I have never come across any classical musician that has anything negative to say about Maurice Duruflé’s Ubi Caritas. It is just one of those pieces of music that is universally treasured. It was sung by six of my friends at our wedding as my beautiful bride walked down the aisle. We had a morning wedding so the sunlight was blindingly bright behind her as she made her entrance. She looked like an angel. I almost passed out due to this overwhelming experience that will forever remain in my memory. Never lock your knees, gents.
Seeing my future father-in-law give away his daughter is also something I will always remember. It is memorable not only for the tender, sincere gesture that brought about a great transition in both of our families, but for the plain and simple fact that I did not have a job at the time. With so many of my family members there to witness this event, I was very cognizant of this fact. I almost felt like a bright neon sign was flashing behind me that screamed “UNEMPLOYED”.
Our honeymoon was fabulous. I felt like we went to another planet. Not a care in the world. Our return home ushered in a very harsh reality brought about by twenty or so unrequited phone calls and emails that silently mocked me. The job search was not going well. I started sending my resume to any place that might consider hiring me. I was desperately applying for jobs that had nothing to do with what I was passionate about. I finally got a phone call from the principal at John Overton High School for a position teaching class piano. Now, believe me, teaching class piano was not something I wanted to pursue as a career, but I needed a job with benefits for our family. So, I put on my best salesman face and went to the interview.
About a week later, I got a phone call from the principal saying that she had some good news and some bad news. The bad news was that they hired another person much more qualified to teach class piano. The good news was that since I talked about choir so much in my interview, they were interested in hiring me as the choir director instead! The only caveat is that for one year I would still have to teach one period of class piano. The principal was incredibly gracious and supportive of the choral program for me to come in and start teaching with a total of six students spread out over four classes. Little did I know that on the first day the principal was going to raid the visual art classes adjacent to the choir room. When she did, she asked “Who doesn’t want to be in art?”. Each time she asked about twenty students willingly raised their hand thinking that they were getting out of an arts credit only to be dragged into the pit of choral despair known as room 132. Once my choir classes were sufficiently stacked with apathetic transients, documented drug dealers, students with severe emotional instability and some freshman, I was ready to transform the world with my new choral clientele.
I wouldn’t trade those first ten months of teaching for anything. It was a humiliating crucible that forged the teacher that I was to become. However, like many first year teachers, my urgency to prove myself to the professional world far outweighed my ability level. Any tiny mishap in the classroom completely derailed me. I couldn’t sculpt a lesson plan to save my life and the ability to accurately assess my students’ ability was blinded by my ambition to be the best conductor on the planet. Oh yeah, there was a group of students that were assigned to a class piano course that met upstairs. Apparently I had to be their teacher too.
This class’s skill set contained the most obscene discrepancy. Some students had played piano before so they had some basic skills and experience. I feel I actually taught them something. Others students struggled to demonstrate the difference between their left and right hands. I think one student just used my class time to paint her nails. Two students in the room only spoke Korean. Even though they only knew a syllable or two of English, we communicated through music. One of the students from Korea played a Chopin Etude for me almost flawlessly on the first day. What on earth was I, the overconfident conductor, going to teach him? Much. I didn’t realize it though.
Needless to say, his receptive language was much better than his spoken language at the time. He was a quick learner as well. I eventually recruited him to be my accompanist in choir for the next three years. He learned English, how to sing, made friends in the choir, and graduated from high school to go on to receive two college degrees in piano performance. Many a times I would write the two Korean students in my class using online translators. I’m sure there were some really funny things that were transliterated in the process. Here is a note I wrote him after the boy performed Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 K. 467 at the first concert. It may or may not contain curse words. I wouldn’t know. I’m proud to say I spelled Mozart correctly in the note. Look for it, it’s there.
By the time second semester rolled around, I was almost completely burnt out on teaching. All of my tricks were now overused and I didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing. I decided to turn this class piano class into a composition class. Entrada was the product of a project that I assigned to this ragtag group of students. I gave them guidelines in a rubric so that they could compose on school desktops that contained a music notation software. I told them that I would work on it with them. So, I submitted my composition to the class among theirs and allowed the most outspoken student (who complained about everything) to grade my project in front of the class using the rubric. I passed according to her severe scrutiny.
Entrada features some cleverly placed major and minor key signatures using both parallel and relative relationships. It is a great piece to play if you are frustrated because the ostinato type rhythm and open fifth voicing allow the performer to show why a piano is a percussion instrument.
On a final note, I would like to say that maybe one day, when I retire, if the possibility presents itself to teach a class piano class again, I might. I would like another shot. I may even start a kickstarter for my endeavor. If you are reading this and you were in my class at Overton, I will pay for your tuition at the “Tyler Merideth Mid-Life Crisis Class Piano Emporium”. Opening Fall of 2047 in Pensacola, Florida.