her. I spent as many evenings pouring my heart out to her as I did playing scales - her advice was always rock-solid, and her ear for intonation exact. Thanks to her, I know to demand excellence from myself and others; I also know how to listen, when to keep pushing and when to give in, how to set goals, and how to achieve them. I wouldn't be half the person I am today without her.
Truth be told, it wasn’t until college that I started exploring the world of classical music. On the first day of my sophomore year, my music theory professor threw open the door, tossed a massive stack of books on the table, and immediately ran over to the CD player. For the next 45 minutes, we listened (silently, and in awe) to the final movement of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony. After, we found out that we would spend the entire semester analyzing this piece, from the granular note-by-note level to the more zoomed-out, overall arching drama of the work. It was this professor, Doug Durant from Northeastern, who changed our lives with that piece of music, and I have since loved discovering the inner workings of all types of music through the lens he helped me develop. Thanks, Doug!
Thank you to all the teachers! Of course, countless teachers have influenced me in my life path up to this point, and to be honest I don't know if appreciation is even a strong enough word for the gratitude I feel towards them. That said, and for fear of leaving anyone out, I want dedicate my teacher appreciation to one teacher in particular, and one of the most inspiring teachers I know: my mother. I've grown up observing the behind-the-scenes hours she puts in, the dedication, and the round-the-clock attention to her students and their well-being in hopes of shaping them into rounded, caring, thoughtful members of society. To see how selflessly she cares that these kids get the best education they can from her is truly something worthy of gratitude and appreciation. And to know she's not the only one can fill a person with hope.
My life could almost be quantified by the number of meaningful teachers I've had, but one of the best was an adjunct professor I had for three years in college. His name was Todd, and he taught Women, Gender, and Sexuality studies in the form of Netflix, critical theory, and Britney Spears. He treated all his students like peers - in both academia and in life - no matter their level of Women's Studies cred. And he led some of the most candid and difficult discussions I've ever had the privilege of being a part of. I still remember the very touching discussion we had about the dangerous power universities have in deciding which teaching voices matter. This mattered to me then, and it does still today. I hope everyone finds a Todd of their own to learn from, and I hope their voices continue to be amplified and celebrated in honor of everything they do.
When I think of teachers who changed how I see the world, the first one to come to mind is Dr. Robert Sekuler. On a whim in college, I signed up for “Intro to Cognitive Neuroscience,” which he taught, and liked it so much that I later enrolled in his “Perception: Human, Animal, and Machine.” Not all scientists treat non-scientists (humanities majors like myself) with respect and encouragement, but Dr. Sekuler did. I learned so much about how our neurological systems interpret the world around us – particularly, as a music major, how the cochlea, auditory nerve, and brain process sound – and his passion for learning and discovery was contagious. That drive, to teach others about your passion, regardless of their background knowledge, inspires me to this day. Thanks, Dr. S.!
It was a college music professor who inspired me in a positive way. He taught music history and music composition with a “genuine passion.” It was this passion for classical music that I inherited from him, plus an appreciation for the high end audio equipment he used. I worked with him for about three years. It wasn’t unusual for this professor to invite the entire music history class to his home for dinner and listening. It turns out that his wife was an artist, his son was a sculptor, and he composed music and wrote and published children’s books under a pseudonym. He was a pianist with an octave and a half reach, loved music by Duke Ellington, had a sense of humor and was always available to me. My senior year I was program director of my college radio station, adding to the broadcast day classical music programs available from European broadcasting companies. He listened to the station and would occasionally ask for a copy of one of these programs for his personal collection. I wasn’t supposed to make copies, but I did. Today I move forward in my professional life with this “genuine passion” for classical music.