THE IMPORTANCE OF THE FIRST TEACHER
ALLEGRO, JANUARY 2020
I BEGAN PLAYING CLARINET when I was ten years old. I grew up in Chevy Chase, Maryland, outside of Washington D.C. and went to public school. In the fourth grade, Mr. Lindauer, the area music teacher, brought all the orchestral instruments to our school. We were able to try them and choose one to study; I chose the clarinet. It was exotic! I’m sure the cat motif in “Peter and the Wolf” had something to do with it. Or perhaps it was because of my next-door neighbor. She was a high schooler who played the oboe and was a role model to me.
Well, I was captivated! I listened to as much clarinet playing as I could. My father took my sister and me to many orchestra concerts, and we heard the Philadelphia Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic and the Chicago Symphony when they performed at Constitution Hall – as well as the Juilliard String Quartet when they performed at the Library of Congress. It was also fun to watch Leonard Bernstein conduct the New York Philharmonic’s Young People’s Concerts on television and see close-ups of Stanley Drucker playing principal clarinet!
Later, my participation in school orchestras throughout junior high and high school led to joining youth orchestras, attending music camps, and summer music programs. I majored in music at the Philadelphia College of Performing Arts and ultimately earned a Master of Music degree from Juilliard.
I had the awesome privilege of studying many years with great clarinetists and teachers, including Ignatius Gennusa (of the Baltimore Symphony), Leon Russianoff (world-renowned teacher) and Ben Armato (of the Metropolitan Opera and a reed expert and inventor of the Perfect-a-Reed and the Reed Wizard).
I think that my first clarinet teacher, Paul Eberly, set the stage for my development as a clarinetist. A well-respected teacher with many advanced students, he encouraged me to play with a resonant sound, and accordingly, he selected a new clarinet for me as well as a mouthpiece. He fixed my reeds and taught me how to breathe. He was diligent and demanding of high-quality playing. He had studied at the New School in Philadelphia and had played in the Navy Band. I still have the music books from my lessons with him, including Leon Lester’s “Sixty Rambles for Clarinet,” and use them with my young students today.
For 28 years at the Kaufman Music Center’s Lucy Moses School, I have been the first teacher for many young clarinetists. Some students start as young as seven years old. One student started lessons with a front tooth missing (it eventually grew in). I welcome the opportunity to nurture their interest and creativity. Combined with teaching the skills and reinforcing their stick-to-itiveness, I give my students the tools to perform and excel. I have proudly watched some remarkable performances. Two recent examples come to mind. An 11-year-old played with technical self-assurance and musicality as he performed for the first time in a master class. Another student composed a short piece after reading a poignant story in school. She told the story to the audience and then closed her eyes and played her composition.
My goal is to inspire my students to carry on a lifelong relationship with music.
Morrie Sherry has been a member of Local 802 since 1984. If you have a personal essay to contribute to Allegro’s “Member to Member” column, send an e-mail to Allegro@Local802afm.org.