Why I Teach

By Lori De Vita Hofman

I was four years old when I remembered the music for the very first time.

It came back to me by way of a tiny toy piano which was nestled in the back of closet, in the closet of a room I shared with my brother. I thought everyone remembered the music, but I was wrong. As I was to find out, much later in life, only a few remember it; some learn it, and most people never even hear it. 

The piano was an upright toy (in both the spatial and moral sense!) as we did not have room for the grand version in the closet. I was still small enough to sit comfortably cross-legged on the closet floor, my stage crowded with yellow rain boots, my brother’s Erector Set and a semi- dilapidated vacuum cleaner (also, necessarily, upright). On this particular day the music came back to me in a grand and sweeping wave that soared through my body, bubbling up from my toes until it poured out of my fingers, crashing onto the keyboard in a impeccably timed, two-handed version of “Give My Regards to Broadway.”

My ever-neurotic mother came running into the room after hearing just a few notes of the easily recognizable melody. She expected to accost some kidnapper who must have inexplicably escaped her notice while breaking into our minuscule, three-room apartment, and was now serenading me with show tunes prior to my abduction. She was prepared to kick, maim, and bludgeon the intruder. That would not have fazed her. What did shock her was the sight of all four years of me crammed in the back of the closet, tickling the plastics.

“Who played that?” she asked, cocking her marinara-drenched wooden spoon in anticipation of imminent battle.

“Me.”

“How did you know how to do that?” I heard the skepticism in her voice, as she suddenly pushed my well-worn plaid jumper off its hanger, expecting to surprise the hidden abductor/pianist.

There was only one answer I could give, and that answer made no sense to my mother. I simply said, “I remember it. “

It was another twenty years before I realized that not everyone remembers the music . . . that I was fortunate in my knowledge. But, knowledge that goes unshared stagnates, eventually trickling into a puddle of useless minutiae that exists for no reason. Knowledge, in order to fulfill its own destiny, must be known. That is when I knew I was a teacher.

I am a good teacher, not because I am smarter than others but because I try to understand the people who I am teaching. I let them share their tunes and tones, whatever that may be. There is a dynamic that goes on between teacher and student that is subtle and beautiful, symphonic in nature. A teacher must hear that symphony and listen to everything in order to evoke each student’s distinct melody. I listen to my children’s eyes, I listen to the way they walk, the slump of their shoulders, the set of their mouths. I listen to their hesitant starts and silent fear. I listen to their overconfidence and conceit. I listen to them not listening. I listen to the song of their breath.

Often, I try to help them to “be in tune” with themselves so that they can begin to truly play. An orchestra can know which notes they are supposed to sound, but if their instruments are out of tune, there will only be dissonance. I try, from my sometime-perch in their lives, to let their music come through, uninhibited by the “dones” and dins of their existence. I need to learn their tones, pure and simple. It is an orchestra that has a voice of its own. I am only there to guide, suggest, and add a fact or two. I hear the child. I hear the music. And so I am a music teacher.

You see, I simply had no choice. It was the only thing I remembered how to do.


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