With a heart full of song, teacher inspired her students
On a recent morning I was sitting at the table drinking coffee, reading the Sunday News Tribune, when I unmistakably heard the song “Summertime” coming from the television.
As I so often do to impress my husband, I said under my breath, “That’s from ‘Porgy and Bess.’”And sure enough, the Sunday morning television show continued, with a full 10 minutes touting the success of the new opera performance of “Porgy and Bess” with interviews and sound clips of the performance. I was amazed at myself for coming up with the title of so easily.
How did I know this stuff? Then I remembered Mrs. Turk, my grade-school music teacher. She was a young, newly graduated music teacher who stood barely 5 feet tall, couldn’t have weighed 90 pounds, and had one of those sing-song voices that couldn’t help but make you smile.
She introduced herself to the fourth-grade class and we embarked on a fascinating journey. It wasn’t just a singing class. She took the class deeper into the stories and music behind such classic musicals as “Carousel,” “Oklahoma,” “Porgy and Bess” and “The King and I.” She would periodically break out in operatic song at the top of her voice while reading the stories behind such classics to her students.
We followed her through a world of music, learning songs from many countries and learning how to sing in different languages. We learned enough Latin to sing “Adeste Fideles” at our Christmas concert.
I still remember the very last day of class as she stood up before us and sang, “Getting to Know You” from “The King and I.” She showed all the nervousness you would expect if she were standing on an empty stage in front of thousands of people. I smiled when her voice cracked, as mine so often did.
I followed her throughout school and into junior high. She directed the school choirs, and luckily I had a knack for vocal music. She taught me stage presence and how to hold my head up high. Learning to perform on stage has little to do with talent and everything to do with building a young girl’s confidence.
As I entered high school, I was ecstatic to find out that Mrs. Turk would also be teaching German. Not that I wanted to learn German, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to take her class. (And that’s why I can ace the “Jeopardy” questions on that topic.) That was also the year she took our class to see the film “Camelot” at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, starring a young Vanessa Redgrave, Richard Harris and Franco Nero, who I fell madly in love with. The whole experience was so moving I couldn’t get enough of the King Arthur and Lancelot era which led me to an interest in Greek mythology – another helpful topic in the game of “Jeopardy.”
When I graduated, I began an exciting adventure into college, majoring in music, minoring in English. For several years I struggled through songwriting, lyric writing, and then, out of desperation and money, a few business courses. Then I fell face-first into the mortgage business. How else do you get into the mortgage business?
With music DNA in my family, early piano lessons, a short stint with the clarinet and the guidance of Mrs. Turk, I’m a whiz at “Jeopardy” categories involving all things musical. My husband tries to ignore my inflated ego as I fist bump the air, but I secretly know it impresses him. It’s funny though, that I had forgotten about the early days with my first music teacher until I heard the refrain from “Porgy and Bess.”
I expect that Mrs. Turk probably entered college hoping to become a great performer. She was a very beautiful and talented woman. She had done some work on stage. I may have even had one of those teacher-student crushes on her. I can still hear her voice in my head.
During her adventure to become a famous singer, she probably fell face-first into a teaching career. I will forever be thankful she did.
Glenda Cooper, one of six reader columnists whose work appears on this page, lives in Tacoma with her husband Jim and Old English sheepdog Reilly. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.