I assumed I had missed the opportunity to thank my first music teacher. But I was wrong! After I put out part one of Thank Your Music Teacher, I was notified by my 5th grade orchestra teacher that my elementary school general music teacher was still alive. I immediately sent her a letter of thanks, and one week later she returned the gesture with a lovely note back. It’s impossible to share the amount of joy her letter brought me, but judging from what she wrote to me, she received a great amount of joy being remembered and appreciated!
Below are three letters and stories from three musicians who took various paths in life and in music. Because of the unsung heroes, the music teachers, each person made and continue to make critical connections in our society and the culture we hold so dear and necessary.
I hope you read the letters as a wider thank you to all music teachers. So often people forget just how important one simple but powerful influence can be, we forget to say thank you to those who truly enhanced us as human beings.
From George Daugherty: director, producer, conductor, and friend.
So many of us were lucky to have had amazing, inspiring “first teachers.” (And probably, all of us who ended up following our love of music into a professional career DID have an inspiring first teacher . . . otherwise, it would have been all over for us by age 8!!)
My first piano teacher (and only piano teacher from the age of 5 years old to 18 years old) was an incredible woman named Elizabeth Edmundson. I adored her when I first started taking lessons at age 5. She had moved to our little small town of Pendleton, Indiana, with her husband, who had a position at nearby General Motors in Anderson. Little did I know, then, that she had studied with the absolutely iconic Rosina and Josef Levine at Juilliard, and with the legendary concert pianist and conductor Rudolph Ganz at the Chicago Musical College. (Among many other huge achievements, Ganz was the first pianist to perform Ravel in the United States, when he premiered Ravel’s “Jeux d’eau” in 1905.)
But at 5 years old, I didn’t know any of that. What I DID know is that her love and passion for music were absolutely infectious, that her teaching style was loving and encouraging, and that I LOVED to hear her play. And at the end of every lesson, I would beg her to play something for me . . . and she would. It was like hearing a little private concert every week, and I so looked forward to that.
Every November, she would have a recital with all her students in her living room, where she had a fabulous concert Steinway (or Baldwin?). All the parents would be sitting as audience in the living room. And all the kids — the students — would be waiting in the master bedroom — some of us petrified — waiting to “go on.” Although playing in the recital itself terrified me, she would have the most scrumptious reception afterwards, with her dining table laden with the most fabulous homemade cookies and cakes that she had spent an entire week baking. (With dishes of mixed cocktail nuts — the first time I had ever experienced them, and I thought they were so classy and sophisticated! It is so funny what we remember.)
I never became a great pianist, but Elizabeth Edmundson gave me a lifelong foundation for music that served as the framework for my entire conducting career. In my early 20’s, I was privileged to conduct for her twice at my summer orchestra in Indiana . . . once “Rhapsody In Blue,” and the other time, one of the great Mozart piano concerti. It was coming full circle. She has been gone now for at least 10 years, perhaps more . . . but she will certainly be in my heart always!! And I will always remember the comforting, familiar, loving glow of her sweet little teaching studio in her basement. It was like a second home.
From Douglas Hedwig: conductor, composer, and trumpeter.
Dear Miss Plinkavich,
You probably don’t remember me, especially considering the thousands of students you have taught over the years. But, I was a student in your General Music class at Stewart School back in 1959! (I was the tall, lanky, enthusiastic blonde-haired kid in the front row!)
I just wanted you to know that your inspired teaching and dedication was a major reason why I later became a successful professional musician; performing with orchestras, bands and chamber groups throughout the world, and recording over 40 albums on major labels, including participating in the Grammy Award Winning recording of Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess!”
Since those days, long ago, I have often recalled with great pleasure how much I enjoyed your class each week. I remember how wonderful I felt when we sang my favorites, “Red River Valley” and “Erie Canal.” And, I recall looking forward to hearing your wonderful stories about the people who created these songs, as well as the places and events depicted in their words.
But, most of all, I remember your taking our class to the Metropolitan Opera to see a production of Puccini’s “La Boheme.” It was magic – pure and simple. How could you or I know that 14 years later I would make my MET Opera Orchestra debut in…”La Boheme!”
Thank you for everything you did to help light the fire of my love of music!
Your grateful student,
From Anne Hendrix: Kindermusik teacher, violinist
This letter is long overdue. When I met you, I was a scared ten-year-old. Scared, because I had a really mean strings teacher in my first year, so mean that I almost quit. My Mom told me that I needed to give the new teacher a try, and I am forever grateful that I did. With skill, love, and humor you taught me how to play the violin and to love playing violin. You opened up a world of beautiful music to me. When you knew that I was ready, you encouraged me to take private lessons, helping me find a talented high school student who wanted to teach. You knew without asking any questions that my family could hardly afford this, so you found us a way to start affordably.
As I progressed, you encouraged me to audition for youth orchestra, which cemented my lifelong love of being an orchestra musician, and planted in me the dream of playing professionally in the CSO. As students, we always knew that you cared deeply. We were your “kids” and you treated us as such, with tough love when we needed it, discipline when we deserved it, and praise when we earned it. When asked at Senior Clinic and All-State who our teacher was, we were always proud to say “Kay Smith”. Even when we were in high school and had other directors, you were a constant, coming to our school and working with us frequently.
As a senior music education major, I knew that I would be doing part of my student teaching with you, and that was so special for me. You went from teacher to mentor and then colleague. I treasure the time spent traveling with you from school to school during those weeks. I even remember you listening to my woes as a newlywed, as I adjusted to married life. I appreciate the support you gave me as a new teacher, and I loved all the years we played together in the CSO.
Kay, you are the teacher who had the greatest influence on me through my school years. I am so thankful for your teaching, your encouragement, and your love. I will always be one of your kids!
If you have not thanked your music teacher yet, it’s not too late. Send a note, share a story. If they are passed on by now, thank them by thanking the many music teachers following in their footsteps. A simple thank you can mean so much!