Nola teaches middle school music. She’s come full circle. She teaches where she went to middle school.
I’ve known Nola for more than a decade. She was our church organist. And even though we had become fast friends, I had never really quizzed her about her love for music.
“When I was a preschooler, there was a piano in my folks’ garage–an old upright. I would go out there and make up songs. There was a funeral for…JFK…then the inauguration for Johnson. They were playing Hail to the Chief over and over.“
So I went out and played Hail to the Chief. That was my first tune. I was playing by ear.”
Her parents listened to the church organist, Florence Sugars, who told them, “‘Get the kid piano lessons, and get the piano tune so you don’t ruin her ear. You want her listening to things that are in tune.’”
“Did they upgrade your piano as you progressed?” I asked.
“I had my first lesson during the week. We went out on the weekend and bought a piano.
“Of course I could only play my two greatest hits: Hail to the Chief and Blowin’ in the Wind, my special with two hands. I had made up accompaniment with a harmony part with my left hand for Blowin’ in the Wind because that was on the radio all the time (then).”
“Sounds like you were a close family.”
“They were very supportive…always interested in finding music for me. By the same token, I kind of monopolized the piano away from my sisters. If they had any ability, I was too selfish. I wasn’t able to share.”
“And I was very bossy to them in high school.”
Meg’s cappuccino started roaring again. I wanted a refill.
Nola decided to become a high school band director.
“Teaching kids is a big responsibility,” I commented.
“And, I think it was really big. I’ve had adults come back to tell me, when they’re at conferences about their kids–they have all this baggage about some teacher who told them they couldn’t sing when they were little. I don’t think some teachers realize that if you’re so picky, like I was to my sisters, you can hurt people more than you know.I couldn’t think of anything else I was interested enough in pursuing. I’ve had many, many adults, especially men, say, ‘My teacher said I couldn’t sing, and I never sang again.’”
“But you encourage your students.”
“That’s what I hope.”
“How did you start playing the organ?”
“We had an organ at church…I really didn’t like the sound of…didn’t even have it played at my wedding. I went to Arizona…visited Organ Stop Pizza. They had a Wurlitzer organ connected to a grand piano…a train, car horns, and cymbals…everything you could think of. You could sit and eat pizza, and this person would play the organ. We were just thrilled. We bought all of their records. It was hilarious. After the Arizona trip…I found out I liked the sound of the instrument itself because it was a pipe organ. “All I had ever heard was electronic organs. Hearing a pipe organ doing the Bach Minor Toccata, da-na-na,” she mimicked the scary movie sound, “it’s not going inspire you unless you want to be creepy on Halloween.”
We talked about budget cuts that cut music from the curriculum.
“It’s like cutting out a part of my heart. I don’t know enough about politics to be able to fix it, so it just aches. There are so many studies…about the brain. It is just not an option. Listening to music, playing…performing music…helps your brain. Doing music, you’re actually increasing neuron-pathways.”
“If you turned all the music off their TVs…just had words, and if you turned off their movies and just had action, and had only news on the radio and didn’t have the music, didn’t have music when you’re getting ready in the morning, when you’re cleaning the garage, when you want to exercise, I think then you would realize that something is missing.”