Preparing an article on the idea of thought leadership for TriplePundit gets me thinking about how the influence of a great teacher, if not always a good one, has impacted my life ever since. In the process, I’ve dug up these bits of narrative, in part as an example for TriplePundit readers and in part because I think I should have done this long ago.
Below is a portion of a personal letter written back in July of 2001, just about 15 years ago. The other is a blog post I published back in my TouristTravel days, soon to be republished here.
All these years later the story is the same. Bob Soder’s influence is there when I mix sound or listen to music. It is there when I need to remember patience, and that what may seem difficult to me now, may not always, if I keep at it.
If not for a teacher’s influence
July 2001 – to a friend:
… Mr. Soder, my high school music teacher was the most influential teacher in my life. Two anecdotes best tell the story of this influence:
The first is when I was a new freshman in high school. A gawky, funny looking kid, I am in desperate need of a competent trombone teacher. And perhaps someone to instill a little confidence in my native ability, whatever it might end up being. Music always played an important, even central, role to my coping as a child. I remember pretending to conduct the orchestra while standing in front of my Dad’s hi-fi system (not a stereo, mind you, one speaker. This was the early 60s). In that regard, not much has changed, though instead of conducting the orchestra I mix the sound. The technology has changed a bit.
To be sure, by the time I enter high-school, I am a terrible trombone player. Eighteen months of orthodontic braces didn’t help matters. Sympathizing with my desire to slog away at the horn, my orthodontist suggests I use paraffin strips to put over my braces to keep the bleeding down. This destroyed any chance of developing a correct embouchure, so my playing really suffered. If my gums didn’t plead, my family’s ears did.
So anyway, here I am a freshman, looking for a teacher to undo all the evil done to my embouchure. One morning I walk into his office and ask if he knows someone to teach me how to play trombone. He pauses a moment, strikes a match, cups his hands to his face as he lit his cigarette in a “Sam Spade, Private Eye” fashion:
“I’ll do it”
He blows out the match, accepting the task upon which he, we, embark.
For four years I have weekly lessons at his house. After the lesson, I’d cut his lawn for a discount rate on the lessons.
Fast forward three years I’m now a junior in high school, playing at my first “solo and ensemble” competition. I perform “Sonata in F Major” for trombone. (you know that one). Anyway, my slot is the last one before lunch, so my score won’t come out for another hour or so.
I go home to get some lunch. I knew I hadn’t totally blown it, but I am anxious to find out what the judge thought of my first public solo performance on trombone.
I come back with Terry, my next door neighbor buddy, also a musician. He runs ahead to the “scoreboard” to find my score, as I nervously hang back.
The scoring ranges from a 1 to a 4 for various criteria, 1 being the best for each. Straight 1’s, are a “command performance.”
Terry runs back exclaiming: “You’ve got straight 1’s!” I am absolutely elated.
Soon I see Soder in the hallway. He hadn’t made my performance but already knows the score. He comes up hugs me and says, “Tom, we did it.”
All those years of slogging away had paid off. I worked hard, but a large part of the result of that work was the seed Bob Soder planted in my young, awkward, unconfident self that saw something when I didn’t.
Our journey has come full circle. This is a kind of moment we experience rarely, if only once, in a lifetime. The journey leading to this moment led through a two-week concert tour of Japan with our jazz band, one of three others; a “Most Improved Player” award earned in 10th grade because, like I said, I really sucked at first; and a trips to competitions at the Monterey Jazz Festival with the jazz band.
I worked very hard, but none of it would have been possible without the guidance of Robert Soder.
July 2016 – reflection
He was a brilliant musician and educator. He had foibles. We all do. I am fortunate and grateful that he made the decision to take me under his wing. If not for him and an important smattering of other teachers, I would not be the person I am today – and I mean the good parts. The bad parts are all mine!