36 Years Ago

36 Years Ago, Vienna 1971—A Student Journal

004: My first job, music teacher


Vienna 1971—A Student Journal
A year of music, study, travel, sightseeing & friends.

After Vienna
Two Years Later

004 — My first job, music teacher
Fall–Spring 1972–73

Written April 28–29, 1974

When I returned, I was in the market for a teaching job. To make some money and get things paid off. The house, etc.

The job market was quite limited. When I returned in August there were only about two positions available. Two weeks before school started, I received a call from Union Township. For an interview for a jr. high school, instrumental music position.

I got the job and for these last two years I have been teaching jr. high school. I had two bands, two orchestras—it was quite a large system. In general, the kids were actually pretty good.

Of course, my first year was the roughest on me. Even though I was strict, I was still partially my easygoing self, and so I had the usual “beginning” discipline problems. Things got better but in general, it was still very tiring. I didn’t mind the job but I really didn’t like it either.

My supervisor, Mr. R. was always trying to mold me, and so this irritated me often. Also, the jr. high maturity level left much to be desired. Too much energy is always used on discipline. When I would relax, which I liked to do, more problems would always occur.
Well, those are kids for you.

However, they did well and learned how to follow well.
We gave our normal Christmas and Spring concerts as well as performances at grammar schools and one festival of jr. high bands.
When they played, I was proud of them.


Job Market. I returned to a poor job market in the U.S. How and why I got the call from the Union school system, I don’t know. Perhaps, they got a call from Montclair State, as I may have gone to my college on my return home. What if I had not gotten this first music job? Would my life today be any different? You don’t know.

New car. At some point, I am not certain when, I buy my first new car—a Datsun 4-cyclinder, small-style, station wagon. I think it was $3–$4,000. I loved that car. Drove it for 10 years and 190,000 miles into the ground, dying some time after my leaving Ohio State. I played in a band at the time and used to pack my large assortment of equipment into this car. Amazing car.

My first career job. I’m an instrumental music teacher in junior high school, nowadays called middle school. In our system, the middle school consisted of grades 7–9. That’s the age where they are growing up with a tendency to act up—mostly, they have a tendency for non-stop talking. Just like, today, they have a tendency for non-stop texting. This age level is also an exciting age because the kids do want to be recognized for their achievement. If you can show them that they can “achieve,” then you see their eyes light up.

My first year. Thinking back, I generally say that teaching is perhaps the most difficult job I had but also the most rewarding. I was trying to be strict, demanding that students pay attention, listen, and follow me through conducting. I was easy-going. I raised my voice and lectured. I gave detention. Discipline is the most difficult aspect of teaching and may be why people leave their teaching jobs. If you are a first-year teacher, give it some time, when you get to year two, it is suddenly much easier.

Students can perform well. The Union Township school system had a great music program and feeder system and the kids, when performing, sounded great. Part of this had to do with my supervisor, Mr. R’s long-term success and handling of the program. He deserved great credit. The other music teachers in the system also contributed to this well-run program.

I think our bands sounded close to the high school level. I always tried to push them with challenging music. Sure there were kids that couldn’t play well. In our system, everyone was welcomed and never thrown out because they couldn’t play. There was no auditioning to get into band. I conducted two bands and two orchestras, a large jazz band, and a lot of small-group instrumental classes (clarinet 9, clarinet 7-8 and such). The students learned to play in a large ensemble and listen for good tone quality. They could follow me easily—I would raise the baton and just start conducting, none of this pre-counting stuff you often see conductors do with young bands.

School conducting & teaching. Being a conductor and teacher is more than just flapping your arms. It can be exciting. Once I conducted the finale to the holiday concert dressed as Santa. Once in a while I would conduct the concert from memory. Once at a school talent show, my assistant band director (year 2) and I sang “Your Mama don’t Dance.” And once a group of 7th grade-band girls became “the Go-Go’s,” singing in front of the entire school—something they never forgot: they gave me a 4-foot giant signed photo when I left teaching. Most importantly, all the kids felt great accomplishment when they did well at their concerts.

Professional conducting. I think for a while, I wanted to be a professional conductor. Could I conduct the NY Philharmonic? Sure, sometimes. Could I pass the rigorous training required of a conductor—sight-reading full orchestral scores at the piano? Being able to model and hear complex, contemporary music in my mind’s ear? Being a good pianist? Well, no. Conducting at the highest levels is a rigorous technical achievement, besides the artistry and vision required of all professional conductors. Conductors are to be admired.

Teaching rewards. Teaching was fun, rewarding, and very tiring. Think of being a parent to 60 kids in a band—all with loud instruments in their hands coming in from a loud lunch. I have a lot of stories about teaching. Way too many for this blog. Again, teaching was the most difficult profession I have worked in and the most rewarding—when students recognized their achievements.

I think they, the students, called me Mr. Detention, my first year.


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