Last week, I had the honor of returning to my Alma Mater, The Haverford School, to give a master class and performance; both events were part of the 2012 Arts Festival. My return was the first since my graduation nearly eighteen years earlier, and the changes I observed, particularly in the school's support of the arts, were heartening.
In the thirteen years that I spent at the all-boys preparatory school, only a few of teachers made such an impact that I still reflect on them today. All but one, Mr. Stairs, my remarkable high school music teacher, have moved on in one way or another.
Stairs, as students today continue to fondly call him, was one of the few teachers who encouraged me (and other students) in my musical endeavors. In an environment where pursuing any artistic vocation was considered anything but noble, Stairs offered steadfast support; this support is as strong today as it was when I had him as a teacher.
Though the grounds and buildings of the school had undergone many changes over the years, the music room was nearly identical to how it looked when I last saw it my senior year. To have given the master class in the very room where music classes were held when I was a student made the experience all the more gratifying.
Prior to my arrival, three students were selected to be the subjects of my master class: two guitarists and one electric bassist. I opened up the class asking the three, who were seated with their instruments to the right of me, in which musical areas I could assist them. All three gave the same answer: improvisation.
About ten minutes into the class, I looked up at audience directly in front of me for the first time. (Previously, my attention was focused on the three students.) As I scanned the faces across the room, I came across Stairs’. His countenance wore a beaming smile, and, at the moment I caught sight of it, time stood still. Never would I have thought I would be in the same high school music classroom teaching students of the same age when I was there last and have Stairs looking on with a broad smile.
His smile was not one of pride, as most would be apt to think. It certainly was not pride, because it often implies haughtiness. The smile conveys a feeling of delight in having been a part of a student’s growth process. Stairs’ smile is one I have had occasionally while watching one of my own students do very well during a performance.
Few times have I ever felt such an honor as profound as teaching before one of my favorite persons and most respected teachers. I felt such joy during and after the class. I could not have asked for better students. My only hope: that I inspired any of those in attendance that day even a small fraction of how much Stairs inspired (and continues to inspire) me.
Thank you for everything, Stairs!
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