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SUITE SOUNDS: It's National Teacher Appreciation Week - time to tell a teacher that you care

Alicia Hall Moran | 5/25/2011, 9:24 a.m.

Baritone Russell Saint John wants to "give a big shout out to Ms. Betty Allen and Dr. John L. Motley, former director and conductor of the All-City High School Chorus. They were two of the biggest influences on my life and musical development," he says.

"Some people come into our lives, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never the same," wrote Schubert. Long-time violin pedagogue David Burnett, for example, got his start on the violin after "flipping channels" and catching violinist Itzhak Perlman playing Franz Schubert's "Trout Quintet" on public television.

The very next day at school, young Burnett asked his music teacher, Anna Scharaldi, for a violin. She handed him one and taught him for free during lunch hour in the auditorium. Training ensued at High School of Music and Art, Third Street Music School, Oberlin and Boston Conservatory.

Nowadays he's the one teaching. "In many schools, art is not part of the curriculum, so students come to HSA for their arts education and we inspire them to keep it going," he explains.

"Even if I hit the lottery, I'd probably just pay for all the students' lessons--or else buy a building and start a free arts school in there," he laughs. "I've been at Harlem School of the Arts for 22 years. My very first student named his first son after me!"

"Every child should have an arts education," says harpist Brandee Younger, who teaches at Greenwich House, Adelphi University and the Hartt School Community Division.

Queens native Jeff Scott, the French horn player with the Harlem-based Imani Winds, for example, got free lessons during his high school years from his very first teacher, Carolyn Clark.

Matana Roberts, an alto saxophonist, remembers Reggie Willis at Chicago High School. "He was a music teacher who took extra time to give me and many inner-city Chicago kids free lessons in jazz improvisation. His legacy is still out there and going strong in many of his former students."

Inspired learners need keys to the craft. To this day, violist Richard Brice recalls his teacher Eugene Becker saying, "The bow hand is the key." On Sunday, May 1 you can hear Brice perform with the Harlem Chamber Players, including Younger, at St. Mary's Church, 521 W. 126th St., between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue, at 3 p.m. He will play the beautiful 1755 Nicholas Gagliano viola his teacher gave him.

Jason Moran's first piano teacher was Yelena Kurinets. "Her simple, masterful lessons in piano technique have lasted me for 30 years so far: the curved fingers, the legato, the rolling of the hand," he says. "She taught a lot of fantastic pianists in Houston. I may have been the only one to defect from classical to jazz, but whenever I return to Houston for a concert, she's in the audience still studying my technique."

The dean of Hartt School of Music at the University of Hartford, trumpeter Aaron A. Flagg, represents a rarer breed: the teacher-performer-administrator. He is in a position to institute change, and he does. Hear him perform at Merkin Concert Hall on Saturday, May 7 at 8 p.m. with Marlon Daniel's Ensemble du Monde.

This breed empowers and showcases creativity--their own and others'. At Columbia University, composer, scholar and dynamic pianist Courtney Bryan teaches an inclusive history of Western music to "undergrads who encourage me to challenge my own perspective." George E. Lewis, trombonist, composer and professor of American music at Columbia University, as well as composer Fred Lerdahl, are her teachers.

W.E.B. DuBois spoke for all great teachers (mine were Jesse Chapman, Hilda Harris, Adele Addison, Warren G. Wilson, Irene Gubrud, Shirley Verrett and David Jones) when he proclaimed, "The main thing is the you beneath the clothes and skin--the ability to do, the will to conquer, the determination to understand and know this great, wonderful, curious world."

And Edward Kennedy Duke Ellington spoke for us students: "Thank You for Everything."