Both my grandfathers are medical professionals. My mom’s dad, Grandpa Gary, was a neuropathologist (now retired) who taught at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. My dad’s father, Grandpa Laurin, had his own dental practice for decades and now teaches pediatric dentistry at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Their credentials speak for themselves, but suffice it say they are both highly educated. They are also the men who raised my parents and I value their opinions.
Recently, in conversations with them, they each validated my career choice in a meaningful way. Seeing as this is for other future teachers out there, I thought you also might appreciate how the wisdom of age condones what we do. Disclaimer: as the music teacher on the writers’ panel, this is pretty music-centric.
Grandpa Gary is a very talented pianist. He went halvsies with his dad to buy a piano when he was young and has been practicing ever since. Last week, my family drove out to Virginia to celebrate his eightieth birthday with him. One evening, while the rest of the family was lighting the bonfire, Grandpa and I found ourselves in his parlor with his nine-foot, concert grand Bechstein piano. I knew he’d been working on a Rachmaninoff concerto, so I asked him to play it for me. Hearing live music reminds me why I love music, and why I’ve chosen to become a music teacher. Listening to my grandpa play was no exception. After the piece, we talked about its beauty and complexity and he played a few of his favorite parts for me again. Then we walked outside to join the rest of the family in the backyard. I will always remember our conversation that evening.
“Isn’t music wonderful?” Grandpa mused.
“Yes. It truly is,” I agreed.
“If only I’d been smart and starved and done music.”
“Really?” I knew he loved music, but I hadn’t expected that. “So, if you could go back and do it all again?”
“In a heartbeat.” He didn’t even pause. A cousin came and diverted his attention and I was left pondering my own path. Here I am, nearing the end of my college days and the beginning of my teaching days, and so far all the days I can see in either direction are full of music. I had thought it was a pretty good gig and Grandpa’s affirmation sealed my opinion. Point for the aspiring music teacher.
On our way home from Virginia, we drove through Wisconsin. (I know, not exactly en route, but why not, right?) We stayed with my dad’s parents. Grandpa Laurin will tell you he doesn’t have musical talent. He sings emphatically and on pitch during church, I know that much. And he plays CDs virtuosically. Early in our stay this trip, I followed the sound of Italian arias into Grandpa’s study to find the empty CD case for Italian love arias atop his CD player. A couple days later, Grandpa asked me about my classes this fall. I told him I’d be taking music history, vocal pedagogy, pre-student teaching, singing with BYU Women’s Chorus, and starting up a children’s choir. My music-dominant schedule inspired an impromptu reminiscence about his music teacher in school.
“She sang opera and played the piano to accompany herself during lunch. She made us listen to arias and Negro spirituals. I thought it was dumb.” Grandpa got a little choked up. “I thought it was dumb, but now my favorite music is aria and Negro spirituals. Where did I get that? It was from her.” My tough-as-nails grandpa who never cries got a lump in his throat and paused as he recounted how he’d tried to find his old music teacher to thank her, but she’d already died. Both our eyes were glistening as he regained composure by focusing on the computer problem my dad was helping him solve.
As I’ve been mulling over these two episodes, I’ve felt very blessed to have grandfathers who value music and education the way I do. The seal of approval means a lot coming from two college professors with a more than a few decades each of life experience. Not to mention they’re my two favorite old guys around.