A Teacher’s Gift

Have you ever watched a child cast one toy aside and reach for something else? A friend of mine once told me he had watched his grandchildren open gifts and cast each one aside looking for the next one while spending no time with the one they just opened.
He shared with me that at that point he knew his grandchildren had come to expect too much, wanting more and more — rather than being satisfied with one gift, they wanted to rip through dozens and then simply cast them aside.
I looked at my watch as mother drove by the old Colonial Grocery Store saying, “Hurry, Mom, we are going to be late.” Of course we were not going to be late. The piano store was just next-door. I picked up my books and rushed inside. I was always amazed at a store filled with pianos — I really wanted to get there early so I could go through and try out several of them while I waited my turn with piano teacher Jean Stiles.
I do not know what made me want to go from instrument to instrument playing. Perhaps it was the same desire that made those children my friend had described ripping through more and more presents. Although the pianos were not mine and would not be.
The talents of gospel pianist Hovie Lister, Eva Mae LeFevre and classical pianist Victor Borge intrigued me. Several of my cousins had the knack to play piano along with their singing, so I had hoped the gene passed to me as well.
Of course, as a child of eight, my repertoire was a bit slim. In spite of the best efforts of my teacher, I was not the most proficient student who worked through “The Minuet” and “The Entertainer.”
No matter my deficiencies, I had a true desire and my mother supported that to no end. She worked overtime to afford a walnut Currier Spinet piano and pay for my lessons.
One day while sitting in my elementary school room, the entire course of my life changed. Dr. Donald W. Grisier (1918-2008), DeKalb County orchestra teacher, came into the room and played Ervin Rouse’s “Orange Blossom Special” on the violin. I have not been worth shooting since.
I had heard my great Uncle Tom Franks play the violin like his father had done before him at family gatherings, but now there was someone willing to sit and teach me.
After convincing my parents that I wanted to learn violin, I signed up. My mother once again went out of her way to see that I got the opportunity by renting an instrument. I also continued my piano study, but eventually it did fade away in the shadow of the fiddle. I realized I was not going to be the next Hovie Lister or Victor Borge. The fiddle would stick and lead me to some amazing places.
Dr. Grisier was someone that took great patience in sharing the string instruments. I applaud the foresight of the school system I attended in allowing him to travel between elementary schools building a base of students that would one-day form an orchestra when they reached high school. Just like with the piano, I really wanted to learn to fiddle and slowly passing through the basics and into the classical masters such as Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach was tedious for me. My early training actually relied on my ear as I mimicked what I heard the others play. I did so well, it took a while for Dr. Grisier to catch on and then make me buckle down to learn to read music.
Because of the gift of knowledge he gave I stayed with the orchestra all the way through high school, eventually scoring well in countywide competitions. My heart however was with the fiddle and it was through the common link of Dr. Grisier though he didn’t teach me to fiddle that gained me the invitation into that world. One of his other students was John Daniel. John was what I could call a voracious fiddler, consuming all that came his way. His father inviting other youth together at their home began the environment that fostered my growth as a musician and my creating my first act from those youth. 
While I would never consider myself a pianist, the knowledge I gained while learning about the instrument has served me extremely well in every musical endeavor. The experience prepared me for a lifetime of lessons in almost every pursuit I’ve chosen to follow.
So, while at times children may be spoiled by piles and piles of material gifts that simply get laid aside, if a child shows interest in music, even if the child has absolutely no talent for it, and may someday lay the expensive instrument aside for other pursuits, remember as the child’s practicing causes the paint to peel in the family room, love of music is a gift that will last a lifetime and can span the generations.