Dear friends and colleagues of Robin Meredith-Kramer,
There are some TV and radio spots lately that have a woman who has started a small business that she always wanted to start. It is a music school. Whenever I hear it I can't help but think of all of you and the work that you do. She thanks her mother who encouraged her to follow her dreams. She thanks an aunt who drove her to piano lessons. Another relative is thanked for helping to purchase that first used spinet. She thanks her husband for cleaning out their big room over the garage and helping to turn it into the music studio. And most importantly to her, she thanks all those who supported her belief in herself!
I'm writing this monthly newsletter for Robin because she too reminds me of the woman in the ads. Robin is always grateful for each day and the newness it brings. Like all of you, Robin has a gift that she can share with others - music. I've been so fortunate to witness this gift and be a beneficiary of it since 1977.
The day I met Robin, the first thing I asked her was if she had a measuring tape. Not so odd a request to a future landlord (of sorts) from a fifth-rate piano player who wanted to know if his only prized possession (an old upright piano) would fit in the door. Robin, the eternal optimist, ran and got me the tape and the rest is history.
Now you might ask who is this guy and why is he sharing this personal information with us this month. The answer is simple. There is a musical message in my meeting up with Robin and a couple of piano teachers from the past that helped shaped the musical me. When I was 6, I was forced to take piano lessons from a nun who wielded a mighty ruler and could slam the keyboard lid faster than a speeding bullet. I had a grandmother, mother, and older sister who listened to me practice at home and criticized each time I hit the wrong note. Needless to say piano lessons were not much fun and neither was practice.
By the time I was in 3rd grade I wanted out. I would fantasize about which fingers I could lose that would get me outta taking piano lessons, yet still let me function later in life. I was a man of vision back then. It wasn't until I was in the fifth grade that I met a piano teacher who was exactly what I needed.
We met weekly at the local music store, in this closet-like space that had a chair, a piano bench, and a spinet in it. The lessons were $3.00 a half-hour. How piano lessons were run back then was pretty much how they are today. The teacher would try to motivate the student. The teacher would help the student select songs (that would be at an appropriate level) that would be practiced until a certain proficiency was reached. Seemed like a win-win situation.
The only problem was that this student still had the "3 mothers" back at home tuning their ears; and I didn't care much for the songs that I supposedly had a "say" in selecting.
What I did have was a creative teacher, who not only had long, slender fingers that seemed to glide over the keys, but he was a jazz composer. How he loved to play the piano! He quickly ascertained that the only way the two of us would be able to accomplish any musical goals that my parents were paying for, was for us to come to a compromise. Looking back, it was kinda brilliant.
Every six months there was a recital. At the recital, it was expected that each student would perform a song that they had been trying to perfect. Our deal was that my teacher would continue to take his $3 each week. What I was expected to do was somehow learn to read sheet music for a song that my mother had selected. I agreed to learn that song as long as the night of the recital, I would perform the song playing an introduction that I composed and to finish the song, add an original ending created by moi.
What transpired over the next several years is what helped me develop my ears. Each week I would walk into the cramped room, take a seat on the lone chair, while my teacher sat on the piano bench. He would ask me if I had practiced "Three Coins in the Fountain" and I would say I was thinking about it, (thinking that I was still a couple of coins short.) He would ask what I would like to do for the remaining 29 minutes, if I wasn't prepared to play. I asked if he would mind playing for me and I would sit in bliss watching, learning, and listening to a grand teacher and pianist spin his musical magic.
A couple of years later, everyone wanted me in their rock & roll bands because I wrote songs! I wrote songs for classmates and got to perform them once a month on Fridays in school. I got popular, not because my songs were any good, but because I helped make others popular! This helped me learn how to deal with stage fright. By the time I got to college, I was performing regularly in a coffeehouse that was created in a resident hall for the intention of me being the featured act. Evenings in the dorm I would got down to the cramped, closet-like piano room that was next to the laundry room. The piano rooms in dorms don't usually have room for even a chair, but I was used to tight places. I would turn off the lights and leave the door cracked open and write songs. I always played in the dark; just in case I ever went blind . . . I wanted to still be able to make music. Old habits die hard. At times I still would try playing with only 9 fingers . . . just in case my old fantasies of losing a digit came true.
That day I first met Robin I learned that she was majoring in music and had been a piano teacher already for a number of years. I was close to 30 years old and at an impasse in my musical life. I had a good ear for music, but I still was a 5th rate piano player who couldn't read music. I could remember what a "C" looked like and a couple of other right-hand notes, but that was it. I desperately wanted to be a musician, but I knew in my heart what a true musician was and I was not one. One night, sitting under the stars, Robin told me that maybe I wasn't a musician - according to my definition, but what I was, was a composer.
Because of that little sentence, I was able to start thinking of myself in a totally different frame of mind and my songwriting took off. I still look back to that night and thank those stars we were sitting under for allowing me to meet such an inspirational person and teacher.
And so, from the newsletter that I have read from the past, I gather that it is the seated President's challenge to somehow encourage all you teachers to continue the fine work that you do daily.
This month's message is simple. Out there, there are past, present, and future students that you have touched. You have said or done or shown them something that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. Most of you might never be fortunate enough to know what you once said or did that inspired your student(s) for the remainder of their life/lives. It might be something to do with music and it might not. Know that each of you are blessed with the ability to share an art that is old as time. You don't always get to see the end results, but that is not the reason you do what you do. You do it because you love it and when you love it, it shows!
Robin says to remind you:
"Anyone who went to the state conference at Moody, and would like to report on a session or some aspect they enjoyed, please let me know by Monday morning.
Our next meeting is this Monday, November 23rd, at the Rolling Meadows Library. An IMT (Independent Music Teachers' Chat) will begin at 9:15 am. I will be there to chat informally with anyone about teaching, learning, the latest music you've heard that inspired you. At 9:45 am our business meeting will begin, and hopefully, if we have enough people to begin on time, our Awards Competition program will begin at 10:30 am, with our very knowledgeable presenter, Dr Susan Osborn. The Awards Repertoire Lists are on our website. Please look them over and bring in any scores you might be interested in or have questions on.
Next month we have no official meeting, but our Holiday party will be on Monday, December 8th, at 10:00 am, at the lovely home of our gracious hostess, Deb Lynch, in Mundelein! Come for some fun and music and relaxation with your peers." - Robin Meredith-Kramer
" . . . As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly . . . "
From WKRP in Cincinnati episode "Turkeys Away" - October 30, 1978.
(Mr. Carlson decides to take a more hands-on managerial approach by doing the greatest Thanksgiving promotion in radio history - dropping live turkeys from a helicopter.)
- Will Kramer