Saturday, December 14, 2013

for my teacher

It's been a semester full of surprises, some more welcome than others. One month ago, my music theory teacher Mr. Yowell announced his sudden retirement. To de-numb myself, I scoured through the why's, but found no answer. So instead, I'll present my small why's for Mr. Y: why his departure hurts so deeply, and why he shall stick in my memory.

Mr. Yowell took on the music theory class, but his primary attentions lay with school choirs, in which I sung for two school years and a summer. Cantare Chorale, the all-female ensemble, was by far the best time of the day. Following every class, we girl-chorists gamboled down the halls, humming "Follow Me Down to Carlow" and Tahitian folk songs. Mr. Yowell elicited confidence from shy singers like mine, hammered good posture into the sluggish ones, made smiles from sleepless scowls. From a mishmash of voices (some mellifluous, most... crunchy), Mr. Yowell crafted a single, fine instrument, which he played masterfully.

With his encouragement, I explored new territory:
  • uke-strumming for "Hey Soul Sister"
  • tricks of the piano-accompanist trade
  • ad libitum violin solos
  • the percussive-ness plastic eggs, zippers, claves, and tupperware
  • golden hand-bells (with which I famously ruined the beginning of a solemn Latin dirge, in-concert. As I chimed the opening chord, I [and the audience] realized that I had grabbed a tri-tone instead of a perfect fifth. He... hehehe)

Last summer, Mr. Yowell led the choirs on a tour of Italy. Somehow, he arranged for his high-school minstrels to sing Franz Biebl's "Ave Maria" in the Vatican. For me, it was the performance of a lifetime--reverent and resounding. We bused up the boot, singing for fishermen and their fan-swishing wives at their seaside chiesa, distributing flyers in rudimentary Italian in shady alleys, chomping our way through sun-dried tomato everything. Lo sono in cielo, I am in heaven, fell glibly from our oft-opened lips.   
In a public school that scorns public declarations of faith, Mr. Yowell courageously included Christian repertoire in every song set ('twas natural; the bulk of classical choral compositions are ecclesiastical). Students barred from wishing others a "Merry Christmas," caroled it instead. With music as his medium, Mr. Yowell advanced his ministry.

Summer arrives, music-sheets hit the recycling bin, and the piano dons its dust-cover. The choirs sing "Irish Blessing" to send off seniors, variables in the high-school equation. I expected Mr. Yowell to be a constant, but he, too, has shifted. In farewell, here's an Irish Blessing for my teacher:

May the road rise up to meet you. 
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and the rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again, my friend,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

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