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A Salute to (My) Teachers - 6. Colleagues, Family and Friends, and mostly, just working hard

LEARNING by TEACHING and by DOING IT. 'Just do it.' The old Michael Jordan/Nike ad is my mantra. I have been learning by doing it since age 17, when I began teaching at J. Frank Dobie High School in Pasadena, Texas, as a 10 hour per week after-school private saxophone teacher, as a freshman in college. The band directors were the very hardworking Bill Brawn and James Lemmond. If the primary requisite for teaching is caring and being a nice person, they met it, just as have all those who inspired me. Since then I have taught in many places, including Westwood HS, Maynard Public Schools, Univ. of Mass. Lowell, Phillips Andover, U. of Rhode Island, Brown University, Univ. of Hartford, Yale University, Penn. State, and my current positions at New England Conservatory, Boston Conservatory, Boston University and the Longy School of Bard College. Indeed, I have always taught close to my age in number of hours spent. I am now 58 as of this writing with a more active playing and teaching career than I have ever had, performing 5-10 new solo works a year, playing as orchestral saxophonist with several orchestra including the Boston Symphony, and as soloist around the world. It takes a long time to build a career, but it takes very hard work every day to build it. I am a bit concerned that today's students don't fully understand this, and believe I am a good model. But I find that a few are looking for a single dream job, or an easy way to get to that position. It had been my experience that it doesn't happen that way. Joe Allard, and his contemporaries Robert Nagel (trumpet), and John Swallow (trombone), all worked very hard, teaching, playing with set orchestras, whether NBC, NY Phil, NYC Opera, Ballet, NY Brass Quintet, etc. etc. But they built careers, based on saying yes to virtually every date, with the knowledge that a 'no' from them, would mean they would not work again. Gunther Schuller gave us the same lecture (the entire conservatory) in a convocation when we were in school. But I knew it, and observed it, and I live it. 10 or 15 years ago I played the circus, and for very short money. I enjoyed it-played a lot of big band charts at double tempo for several hours, and my tux smelled like elephants for a long time! But I wouldn't trade that experience. My colleagues took me out for a beer and laughed at my complaint that my lip hurt. From that date, I learned better how to play without hurting my lip! So to my students I say, ‘Don't practice 'til it hurts. Practice until it doesn't hurt. Find the 'right' way to play.’ Eventually it may be easy, but students need to work harder and longer.


From 1979 on 'til 1986 I spent hours in the basement, practicing and writing letters to composers or orchestras for 'gigs.' And the early success ratio was 1% or less!. But one of those letters produced 3 summers of performances with the Santa Fe Opera, including the American Premiere of 'Lulu,' and another, an invitation to the Marlboro Festival (again for 3 summers) from Rudolf Serkin. There are many more, but they all started with letters, just as when I wrote to my baseball heroes. However, in the summer 1986 my five year old came downstairs and asked what I was doing, took my address book, and asked what it was. I said it was a list of all the important people I need to write or talk to. She looked through it and said innocently, 'where is my name?' From that day forward I spent less time on my career, and more time with my children. That was an important moment, and we all need to find the balance between career development, and what is really important.


My children are and were an opportunity to care more about others than myself. With my musician daughter, I learned that even with my own experiences, there is more than one path to success. She made her own independent way, taking the train to Rochester in HS from Boston to study with Pam Frame, arriving at 3 in the morning, practicing late at night at home, taking lessons from the late Harvey Shapiro and learning the best of what he had to offer. I believe she also taught me how to play musical line, by my listening to her play Bruch ‘Kol Nidre,’ and then playing my version for her, in which she coached me well. Also, Lauren with her own independent spirit prepared me for Julia who has even more of that spirit, and clearly I know little of how to make a career as a visual artist, as it is difficult when you are a musician speaking with a young Monet. And she has that kind of talent! She began painting the most creative cd covers before she was even a teenager, beginning with ‘Radnofsky.com’ and ‘Fascinatin Rhythms.’ Every work of art from this young woman tells a story, and I believe she has alot to say. Jonathan is at the beginning of his career, perhaps as an industrial engineer or perhaps as a professional lacrosse player (One doesn't know at 16). As I told my youngest daughter as I slipped the piece of paper into the baseball holder which houses a 1930 Boston Braves baseball (not a good team, but signed by Hall of Famer 'Rabbit' Maranville), which my own father collected when he was 6, at the game, "Don't let anybody take your dreams away from you."


I attempted to make a list of students over the years; sadly my schools did not have the records from earlier years, and I know to mention some is to slight others unintentionally, especially at 50 students on average per year, for 35 years, with ongoing affiliations at New England Conservatory, Boston Conservatory, Longy School and Boston University, as well as prior affiliations with other east coast universities earlier in my career. But, just to mention a few former students (and all are important to me): Jimmy Greene, Abe Burton, Mike DiRubbo, Lao Anthony, Pete Greenfogel, Chien-Kwan Lin, Sam Lorber, Sam Skelton, Demetrius Spaneas, Dennis Shafer, Jason Matusow, Mia Forney, Randy Hall, Cynthia Duet, Matt Sintchak, Pei-Yin, Philippe Staudlin, Greg Ridlington, Mark Weissman, Lennie Bretton, Ben Sorrell, Michael Couper, Wallace Halladay, Jennifer Bill, Shyen Lee, Preston Duncan, Maeve Lien, Sissie Sue Cohen, Denise Meyer, Merryl Goldberg, Lauren Nicholas, Anthony Balester, Greg Stickeler, Sean Mix, Jorge Hoyo, Mary Joy Patchett, Nicole Barnes, Anne Groenewege, Kristine Gray, Ryan Marsh, Sean Wright, Alejandro Soraires, Rebecca Wellons, Sam Mehr and Tina Kambil (who developed the coffee mug/poster 'why I didn't practice' list), whom all come to mind as former students of great character, integrity and inner strength who are representative of the best in all my students (including all the current ones) whom I have not mentioned.

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