I’ve written here before about my high school English teacher and my high school choir teacher. These women were foundational to my career in education. But I’ve never written how public schools helped me become a musician.
The summer before my sophomore year of high school, I got a phone call from the choir teacher, Mr. Reimer. He was looking for an accompanist for the show choir.
Accompanying wasn’t what I wanted to do. I’d been down this road at church, and once I showed moderate proficiency with playing the piano, I never got to sing. But in my lapsed-logic-15-year-old brain, I thought if I played the piano for the show choir and sang in the sophomore choir, I’d have a better chance making the show choir as a singer my junior year.
Show choir music is sometimes challenging to play, and as a 15 year-old, I was often out of my element. But Mr. Reimer was encouraging and not critical when I’d miss notes. Which happened often.
We moved to Montana after my sophomore year, and though I delayed telling my new choir teacher that I could play the piano, she still made sure I accompanied the choir at least once a year. And sure, I resented it then, but what I didn’t realize at the time is that both of my high school choir teachers developed my accompanying skills, which have allowed me to earn a little extra money and continue to be a musician.
Fast forward several years: I was teaching at the high school I attended as a sophomore, and Mr. Reimer asked me to play piano for the school musical–nothing fancy, just the violin part on a synthesizer. And then he asked me to play more challenging four-hand accompaniments for his varsity choir.
When I came back from grad school, that choir teacher’s son AJ was teaching choir, and he carried on the tradition of asking me to play for the musicals and varsity choir.
Both Reimers taught me musicianship, the value that each person in a choir or an orchestra brings to every piece of music, and that participating in musical groups is fun, not stressful.
Last year I took over as principal pianist for the school musical. I constantly feel inadequate. But AJ, always the music educator, is nothing but encouraging. He never makes me feel stupid when I can’t figure out a rhythm or when a song pops up in G flat major and I keep forgetting the C flat. Instead, he teaches.
Without these opportunities to grow as an accompanist and musician, I’m not sure I would not still be playing the piano. I’m positive I wouldn’t be as good of a musician as I am. I definitely wouldn’t even consider myself a musician at all.
I’m a musician because of public schools.