Stuff I learned from Miss T – a high school music teacher

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There are certain teachers who inspire you and influence you in a positive way. For me, my love of musicology started when I was in year nine. The class I was in, resembled your typical public high school music class – mixed ability and ill-resourced. We had a girl who had taken piano lessons for a very long time, she was quite advanced on the instrument, we had people who were self taught but very good at their instrument, and then we had others who couldn’t read music… In a mixed ability class, for most of the time, the teacher will teach in accordance to whatever the lowest common denominator is. Having said that, this teacher managed to keep everybody entertained – she managed to find a way that challenged in our music class.  She did this by teaching music history. Apart from that teacher in year two who had read a page Mozart’s biography to the class every day, I never learned music history with a lot of depth. In high school I loved history, probably for the wrong reasons – I had a crazy crush on one of my high school history teachers.

I remember sitting in a class, in year nine and listening in on a very interesting lesson on the history of Jazz. We went from Ragtime in the early 1900s to Swing in the 30’s and then to Blues. It was a mind blowing lesson. I am not exaggerating. For a very long time I thought that music was all about playing a certain note and holding it for the right amount of time. After this lesson, I felt like a whole new world had opened up to me – Music existed because human beings felt a need to express and articulate their experience though sound. It was not just entertainment. It functioned as a sort of therapy for humanity.

What I loved about Miss T was how much she knew about music. You could mention any band or genre to her and she would be able to say something about it. She was one of those teachers that knew everything. She was very neutral about her music tastes as well – she didn’t despise those who enjoyed listening to Britney Spears and she never gave better treatment to those who loved Mozart. She knew a thing or two about popular music and this level of neutrality and more particularly, her knowledge for the current popular music scene really impressed me.

From then on, I wanted to study music seriously. In my spare time I’d go to the library and read books on rock history, jazz history, classical music history, the life, times and careers of Elvis Presley, George Gershwin, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Schumann, Schubert, Chopin, Grieg and Liszt. In that same year my mum brought me a piano. I practiced on that thing almost every day. The next year, when I was in year ten, I wanted to study music after high school. I started to email the chair of musicology of the place that I currently study at (musicology is the scholarly study of music – you study history, theory, harmony and all the ologies – e.g. sociology, anthropology, psychology, etc linked with music.)

Two years later, after a lot of hard work and dedication I found myself fresh out of high school and dressed in corporate clothes, shaking hands and meeting with the chair of musicology at the music school I study at today. I was asked, during the interview – ‘what do you want to do after university? What would you like to do with musicology?’ My answer ‘I suppose, I’d like to teach in a high school… In public schools it is often mixed ability, you have kids who have done eighth grade on the piano and others who have never touched an instrument in their lives. I had a music teacher who was very clever – she taught us music history and it challenged everybody in the class and unified it…’

So here I am today… in my third year at a very good music school … still in awe of what a simple lesson in year nine taught me.

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