Shared Notes of Love in the Public Schools


Molly & Darius

Molly and I pulled into a mostly empty lot at her old middle school 15 minutes before the start of a retirement send-off of her former Strings teacher. After 42 years of teaching, Barbara is hanging up her baton. I suggested to Molly we walk because it might be hard to park, imagining the lot overflowing as it often does when there are special events at the school. A little dismayed, I reminded myself Barbara was an orchestra teacher not a football coach. The arts in this struggling city get short shrift unlike the nearby wealthier and homogenous suburbs where near-infants are enrolled in Suzuki school.

Norwalk is more of a sports town. The soccer team is great, usually composed of children of newer immigrants from places where soccer is the real football.  The football team isn’t too bad either and the heavily supported band performing at all the football games always wins awards. Strings are trickier. Unable to march in the parade on Memorial Day with no pretty girls in leotards twirling flags and wooden guns over their heads, Classical music – orchestras have less mass appeal. After all, there’s no spectacle! You must sit and listen – quietly – no hotdog eating, no cheering.

Barbara M & D

Barbara ignited a love of music in countless children in our urban community, including Molly who joined the elementary school’s orchestra program in third grade. Like many an arts teacher in struggling urban communities, Barbara juggled the elementary school strings program along with the middle school – traveling from school to school because the budget didn’t allow for a teacher in each.

On Stage

I needn’t have worried about a turnout at Barbara’s send-off. In no time at all, the stage filled with former students — kids sitting next to adults — some in their early 50s themselves — hard to believe when you look at their ageless mentor. Generations of students – some now teachers themselves – with cellos, violas, violins – even two bass players showed up, hauling their gigantic instruments like old friends.

I confess, I dreaded, especially in the early days, Molly’s school concerts – screechy selections of cheesy music grinding on for hours, but over the years, they got better and yesterday, I grinned through the whole jolly celebration of love. Love of music, of the shared bonds of the orchestra, of the woman who stood before them as quick with a hug and a stellar smile as with a stern word for her players to pay attention punctuated with appropriate baton tapping.

M & D playing

I sat right up front (more were on stage than in the audience) so I could watch my girl – who sings (like an angel) now but hasn’t picked up her violin in ages. Here she was again, paired like the old days with her dear friend Darius who I have watched grow up into a lovely man. How easily they slid into an easy rapport, sharing smiles and wise cracks behind their music stand. A lovely throwback to a sweet time not so long past but now, perhaps gone forever. United for last songs, with generations of one woman’s students, making gloriously, imperfect music together.

6 thoughts on “Shared Notes of Love in the Public Schools”

  1. Bravo to Miss Barbara! Her contribution to the lives of her students has expanded as a ripple to places we will never know. Well done!

  2. Music education in our local public schools is also very limited and it’s so disheartening. But what a lovely tribute to a fine teacher who made an impact in your daughter’s life (love the photos of her!).

  3. There is nothing more heart-filling and joyous than watching one’s child onstage! What a event this must have been. I am always envious imaging what it would be like to be in the midst of an orchestra, part of that swelling sound! What wonderful reunion and send-off for a beloved teacher who made such an impact. I loved seeing the pictures of Molly too, having heard so much about her, but never met her! XXOO

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