Now I can get back to my real post. :)
As I was participating in two live Twitter chats last night (#vachat- for Virginia educators and #musedchat- for music educators), I was asked several questions that I immediately knew the answer to, however there was one that really resounded with me, especially given the Thanksgiving holiday. Here was the question:
Sure, I had music teachers before Jeff (we called our teachers by their first names in high school)- some good and some bad, but what stood out about him as a teacher was not that he was just "good," or even "great," it was that he let us know that he held us to the highest standard possible- that we could do anything we put our mind to. I knew this from the second I walked into my first audition with him, the year before I entered a new high school- he did have that no-nonsense attitude, but with it came a spark of energy that I would never forget.
HB Woodlawn, or Hippie High as it is often called, was a unique school and I was overjoyed to have been picked from a lottery to attend. If you want to know more about HB Woodlawn and it's alternative educational philosophy, please visit this website.
The first year of high school is treacherous for anyone- you're awkward, you're trying to make new friends, you're wondering why you and your parents fight so much, etc etc. You'd think joining chorus would make that even harder for a kid, right? Well when I entered HB, this was certainly not the case. The music program was on FIRE! The Arts were where it was at when you went to HB. I started out in the Concert Choir and Women's Camarata (auditioned), and my second year was accepted into Chamber Singers. I was immediately taken by the energy, spirit, and excitement that washed over me in every rehearsal with Jeff.
This isn't to say that he didn't work us incredibly hard. I can honestly say that I learned more about choral singing in 4 years, 3 choirs, and 3 years of Music Theory with Jeff than I learned in my college choirs- and I went to Westminster Choir College. That is to say, I was completely ready for college-level choral singing. I had high level sight-reading skills, past AP Music Theory knowledge, and a love of music that could not be shaken. As a result, I was able to make it into an auditioned choir in my second year of college, start at a higher level of Music Theory classes while earning my Music Education degree, and, as a result, was able to move up my graduation date from my 5-year program at Westminster one semester earlier than expected!
Jeff instilled in me a persistence and a never-give-up attitude that I took with me through the college admission process, my college years, graduation, my job hunt, and now is something I keep with me when I wake up to teach music every morning. I would not be where I am today without the hard work, no-nonsense attitude, and support from Jeffrey Benson.
Jeff is now a college choral director at San Jose State University in San Jose, CA. I see messages from his students on Facebook all the time, and it is clear that they feel the same incredible energy from him that I felt as a high school student all those years ago. The year after I graduated from HB Woodlawn, Jeff moved on to get his doctorate at FSU and, consequently, to earn the position he holds at San Jose State today. Jeff's going away party and last choral concert at HB were two of the most emotional events of my life to date- there was SO much love for this man. Though I hardly ever connect with him anymore, I hope he knows that he will always mean so much to me, and that every day I strive to give my students the amount of support that he gave to me.
Thank you, Jeff, for everything.
This week, take a few minutes to thank an educator that has had a significant impact on your life. It is almost Thanksgiving, after all. :)