Back to the Best! Top Post of the Year #3

Wow! It’s been a fun week here on the Jacke Blog, as we’ve counted down the most popular posts of my first year of blogging. And of course, we’ve also forced ourselves to recognize the least popular.  (I’m still getting over the pen reviews! I had forgotten about those! I’m surprised WordPress didn’t revoke my blogging privileges.)

Back to the winners! Number three!

People, this one has a special resonance for me for many reasons. First, I’ve been incredibly moved by the many comments of people who have said how affected they were. I think there’s something indelible about the experience of teaching and learning music that most people file away somewhere. There are powerful emotions beneath the surface, sitting untapped. And then along comes a song, or a face – or in this case a story – that stirs them up.

There’s something else at work here: these are childhood emotions. But when you recall them as an adult, you see them through an adult’s eyes and understanding. I was one of Ms. Steiner’s pupils, a ward in her care. But now I see her as sort of a comrade-in-arms: one of the many people trying to pass along wisdom to today’s young people. Except she was completely crazy. The kids had broken her.

And so I also have an adult’s camaraderie – a survivor’s mentality – that I share with the others who had her as a teacher (or who had teachers like her). Many of these people have reached out to me. It has been astonishing how widely this little post has traveled.

And of course, this one also had the amazing followup post, in which an old friend of mine sent me a photo of a painting that her father, a French artist, had painted. A painting of the teacher sitting behind his daughter at the piano, which he was inspired to paint after watching one of their lessons. A painting, as I noted the first time around, which contained for me every memory of those days on that dark, cavernous stage, doing my best to learn an instrument that I could only play in my imagination.


I clown around a lot here on the Jacke Blog. And the story itself is rife with humor – I can’t read it without laughing, which is probably not the sort of thing I should admit, but there you go. I do. Ms. Steiner and I were quite a pair. It all cracks me up, every time I run through it.

But I’m serious about how grateful I am for the many comments you’ve sent me. This has been one of the highlights of my blogging year, and it’s made all the efforts of writing and posting and taking care of the mechanics seem more than worthwhile. Thank you, everyone.

So…ladies and gentlemen…

Top Post #3 of the First Annual Jacke Wilson Blogiversary Week Celebration

A History of Jacke in 100 Objects #7 – The Keyboard

Every kid in town was afraid of the music teacher.

The grownups didn’t understand this. Miss Steiner had been teaching forever – she had taught the grandparents of some of my classmates – and when she had been young she had apparently been kind and patient and not yet disillusioned. To us, though, she was impossibly old.

And worse than being old, she had gotten mean.

At least it seemed mean at the time. Now I think it was probably a vast internal cauldron of frustration, simmering for years, now boiling over. Decades of teaching music to elementary school children had taught her one thing: children are terrible at music no matter what you do. And the corollary statement: if you are someone who loves music, then observing this phenomenon up close, day after day, year after year, will destroy you.

By the time our generation came along, Miss Steiner was desperate to save Music from the butchering hands of grade school kids with no talent. She would accompany soloists at recitals, pounding the keys of her piano in an attempt to drown out some poor clarinetist murdering a rendition of “I Love You Truly.” She played with desperation, as loud as she could, sweating and clenching her teeth and gasping for breath at the end of each song. It was as if she had no choice – as if Music itself had demanded it of her. Continue Reading…

And the Followup Post:

100 Objects Special Interlude: The Music Teacher

Image Credit (painting): Gui Lessin 

100 Objects Special: Back to School Week!

Summer’s almost over! Back to school time! This year I thought I’d celebrate the week with a tribute to all hardworking teachers and their achingly confused students…

Jacke Wilson’s Top 5 Stories Celebrating Teachers

Object #7 – The Keyboard*

I started on “Three Blind Mice.” I stopped halfway through. For some reason it sounded terrible.

“There must be something wrong with the piano,” I said.

Miss Steiner reached forward and for a second I thought she might choke me. Instead she seized her clipboard and flung it halfway across the room. It bounced off the top of a kettle drum.

“THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH THE PIANO,” she shouted. “IT’S YOU—YOU CAN’T PLAY!”  Read the whole story

Object #10 – The Spitwad

In other classes, the teachers released this energy with a few little quips now and then, letting the students laugh and tease and push back, so the air would clear and the business of learning could begin. It was like the quick open-and-shut of a pressure valve.

Not in Mr. Ward’s class. In Mr. Ward’s class it was all pressure, no valve. For months. Something had to give.

Which brings me to the glorious day when Mr. Ward told a joke. Well, sort of a joke… Read the whole story

Object #14 – The Bass Guitar

I was in a band with my son. A real band. A rock band. Who knew where this would lead? His younger brother liked to bang on things and claimed his favorite instrument was the drum. His mother had a beautiful voice. We wouldn’t be Van Halen or anything, of course. But maybe a few local gigs…? Not now, but maybe in a few years…? Read the whole story

Object #15 – The Coffepot

I had not realized how much courage this was going to require. Ms. Laporte, who was sitting in a student desk at the center of the room, reading words one at a time out of a notebook she kept locked in her desk, was an imposing figure in normal times. When running a bee, she took her intensity to a new level. Her straight black hair was pulled off her forehead and secured in a tight bun, exposing her forehead, which was lined with the permanent anger she kept just below the surface at all times. Read the whole story

Object #23 – The Passage

It was left to the wise professor to provide the comment that took me into a whole new world of literary possibility. Not, in other words, literature as what-have-you-read-I’ve read-that-too. Not lists and check boxes. Something else. Read the whole story

*The Keyboard comes with a special followup, in which I hear from an old friend whose artistic father memorialized the music teacher in a fantastic painting.

Onward and upward, everyone!