One week near the end of my senior year of high school, I received an email from the director of the Wellington, our local assisted living facility for senior citizens, that Glen had recently passed away and left me something that I needed to pick up at the front desk. I did not know Glen particularly well, but I did remember seeing her smiling face every week for the past year alongside the other devoted 70 to 100-year-old music students. I had known many of them for many more years from performing quartets or solos with my high school’s music club for the residents, but it was not until my senior year that I had the opportunity to teach a Music Appreciation Class to those in the audience who were interested in not just listening to the performances but learning about what they were hearing. I would teach them notation for rhythms and they would clap them out to classics such as Sinatra’s “My Way”, and we had some very enthusiastic vocalists who loved to sing along. These jam sessions were interspersed with classical music history lessons in which we would listen to a piece and then play games to see who could guess the composer and era in which it was written. Sometimes I would play a recording of a piece and lead a discussion in which everyone offered up their ideas about patterns that they noticed in the music and brainstormed stories and memories that the piece brought to mind.
Recently, I got the chance to combine music performance, history, and teaching in a similar way with my Tufts quartet through the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra Mosaic concert series. We played the Debussy string quartet at a branch of the Boston Public Library for a small audience, but we did not simply sit down and start the piece. Rather, with the score in hand, we explained the different role that each instrument plays in a string quartet, introduced the history of Debussy, demonstrated how different themes of the piece interact and re-occur throughout, and pointed out textural tactics that Debussy used to create various aural colors. I felt more connected to the audience than I ever had before and I could tell that the engagement was absolutely reciprocated, likely not only because they now knew what to listen for but also because they got to witness how we all think and interact as a group before hearing us play. Seeing the audience’s faces light up and ask questions reminded me of how inspired I used to feel after each session of the Music Appreciation Class.
Teaching music has always been one of my most engaging and rewarding pursuits, but never has its effect been manifested as directly as the day that I walked into the Wellington after receiving that email, curious as to what Glen could have left. There at the front desk was a beautiful painting of a violin/viola embroidered in an antique golden frame, willed to me. Every time I look at it, I am reminded of the invaluable fulfillment I get from teaching music to students young or old, and especially spreading classical music to audiences who may have not been exposed to it before.