School in Poetry: A Poem for My Music Teacher
I'd Like to Reach the World with a Song
Ms. Susie was a small talented musician who shared the joy of playing the piano. She had intense brown eyes, communicating authority and kindness simultaneously. A compassionate person, she taught her students about the basics – chords, notes, timing – and never missed a beat about life. Ms. Susie knew the status of all of her students - how we were performing in class, on sports teams, and our young social lives. She knew our songs and helped us write verses for our lives.
Truthfully, I never wanted to touch a piano. I thought only nerdy kids sat for hours trying to make those little keys create meaningful sound. The only reason I sat down at a piano was to learn to make the pulsing sounds I heard from gospel music. I’m glad I did. My knowledge with the piano, organ, and keyboard helped me pay for college by working with bands. Eventually, I led church choirs and fulfilled my promise to understand those feelings I experienced so long ago as a child with Ms. Susie's help.
When she died recently, I know a beautiful rendition of life had been completed. She left to be with the Original Composer, leaving me with melodies and memories written like sheet music in my heart. This poem is a thank you to teachers like Ms. Susie who showed their students the score of life. It is a free verse, free form, and varying metered composition because music takes so many forms, and so does my love for my precious instructors. I also honor two important women in the development of gospel music, Shirley Caesar and Mahalia Jackson, who Ms. Susie considered some of the most creative women of all time.
What is your favorite musical instrument?
Dedication to Ms. Susie: Music is a Cure
Sherley and Mahalia,
Precise surgeons Cutting deep
Organs’ retelling melodies-
Scalpels dicing Lumbi lands
All the way through Georgia-Right over here.
Stitched together from wounds in my parents’ hands.
My dad robust baritone,
Took my hand when scraped,
Rubbing alcohol into the blood,
“It has to hurt, burn, and then heal; there’s no mistake.”
Then, I saw the Ray once,
Beyond average keys bouncing,
And Billy swung open the door,
E.J. sat at rounded table knighted,
All asking me to offer more.
And Mom soothing soprano,
Took my injured fingers,
“It has to flirt, turn, and obey His Will. That’s your piano.”
Ms. Susie offered a free exam,
Scanning X-rays identifying the source,
“You need treatment, son.” She said,
“Recitals, practice, and musical course.”
“Mozart is art!” Ms. Susie said,
Brown skin beaming in relief,
“Teacher, his music makes my ears dead,”
I replied and cried disbelief.
Then, twinkle in her eyes so brilliant,
“You don’t know a star.” She laughed, patting my scar.
And she gave me a medicine from royalty,
The Count, the duke, Queen of Soul,
And I drank thirsty,
Filling the cuts with lubricating lyric and meter.
And music was the bandage,
After surgeons, hymns had done their work,
Removing bitter sores,
Repairing dreams separated from flesh.
Ms. Susie, I remember the first time you took your nap,
Sounds running a lap from my piano,
You woke up, “See, son. You are good enough to let a tired soul rest,
To the gentle rolling playing of your show.”
“But I’m not anesthesia! People shouldn’t sleep!” I responded.
“Some playing can achieve a long peace.” She replied,
“Dreams can be healed from the outside.”
My residency the road,
Performing gospel, country, jazz and solo promos.
Pouring deeply, softly, richly,
Into those from here but far away—
Swaziland to Georgia-right Over there.
Sewing together wounds with my well trained hands.
I still behold rays,
They cross the darkened threshold,
I scatter the night,
With ivory keys I hold.
And Ms. Susie--
Hum the melody from beyond,
Sing the song with the words I know
And the tune I follow with skills below.
Shirley and Mahalia,
I didn’t understand so young,
I missed the healing through the music,
Now, I’m like you-healing ancient blues,
Piano MRI staccato duties,
I am a grateful medic of love and Ms. Susie.
May the songs of loving fire gush through me.
Have you had a teacher who left you with a gift you joyously share with others?
Fun Facts about Pianos
- The first piano was produced in Italy in the early 1700s. By the 19th-century, prices had fallen to the point and the design became common to what we see today. The first digital piano appeared around 1980.
- The piano is considered a string or percussion instrument. Most musicians consider the instrument to belong to the percussion class because the “hammers” strike the strings when the instrument is played. The total tension of a standard grand piano’s strings can be around 30 tons with the instrument having the ability to play notes softly or very loud.
- Pianos may have as many as twelve thousand parts, needing approximately 230 strings of steel for the keys. According to some estimates, there are almost 20 million piano playing individuals in the U.S., but professional piano tuners should tune the instrument. The piano is unique because it has the ability to play some of the highest and lowest notes of all musical instruments.
Teachers in Literature, Films, and Television
Teachers are crucial in life and often play major roles in stories in books, theatrical productions, and television shows. For example, teachers are essential in the plots of all of the Harry Potter novels by J. K. Rowland. This is because lessons can be magical in their transformation of a young mind whether they appear in movies, on pages, or in television productions. As a young person, my favorite sitcom was Welcome Back, Kotter, which first aired on American television in 1975. Because of this hilarious show, I wanted to eventually work in a classroom setting and help individuals with disabilities as a counselor. However, there are many shows, plays, and books about teachers which can inspire us. Below are some books for you to explore on this topic, but find ones that interest you. Indeed, most of us encounter a special teacher, like Ms. Susie, and such instructors and their techniques are worth becoming familiar with for inspiration.
Four Books about Inspiring Teachers and their Techniques
- Dintersmith, T. (2018). What school could be insights and inspiration from teachers across America. Princeton; Oxford: Princeton University Press.
- Hanh, T. N., & Weare, K. (1917). Happy teachers change the world: A guide for cultivating mindfulness in education. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press.
- MacCracken, M. (2014). The lost children. London: Harper Element.
- Nielsen, K. E. (2010). Beyond the miracle worker: The remarkable life of Anne Sullivan Macy and her extraordinary friendship with Helen Keller. Boston, MA: Beacon.