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Thursday, 13 August 2009

The Band Teacher

By Lyn Burnstine of The Lynamber Times

We were due to have a new band director arrive at our little high school. “Oh, please, let him be better than the last three,” I prayed.

Mr. Dominico had been a short, fiery, explosive Italian man with an overabundance of testosterone and a penchant for young girl students (one of whom he disastrously married and divorced before his early and sudden death a few years later).

He was a good teacher but in those days, before we understood such things, he drove me batty with inappropriate actions and innuendo. I’m sure he did so to many other girls, but we never talked about it. He would stand outside the door of the study hall, hidden from the other faculty members, but not the students, and lick his lips at me; he would whisper “kissable lips” as I passed him in the hall.

I was only too glad to see him go – that is, until I met Mr. Edwins, a shrimpy mouse, whom the students tortured. I was usually kind and considerate to underdogs, but he was so pitifully inadequate that I couldn’t bring myself to champion him and got sucked in on the side of his tormentors. He didn’t last long.

My earlier writing mentions two Casper Milquetoast characters that came and went; if so, the other must have been even mousier than Mr. Edwins because I have no memory of him at all.

So, we didn’t hold out much hope for success with the next assignment of teachers. Perry Whitson walked in and my heart stopped. That innocent, fifteen-year-old heart had been captured shortly before by the dark, dashing, mustached lead in a production of Carmen that our drama class had attended at a nearby college – probably the first opera I had ever seen.

I had been in the throes of my first, full-blown, groupie crush and daydreaming about the snapping-black-eyed tenor with the beautiful voice. And here he was — Don Jose himself. I recognized him immediately even without the toreador outfit — and he was MY band teacher!

After two wimps and a lech, I guess I can be forgiven for being prepared to challenge the new teacher in spite of my infatuation. He neither backed down nor got angry at me when I tested him. I found out later, after we had become good friends, that he had agonized over how to handle me and his wife, of whom I was so jealous, told him “You have to stop treating her like a child, and treat her like an adult. She’s different than the other kids.”

I was, indeed, more serious about school in general and music specifically. So his wife, Carolyn, mother of his two toddlers, had been my champion and I grew to care deeply about her also.

It was the first time I had really experienced being treated as an adult. It worked, and a deep friendship and respect developed. We became appropriately close, aided by my father’s being on the faculty, too, so our family’s social life centered around the community of teachers. And he was my cheerleader in all things musical, and encouraged and helped me to go on in the field that would be my lifework.

I have often wished I had kept in touch, as I have with some others of my favorite teachers. I would love to have said, “thank you, Mr Whitson.” I cry when I watch Mr. Holland’s Opus.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


How lucky for you that the right band director arrived to inspire you to follow your life's work. A good teacher can make all the difference in the life of the young.

My son, who is a professional musician, can identify with having both kinds of teachers. Fortunately, his private teacher compensated for some of the disastrous school band directors.

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