March 10th, 2013

how to, teach

Mr. Norman (Norm) Carothers -- My High School Vocal Music Teacher...

First off, today both Marilyn and I took part in answering a questionnaire that was created by our high school Theatre Arts Department. This got me thinking about high school, and the impact it had on my life...

I was PAINFULLY shy in both grade school and high school -- which is so opposite how I am today (and have been since my college years) that no one will even believe me when I tell them that. But in spite of that, I LOVED high school! I adored it and really hated graduating. I remember times when I'd go back to the high school and hang around during the lunch hour, because I missed being there so much... (smile)

My freshman, sophomore and junior years, I had an amazing vocal music teacher by the name of Norman (Norm) Carothers. Aside from Gertrude Schoeler (my art teacher), Mr. Carothers (whom I never did grow close enough to call Norm) was the teacher who had the biggest impact on me. I loved to sing (still do), and had a good voice most of my life. But this man helped make it better -- and helped my confidence as a performer.

It's so funny. Did you ever have daydreams of winning an Academy Award (or some other big award like that) when you were in high school? I recall writing my acceptance speech in my head -- and I always made a point of THANKING Mr. Carothers for all he'd done for me. (grin)

That reminds me of a third teacher who had a large influence on me -- but I'll save him for another time... (I'm such a tease!)

Gosh, I wish I had a PHOTOGRAPH of Mr. Carothers! But most of my high school year books were destroyed when we had our flooding! I have my year book from my senior year, but Mr. Carothers had changed schools by then -- an event that was really heart-breaking for me... (sigh)

He was a gifted teacher of vocal music! Regardless of what class you were in, each student was required -- on a regular basis, mind you -- to sing ALONE in front of the entire class. It would usually only be a piece of a song, but it fostered tremendous musical skills in everyone in class, and helped all of us to overcome shyness and become better performers.

He was remarkable in the ways he would engage with each and every student -- all of us -- on a very personal level. WE TRUSTED HIM! He would often put a hand on your shoulder as he spoke to you -- and look directly into your eyes as he talked. You knew he cared about you as a person and as a student -- and, finally, as a musician.

I know he couldn't teach that way today, where teachers aren't allowed to touch their students. Times were, happily, different back then. And his methods were really effective.

He had a high percentage of male students join the various classes while he was teaching -- and he was constantly encouraging us to recruit more students to the music program. Guys who were on sports teams suddenly joined our classes and were excited to be part of our ensemble (performance) groups!

We also engaged in serious recruitment of grade school students. Each spring we'd go to all the feeder schools and do a special performance there -- then Mr. Carothers would have some of the students speak about our music program, and he's speak about it. I can't begin to say how wonderful it was that he was so involving in growing the vocal program -- and in getting us involved in helping with that!

By the way, we had what were known as 'Race Riots' while I was in high school. It was an interesting time for civil rights. I was close friends with some black students -- and they were put under a lot of pressure by black people who were not a part of our student body (the bullying was frightening, believe me). Anyway, another one of Mr. Carothers' goals was to increase the number of non-white students in the music program.

At our high school we had a separate music building (near the gym), where both vocal and instrumental music was taught. I used to spent a lot of time in that building, which became something of a 'home away from home' for me. And I had talks with Mr. Carothers that were about life and had nothing to do with music. But I was far from the only one.

I don't know if he's still alive or not. Or -- if he is alive -- whether or not he still lives in the Pacific Northwest. But I'd love to find out.

When he left Roosevelt to go to a new opportunity in a brand new high school, it was terribly painful for me. (That was a time of a lot of 'experimental' education -- and a new high school opened that was poised to give Mr. Carothers things he desired. He felt he could reach out to students who needed him more than we did at Roosevelt -- and that he could expand his teaching methods. I had more than one conversation with him about this, and I couldn't fault his reasons at all. He was so dedicated! What a guy!)

I feel a bit cheated that I've never had the chance to see him since then. I always felt I could have thanked him him more than I did back then. And it would have been gratifying to let him know how my admiration only deepened over the years!

I've had other vocal instructors, of course. But none have compared to him. I was so lucky to have him when I did...