In the fall of 1987, I was a new teacher, fresh out of Indiana University of PA. I had graduated with a music education degree and was eager to start my career as a string educator. My first job was as district-wide string teacher in Palmyra, PA, a small town just east of Hershey, about 4 hours from my childhood home of Indiana, PA. Sometime in October of that year, I attended my first PMEA District 7 In-Service day. I am sure that I spent most of the day hanging out with my friends Fred Otto, Bruce Weaver, and Dan Hoover, all instrumental music teachers at Palmyra. I don’t remember a great number of details from that day, but I do remember feeling like part of the group. I felt accepted by the other string teachers and even remember a few of the other teachers from the Harrisburg area including me in conversations and discussions that they were having about strings, orchestra, and the craft of teaching. I was part of this community. Yes, I could make this my home.
Yesterday, I was back in Central PA as a guest speaker for the PMEA District 7 Fall In-Service. I was scheduled to give 4 1-hour sessions throughout the day. My appearance was put together by Sandy Neill of Menchey Music and facilitated by D’Addario Bowed Strings. I was pleased to be presenting at this in-service, but never considered how strongly I would feel about coming back to District 7; back to my first adult home.
When I arrived at Central Dauphin High School for the conference, I immediately ran into my friend, Marie Weber, from Lower Dauphin High School. Marie actually hosted the PA All State Orchestra the year that I participated in 1983. I remember her well from that event! But, in the years that I taught in Palmyra, we developed a warm friendship and have had several opportunities to communicate in the ensuing years. Soon after that, my friends Rich and Tawny Miller arrived and we reconnected quickly. Rich and I worked together in 1990 as he filled in for me while I finished my Master's at IUP and subbed for Bruce Weaver as he took a sabbatical near the end of his career. Tawny even reminded me that I once made spaghetti for them when they were over to my place for dinner!
Throughout the day, there were many conversations of colleagues that had since retired or moved on to other areas. We mentioned old friends like Kathy Yeater, Shirley Miller, Cathy Santiago, and Priscilla Howard. These were all folks that cared for me in one way or another while I was getting started in this field. We also mentioned my old friend, Klement Hambourg, who directed the Lebanon Valley College Orchestra and violin program in those years, and who with I had developed a deep and meaningful relationship. There were also several other colleagues at the conference that knew me “way back when” and we enjoyed rekindling those friendships and getting reacquainted. I even met the young teacher, Travis Pierce, that has what was my position back in the late ‘80’s. He is young and energetic and I know that he will do a great job with those kids in Palmyra.
But, by far, the most meaningful re-acquaintance of the day for me was with my former Palmyra colleague, Gina Parkison. Gina teaches instrumental music at Northside Elementary School in Palmyra and has been steadfast in that position for many years. She has reached thousands of children in that time, expressing her love for them and for the music that she teaches every day. It had honestly not occurred to me that I might run into her at this event. I am not sure why – it just didn’t. When we first saw each other, she quickly said hi and extended a warm hug hello. We spent a few minutes catching up on the last 18 years or so and then we both had to move on to our sessions for the first hour. Gina attended my second session of the day and participated in the session in such a way that I knew we were really connecting. My friend and colleague not only came to my session, she supported my ideas and was enthusiastic about the content. I can’t tell you how meaningful that was to me. When I arrived home late that night after several hours in airports, lines, and planes, there was a lovely note in my e-mail from Gina. My heart simply filled up. I just didn’t see it coming. I was still that 23 year old new teacher, pleased as can be to have the support of his friend and colleague. It meant the world to me.
Central PA hasn’t changed. As I left the school at the end of day, there was a certain familiar atmosphere outside. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it was familiar. It felt like home: the place where I started my career, the place I became a professional educator, the place where I lived when I got engaged and married, and the place where many of my philosophies and teaching practices began. In many ways, it is the place I became an adult. And, without question, it is the place where I first felt a part of the music education and string education community and that has been such a huge part of my life ever since.
Thanks to each of you that I encountered yesterday. I hope that you got even a fraction from me that I received from you. My day was a blessing.