The Classroom Was His Stage
(A Tribute to a Friend)
Sometimes ‘genius’ takes on disguise.
Like most people, I’ve rarely seen ‘true genius.’ We sometimes get a glimpse now and then, but it is often only after these rare individuals are plucked from our lives that we truly appreciate that we, for a brief moment, had a genius in our midst.
One such genius was Jerry.
Jerry could have mingled with the world's greatest musicians. In fact, he did. However, making his piano debut at Carnegie Hall at 13 years of age or graduating Summa Cum Laude from Hartt College of Music meant little to him, compared to the thrill of teaching children to love music.
He was one of those few people who use their God given talent in the purist sense.. he taught it to others. Children loved him. He made them laugh. He made silly faces and told them jokes. He made learning fun. He instilled in children a love for music.
Jerry's ‘theater’ was a windowless room just around the corner from the cafeteria in an elementary school where I taught second grade. Sometimes on Tuesdays, when it was my turn to take my second graders for their hour of music instruction, I would be lucky enough to catch the end of one of Jerry's impromptu piano concerts. We would wait in the hall, just outside Jerry's classroom and listen to his genius at work. Maybe he didn't know we were there but, then again, maybe he did, because just below the surface of "Jerry the Teacher" was "Jerry the Performer." He loved the applause. In that moment he was back in Carnegie Hall.
It still makes me laugh to remember some years ago when Jerry agreed to do me a favor and teach my daughter to play the piano. Sometimes I tried to listen from another room. After a few frustrating lessons, I had given up hope that my child was destined for fame in the music world. One day I heard melodious sounds. I listened in disbelief, shocked at my daughter’s incredible talent. When I peeked into the room, I noticed that my daughter had left and Jerry was performing to an audience of none.
Like all true geniuses, Jerry had his idiosyncrasies. He was unpredictable. Our priorities were not always his priorities. He thought nothing of opening a classroom door and shouting to the teacher from across the room. His jokes were not funny. His clothes were funky and often mismatched.
But Jerry was kind. He cared about children. He cared about his colleagues. In all the years I knew him I never heard Jerry utter an unkind word about another human being. He accepted people as he found them.
I knew that Jerry had studied piano with some of the biggest names in the music world and gave packed private concerts for charity. Once he let me borrow a CD he had made years ago. I played it in my car and felt very proud to know him. I told my students how important and well-known Jerry was in the music world, but they were not impressed. Instead, they talked about the funny songs that Jerry helped them compose using their own names, and how he let them try musical instruments, and act out "Peter and the Wolf."
Once in a while Jerry would share a few stories about the "rich and famous." He knew them all. But Jerry wasn't rich and famous. He did what he thought was important in life. He chose to teach.
His name was never up in lights. His rewards could not be displayed on a mantel. His influence, however, can never be measured. It rests in the hearts of those of us who were lucky enough to know him, and in the minds of the children who have come to love and appreciate music.
children who have come to love and appreciate music.