My guitar case slams loudly as I knock it closed with my foot. The noise upsets the peaceful and carefully curated decor of my music professor’s office. Normally I would be much more careful, but today I’m frustrated. I’m also 21 years old. I’m getting ready for my weekly lesson with the chair of the Classical guitar department. He’ll enter the office soon. I’ve been assigned a very difficult piece of music. Full of both technical and musical challenges. Despite skipping most of my other classes and practicing well over the required 3 hours a day, I don’t feel I’ve gotten very far with it. I didn’t know it at the time, but this piece of music would later play a large role in me deciding to leave the Dana School of Music.
The professor enters the room without a sound. This man moved with a type of ease and silence that caused students to make vampire jokes. And this was way before vampires were cool.
He sits in the chair directly facing me, places his hands in what I now know to be a subtle form of the Mudra, and with a kind smile says
I count 2 beats in my head and begin the opening series of complex modal runs and contrapuntal base lines. There are moments in this piece where the performer must play 3 different melodies simultaneously. I surprise myself by getting through the entire A section without having to stop. Only a few minor technical errors. But I feel no satisfaction in that. I know that I rushed the tempo, phrased the melodies strangely, played with a thin tone, and generally missed the music.
I am slow to look up from the instrument
The professor leans back in his chair and smiles gently toward the ceiling. I know that today’s lesson will not be about the guitar.
Professor: “Have you ever looked at that photo?”, nodding to a frame in the corner of the room.
Me: “Yes, many times”
Professor: “Do you know who those people are?”
Me: “Well, that’s you of course, and the man on the right is Joe Negri (Pittsburg Jazz Legend). I don’t know who the person on the left is. Was he a colleague of yours at Duquesne?”
He gives me a tight lipped look that I know means I said one sentence more then was necessary.
Professor: “That’s Fred Rogers”
Me: “Oh, Mr. Rogers, right?”
Another sort of look that I’ve learned means he thinks I’m missing the point.
Professor: “Yes. Do you know much about him?”
Me: “Wasn’t he a sniper in the army before he hosted a kid’s show?”
Professor: “No, that’s a myth. He was a song writer before he hosted a kid’s show. I know him well”
I pause and try very hard to choose something to say that will please my professor.
Me: “What should I know about him then?”
A soft and kind smile emerges
Professor: “He was a great man who cared deeply about people. The world has truly lost something in his passing”
This was not long after Rogers had passed away.
Professor: “Will you watch whatever videos of him that you can find?”
Me: “Of course”
The thing is…………I didn’t. I didn’t watch anything that he made, or anything about him. My professor never brought it up again, and within 3 months I had moved 75 miles away and started a new life. Today (6 years later) I have fulfilled my promise, and have been very moved. I may write more about the philosophy of Rogers in the future, but for now I think these videos speak for themselves.
“There are so many things to learn about in this world, and so many people who can help us learn” Fred Rogers
This one may seem silly, but please stick with it. It’s amazing.
Rogers addressing the US Senate, very moving.