Teacher, Tell Me a Story!

0164rEveryone always has a story to tell, and teachers are no exception, especially when the teacher at hand is a music teacher! Throughout my 16 years of musical study, I have not only learned much about music from my music teachers, but I have also learned much about their own musical journeys, finding many aspects in common and forging consequent friendships with them.

Last week, I had the opportunity to interview my recorder teacher, Mr. William E. Nelson. Adjunct music faculty at Waubonsee Community College and director of music ministries at Wesley United Methodist Church in Aurora, Illinois, Mr. Nelson holds a bachelor’s degree in music education from North Park University and a master’s in recorder pedagogy/methods from Northern Illinois University. Besides being a recorder player, Mr. Nelson is also an accomplished pianist and vocalist. Mr. Nelson has been my teacher for three years. I first came to him after teaching myself recorder for nine months, and I immediately found a kinship both in musical interest and Christian spirit. Not only has he been very supportive to me on recorder, but he — as a voice teacher himself — has been extremely encouraging to me as a budding vocalist and individual as a whole. During the interview, I asked him to tell me his musical story, also proceeding to ask his opinion on issues relating to recorder and singing:

Question #1: How did you begin your musical studies?

Mr. Nelson responded that although he formally began piano lessons at age seven, his musical ability was inborn. He told me how his parents remember that, when he was three years old, he would gather his plastic toy animals around his toy piano into a “choir.” He would then “play” his toy piano while singing his Sunday school songs and directing his “choir.” At age seven, Mr. Nelson’s parents enrolled him in piano lessons, which he continued until age fourteen.

At age fifteen, Mr. Nelson began taking voice lessons during the summer from his high school choir director, who only offered voice lessons during the summer. Again, Mr. Nelson deemed his vocal skill inborn and continued on that this decision was because voice lessons were “readily available”. I could not believe how close this was to my own situation with voice lessons and proceeded to tell Mr. Nelson my story of how I decided to take them at school for credit since they were available, starting out in the summer with my teacher. Dr. Robert Holst. Mr. Nelson chuckled and remarked that yes, his situation was similar indeed.

Question #2: How did you get involved in early music?

Mr. Nelson described his journey into recorder and early music as “a very slow process” for which “there was no definitive moment.” He was introduced to the recorder during his junior year of high school and used it as a tool once he became a music educator. However, over time, Mr. Nelson — who deemed himself “self-taught” on recorder — realized that “there was more to it” with regards to the instrument. Soon he had not only invested in a better instrument, but he was soon attending recorder workshops and taking lessons with Louise Austin, a local recorder player and teacher. Mr. Nelson continued on that most recorder players, him and me included, are self-taught, eventually becoming serious when they realize that “there is more to it” regarding the instrument.

Question #3: What do you think of modern instrumentalists who scorn period instrument performances ? (I proceeded to tell of how many modern flautists scoff me as a recorder player).

Mr. Nelson gave a very blunt and short response to this question: S-N-O-B. He continued on that such reactions are pure snobbery and unjustifiable.

Question #4: In a recorder pedagogy book I have that is written by a well-respected recorder player, the author says that singers tend to have problems with recorder-playing, since singing requires more support than recorder-playing. (I went on to mention how I believe that, in being both a vocalist and recorder player, I believe that this is bogus; singing improved my recorder-playing, and my voice teacher, who witnessed my rapidly progress on recorder after beginning lessons with him, disagrees with the author’s view.) What do you say about this as a recorder player and singer?

Mr. Nelson deemed that this incorrect and continued on that the author’s views are only a “small part of the thinking.” Remarking how “well-trained singers use a lot of support”, he continued on that both require the same amount of support, yet one must learn the difference when switching between instruments. In other words, singing and playing the recorder are one in the same, yet different.

Question #5: You’re a big opera fan. Tell me more.

Mr. Nelson chuckled warmly and proceeded to tell me that he is an “opera addict.” At age fifteen, he was introduced to the opera via a trip to the Lyric Opera of Chicago. At the time, the Lyric offered free tickets to high school students for dress rehearsals. He and his class sat in the second balcony in the back; they were “threatened” (Mr. Nelson kept emphasizing this word when mentioning it) to keep quiet or else the singers would walk off the stage, and the performance would be over. Hence, Mr. Nelson kept absolutely still, and he enthusiastically described how he saw “great artists.” Since then, Mr. Nelson has been an “opera addict” for fifty years and a frequent subscriber to the Lyric Opera of Chicago, which he is currently this year. Mr. Nelson also starred as Sir Joseph Porter in a local production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore.

In the end, I walked away from the interview with a deeper appreciation for Mr. Nelson as my teacher, friend, and an individual in general. Not only did I gain confirmation of some of my “gut feeling” views regarding recorder and singing (e.g. Most recorder players are self-taught, singing and recorder-playing are practically one in the same), but I also learned how much we both have musically in common with regards to our views and personal musical journeys. I thank Mr. Nelson very much for allowing me to conduct this interview with him and allowing me to share it with all of my readers on this blog. May God bless him always, and may God bless you always, too!

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