Day: May 14, 2011

To Sir, With Love

EDITED: Apparently Mr. DB was still teaching physics.  I just, for some reason, didn’t remember this correctly.  My apologies.

Yesterday, I was musing about today’s blog.  I’d been thinking about my music past and wishing desperately I were still singing a cappella, still in a choir, still feeling part of something special, feeling I was anchoring something singing that second alto part that most women either feel unfeminine singing or sing heavily, squashing out any sense of nuance with a sense of power.

I was reminiscing about my magnificent high school and college singing experiences when I received news that one of my music teachers passed away.

I never actually had Mr. D.B. in a classroom situation.  I never had him as a physics instructor, and while he was the head of the music program I haunted for the three years, he taught brass choir and middle school chorus.

But I knew him.

He was the teacher everyone in the school knew.  He came across as loopy, loud, perhaps unbalanced.  Friendly, engaging, enthusiastic, eleemosynary.  Need I mention he was a wordsmith?  Anytime spent with this man demonstrated his appetite for knowledge, his fondness for teaching, his brilliance in things both scientific and musical, and his absolute love of people.

He rubbed some people the wrong way.  They thought his joy, his tendency to walk up to everyone and greet them with familiarity and enthusiasm was forced, unnatural, perhaps manipulative.  Smart people tend towards sarcasm and brooding.  Smart people tend to be closed, wary.  D.B. was open with an appetite for living large and loving life even larger.  Oddly, he was probably one of the smartest people in that school of brilliant people.  Perhaps he knew something the rest of us snarling smart people don’t.

At least, that is the impression I had from my few interactions.  He always smiled and STOPPED to say hello to me as I lurked in the music department, my haven at school.  When the smaller singing groups and his brass band went to London and Paris the summer after sophomore year, he was one of our chaperones. Vivacious and omnipresent – often to our consternation as we wanted to taste the goodies that European cultures offer teens – I distinctly remember him sitting in the middle of a café in the London area in which we roosted for eight days.  He sat outside in a ridiculously broad-brimmed straw hat and a natty white shirt and matching natty white pants.  He called out to every single one of the 80 students who invariably passed by his watchpost.  There was such joy and amusement in his face as we all bumbled about, tasting the freedom college would soon afford us.  He loved that trip.

He applauded loudest at every concert.

He led his choirs and band with verve that bordered on animation.  He took great pride in the pipe organ that he helped build at our school.

He asked me to play cymbals for his brass choir’s Winter Concert (seriously, it was one song and for one wretchedly loud crash) just to get me involved in his part of the department.  He teased me that I managed to mangle that one note.  But his teasing was loving and pretty damned funny.

When I did an independent research project my senior year in the music department, he not only gave up his choir for me to teach and conduct, he left the room completely.  He gave me the gift of trusting me with his beloved music class.

He bestowed me with the music award my senior year.

Years later, he took my trumpet-playing brother under his wing, even suggesting my brother play trumpet solos at a time when no one gave my brother a second glance.

He was never the most popular teacher.  He didn’t buddy around with kids, weirdly, but managed to always stop his Very Important Work to devote 100% attention to whichever teen was in his face at the time.  He wasn’t cryptic.  He wasn’t snarky. He wasn’t beaten down by life.

He was, it seemed, happy.

His passing is affecting my small school’s community very hard this weekend.  Tempering the sense of loss is the fact that this man devoted so much of his 80-something years giving and receiving so many blessings.

He is missed.