Psychologists will tell you that you are a blend of “nature and nurture–” that you are what you are partly because of inherited traits, and partly because of what your interactions with your environment have been. Today, I am interested in the musical aspect of the environment in which we all matured from early childhood to the present. Our musical personality has been shaped by thousands of interactions with music, and continues to be shaped by them. For music teachers, this means that what we bring to our teachers is unique compared to that which other teachers bring, even when teaching the same material and using the same method.
The arts coordinator in the school district in which I work once remarked that students at my school love to sing. While most children love to sing, her comment was intended to point out that my students have a love for singing that exceeds that which she observes at other schools. I was pleased to hear the comment, and have since reflected upon it. The first thing I realized was that I love to sing. My parents have told me that from a very early age I enjoyed singing. In those early years, I don’t believe either of them frequently sang, so I suppose I was born with a love for singing and for music. My grandfather on my mother’s side loved to sing, and I often heard is fine tenor voice when those grandparents visited our home, especially on Christmas during the family carol sing in the living room. Later on, my father, at least in part because of my evident love of music, took guitar lessons and after a while instituted Sunday afternoon sing-a-longs with the family. My memory of these times of singing are very dear, even to this day.
Even though my mother’s weekly audience with the radio for the Metropolitan Opera’s radio broadcast often drove me out of the house to avoid that “horrible” music, even here I eventually grew to love opera, revealing in the expert use of the human voice displayed by those singers. There are a few concerts that stay in one’s memory, concerts that are life changing. One of those for me was a recital given by Pavarotti in the early 1980’s. He was at the height of his career then, and I still marvel at what I heard him do with his voice that evening. His recording of La Boheme from about that time with the Met is still my favorite opera recording.
Though my major instrument in music school was clarinet, I was still required to sing in Chorale for two semesters. What started out as an unwelcome requirement turned out to be something I thoroughly enjoyed. During that time I sang Honegger’s King David, Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast, Brahms’ A German Requiem, and other smaller pieces for chorus. I had never sung in a choir before college, so this was the revealing of a new way to enjoy voice. Later, I played several roles in community theater productions, revealing in getting roles that suited my developing tenor voice.
Through all of these experiences, is it any wonder that I still have a great love for singing, and is it any wonder that this love should rub off on my students, just as my father’s and grandfather’s music making rubbed off on me. The music that inhabits my mind lifts my spirits and often finds escape in the form of a hummed or softly sung tune, even when I am in public. There is nothing quite so precious as a teacher who goes beyond the material, the curriculum, to share a love of that material with his or her students. My love for music in general and singing in particular is, I think, arguably the best part of my teaching. And the best part is, offering it takes no special training or practice; it is simply letting my students see who I really am–a music lover steeped in the enjoyment of living with and making music.