Music and the mind

A while ago I came across a report in Science Daily about the long-term benefits of childhood music education. And if what the study found is true then I owe a much greater debt to my wonderful music teachers than I realized. You can see the report on this study here.

Lloyd and Agnes Pfoff
After my mother and my teachers in my first couple of years of elementary school, Mr. and Mrs. Pfoff were my first real music teachers, probably the first music teachers for most Rochelle children in the 1950s. Mrs. Pfoff taught in the Rochelle elementary schools, traveling from school to school, classroom to classroom, to give us our earliest organized music instruction. Mr. Pfoff was music director at the junior high school, teaching a general class in music, conducting the student band and orchestra, and instructing us individually in the fundamentals of our instruments. And together they bravely managed the children’s choir of the Presbyterian church, in which I sang for many years. Mrs. Pfoff introduced me to the basics of music and musical notation; Mr. Pfoff taught me how to play the cornet.

Alice Ohlson
There came a time when my parents thought I should learn to play the piano. Mrs. Ohlson was organist for the Presbyterian church and also taught elementary piano, and she became my piano teacher. She persevered bravely in the face of my minimal practicing and timid performance in lessons, and taught me what the notes on the paper actually mean even if she didn’t manage to teach me to play the piano. That failure was mine, not hers.

Willard Gieske
Mr. Gieske lead the Rochelle Township High School music department, directed all its vocal groups, and directed the Presbyterian church’s adult choir (“chancel choir” we called it because it sat in the chancel, behind the minister). A kind and gentle man, he could be quite persuasive. He somehow talked me, against my extreme reluctance, into the high school chorus, the school madrigal group (for which I still have a blue ribbon for the group’s first place in the conference contest my senior year), and the church choir. And then in my senior year of high school he talked me into singing a solo in the spring concert (a very intimidating experience).

Robert Erbes
Mr. Erbes directed me through four years of high school band, first period every day — marching during football season and the brief parade seasons in spring and fall, concert band the rest of the year. After 50 years, I still feel the imprint of those marching lessons.

In my senior year Mr. Erbes persuaded me to prepare a cornet solo for the conference contest. I’ve never been quite sure why; he must have thought I had some potential, even though my performance in band was far less than stellar. He found a teacher to work with me, a trumpeter with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra who spent his “off” time traveling about northern Illinois teaching teenagers the finer points of his instrument. One hour each week he and I sat in a small practice room in the school’s music section while I slowly improved, much to my own surprise. I regret that I no longer remember the teacher’s name. As usual my failure to practice prevented me from excelling, but I did learn much and played much better than I had before. I didn’t place in the conference contest, but just competing was significant to me.

I never became a musician, despite all the efforts of these wonderful, patient people. I think I never actually thanked them for what they did for me. But I have long appreciated what I learned from them, both in music and in life. And so now, much too late, I offer a toast to music teachers everywhere, whether teachers by profession or by accident. Thank you.


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