Thursday, April 27, 2017

Teacher Tributes- Music

There have been a great deal of teachers that influenced my career, lifestyle and personality over the years of my education.  However, as I was coming up for ideas for the list of these posts, I kept going back to Mrs. Windish, my grammar school music teacher.

The reason I do, is my near daily discoveries of how much I learned in her once a week class without realizing it, or trying to.

I am not, nor have I ever been, a member of the singing people’s party.

Music Class was a necessary evil, where we were required to go to Mrs. Windish’s room every week, sing some songs out of random books while she led us on the piano, learn the obligatory Ta-Ta-tee-tee-Ta drum beats, and occasionally listen to things like Peter and the Wolf.

Sadly, the “Bob theJanitor” free version.

What I failed to recognize at the time was the insane depth and breadth of musical education I was picking up at the time.  Along with the songs, in passing she’d throw in some historical context and related music theory.

She snuck in learning about and examples of traditional International songs from all over the world, hymns and spirituals of various faiths (often secularized, or at least somewhat “De-Jesused”), Broadway show tunes, Movie soundtracks from across they years, historical folk songs, popular music from multiple decades and God knows what else.  My bucket like head of random retentions filed them and their back stories away without me knowing. 

Fast forward to my adult life, and I constantly find myself full of piles of information, plus the full melody and lyrics, upon hearing a song that makes me say, “Why do I know this piece of music?”

The answer is invariably Mrs. Windish’s class.

And that’s not counting knowing dances like the Hora and the Alley Cat.
Granted, there has yet to be an occasion where that came in handy.

Aside:  Thanks to the old bucket.  I was the only apparent resource who remembered the “Riverview Fight Song” she wrote in the Sixties and was still using when I attended.  I had to (poorly) sing it into my smartphone for the current music teacher to hear the equal parts Ivy League and Vaudeville inspired ditty.  The biggest problem, aside from sucking at vocal performances, was not singing the parody lyrics my friend and I wrote forty years ago.  I guess I haven’t changed much.

She also ran the Chorus, which kids could sign up for in fifth and sixth grade.  Working with the band director, she put on the Spring Concert.

The Christmas Concert was all her, however. 

(And, yes, I am ancient enough that it was not called the Winter Concert when I first encountered it.)

I was on stage from kindergarten through fourth grade but didn’t get to see the full scope until my last two years at Riverview.

Actually, there was one year the show didn’t go on.

My class was due to perform “Rubber Ducky,” wearing towels over bathing suits, and my best friend’s class got “How Much is that Doggie in the Window” with an overbearing amount of butt wiggling for the “waggily tail” portion.

No wonder we wrote that parody.

I was fully prepared to lock myself in the bathroom the night of the show.  Fortunately, my friend and I caused a series of monster snowstorms into existence of such magnitude through sheer willpower that the show was cancelled and never rescheduled.

In fifth and sixth grade I found myself on the stage crew for the Christmas Concert.

I am convinced the selection process for Garret and I was:
“You’re the two tallest guys not in chorus.”

Considering he was a complete football jock guy, and I was a total nerd, it’s astounding that we worked together smoothly, cooperatively amiably, and without a hitch (or hitchlessly to preserve parallelism) for both years.  Especially considering my interactions with him and some of his friends previous years in gym class and recess ranked somewhere between “Advanced Pestering” and “Aggravated Assault.”

From behind the scenes, I could see the magnitude of what Mrs. Windish pulled off every year.

The easy part was the Chorale performances.

The fifth and sixth grade chorus had their numbers, and the entire fourth grade was drafted into a separate chorus, to allow everyone to experience it and see if it was to their liking.

Unlikely though it seems, directing and leading a stage full of unwilling ten year olds in song was included in the easy part.

All of the younger classes…
Not grades…classes,
Had their own song, with choreography, and sometimes backdrops and props provided by the equally amazing art teacher Mrs. Kelly.

The only accompaniment was Mrs. Windish banging out the notes with incredible skill whatever musical style was needed on her piano. This held true for the spring chorus concerts and Music Class in general.

Working backstage and seeing the whole thing, I learned she usually worked with a theme.

This tended to be more connected to the interstitials (that she also set up) in front of the curtain between the main acts.  They were short sketches or songs by the more performance aligned and able individuals.

Mrs. Windish would also pull in an adult to help for the finale that would tie to the theme.

The first year I was on lights, she had a student’s mother with local theater experience play Miss Hannigan to do selections from Annie.  Normally I would have been in convulsions due to a storyline that has only Little House on the Prairie as a rival for little sisters annoying their brothers with.  However, a combination of the production values and a massive crush on the girl who sang “Maybe” in an interstitial, who had to wait backstage with us before her melodious performance, lightened my mood considerably.

The second year, it was the night janitor (and son of the day janitor, who also gave us tutorials in Dungeons and Dragons) using his college play experience to take the lead for bits from Fiddler on the Roof.

A final tale in this bit of recognition:

Working backstage got me out of class here and there for rehearsals.
Not nearly as often or pointlessly as my Wrinkle in Time parody, but you can’t have everything.

I got down early to the aptly named “All Purpose Room” used for Gym, Lunch, Performances, Fundraisers the occasional Cattle Stampede…whatever.

As I entered, I had the privilege of attending an unplanned and jaw droppingly stunning concert.

Wes, the day janitor, was sweeping up, and Mrs. Kelly was putting some finishing touches on the stage decorations. 

Wes started humming and snapping his fingers goofing around with the broom while Mrs. Kelly walked up to the microphone and began some Walter level virtuoso whistling

Mrs. Windish didn’t miss a beat, and tore into the piano keys like a woman possessed.

It was mind blowing to see her already impressive playing ability leap up several quantum levels when completely unencumbered by talentless and resistant children such as myself.

Based on those skills, her pulling off a phenomenal show year after year built out of mostly unwilling participants, and giving me a massively useful in later years, in depth musical education against my will at the time, this Teacher Tribute salutes you Mrs. Windish.


Anonymous said...

Funny how we remember things a Music teacher can teach us that might not be related to Music. I remember my Art teacher asking us to draw a picture of two Boxers in the ring. Then she went on for 5 minutes telling us about how the Spartans and Athenians were the first known Warriors who fought in a circle drawn on the dirt. Last man standing won. I wanted to ask her how did it go from a circle in the dirt to a square but I didn't. Now I would ask why is the ring square and still called the "Ring?" Oh well. Nice story Jeff and as always ... wonderfully written.

Jeff McGinley said...

Thanx for reading and sharing. The best teachers usually give us lessons far outside the class description.

I think you answered your own question on why it's called a ring (starting as a circle on the ground)

My guess is hanging the ropes made it go to a square, with the "ring" circle drawn inside that was eventually discontinued.

Thanx for also reminding me I'm probably overdue for a boxing post.