My favorite school teacher was not found in a gym, nor was it English, where I seemed to excel. Suppose if I wanted to be a journalist, I needed to make the grade here and not algebra. Math was never a strong point.
But I couldn’t tell you who my best teachers were in English. I remember one I didn’t like. All she did was preach Shakespeare and Chaucer—not really my idols.
Back in middle school, I was introduced to music by a Miss McGequin. I didn’t know her first name. She was simply Miss McGequin to us all.
She was my one and only music teacher and taught us all to appreciate the fine classics—or tried to if students would only listen. The “killer bees” were high on her list of favorites. They would be Bach, Beethoven and Brahms.
In an era of Patti Page and Johnny Ray, she brought another dimension into the picture. I bought into it. Others of my kind didn’t and used the period to create havoc.
I swear, Miss McGequin spent more time disciplining than instructing. Back and forth went that metronome of sanity. One day, she blew her mind when a paper plane hit her on the noggin.
“I’ll tell you this,” she retorted. “Years from now when these rock stars are dead and forgotten, you’ll still be listening to the classics. You’ll appreciate what Tchaikovsky and Ravel did for us. You’ll be turned on by their compositions.”
Another time close to the holidays, she took out her record player and put a platter on the turntable. She asked us to close our eyes and dream along with the music.
The piece happened to be one of the greatest ever written. It was Tchaikovsky’s ballet “The Nutcracker” and Miss McGequin reviewed every nuance of the music. Yes, it grew on me. When my daughter was taking ballet, we made several visits to Boston over the holidays to catch the Boston Ballet. I could picture Sonya as a Clara but never got that far.
Another time, she played a record and said it was the most perfect piece of music ever written. Little did I know it was Ravel’s “Bolero” and it’s been used for a number of television soundtracks.
Because she taught music, they didn’t take her seriously. The athletes were charting out their next football game. Guys were ogling the gals and quite the reverse. Music was a savage beast that roared with disapproval.
And suddenly, just like that, it changed. Miss McGequin was getting married and wanted us all to attend her wedding. We were invited to the church and later to the reception. Miss McGequin was soon to take on a different name.
In class, she handed out the invitations to each of us and told us that if we were all good boys and girls, there would be a chocolate fountain and we could make our own sundaes.
She had a bus waiting for us at the school with treats and we were taken to the church. It didn’t look like Miss McGequin, given the bridal look and all that. If ever there was cause to become infatuated with your teacher, this was it.
Later that afternoon, as we entered the reception hall, I couldn’t believe my ears. Where was I, Symphony Hall? The woman actually had the nerve to hire a cluster of symphonic musicians to play. Not a DJ. Not a band. But actually instruments like violin, cello and flute.
No rock music at this shindig. And in the process, she had organized her own concert, knowing her students would never have attended one otherwise.
The music, eek! The ice cream and chocolate were outstanding. People danced to a Strauss waltz.
In the months and years that followed, I was hooked on the classical. I don’t know how many others were infatuated by the music but it grew on me—and with me. My brother and I shared the same room. We slept in separate beds with separate radios.
True story. He had on rock and I was tuned into the classical station. The sound conflicted but Eddie usually fell asleep first, giving me time to kill his music.
As I look back on those precious moments, I live in a classical world. A day doesn’t pass when I’m not listening to my favorite composers.
I cannot say the same for today’s generation. Kids don’t know what they’re missing. Many of them are going around tone deaf with music so loud and obnoxious, it’s like being in a rain forest with the volume cranked up.
The day she died, I was listening to “Pie Jesu” from Faure’s “Requiem.”
It made me cry.