I heard some news this morning that really hit me hard. While it wasn’t completely unexpected, it broke my heart all the same. My high school band teacher passed away last night. It might not seem like a big deal to many of you, but for those of you who know me, and knew him, you know what I’m talking about.
Everyone had that one teacher… that one person who had such a profound influence in your young life. The one who sees YOU… the you that you didn’t even know existed. The one who sees your potential, and knows how to bring it out of you. The teacher that challenges you and you don’t even realize it’s happening. That’s what Mr. Ephraim Hackett was for me. He was that one influential teacher who pushed me to expand my mind and see the potential that I didn’t know I had.
As so many of you know, music is, and always has been, a huge part of my life. I swear it is built into the fibers of my being. I’ve been musical for as long as I can remember… singing, piano, guitar… You also know that I was a very shy kid who was perfectly content hiding in the shadows. Music has always been one of the best ways that I could express myself completely without embarrassment or regret. Every note is a part of my voice. Every chord is an expression of me. Mr. Hackett saw this in me, and so much more.
When I entered my freshman year of high school, my early morning (unofficial) class was helping out in the band room while the jazz band class rehearsed. I filed music, prepared stacks of music for other classes, and so on. I loved listening to them play, and would often peek my head around the corner in amazement at my front row seat of live music. It was glorious.
I was in the normal freshman concert band that met later on in the day. I played clarinet, which I really enjoyed playing. A few weeks into the school year, Mr. Hackett asked me if I wanted to learn to play the alto saxophone because they needed another saxophone in the jazz band. Without a second of hesitation, I said yes. I mean, why wouldn’t I? I borrowed a saxophone from the school, and off I went. Within a couple of weeks, I was comfortably playing with the rest of the group. I still played clarinet in the concert band. I enjoyed it so much.
Every year in the fall, we had football. That meant the marching band for all of the band members. Oh, how I loved the marching band… the drum cadences, the parades, yelling out “guide front!” and “guide right!”. We were required to memorize the music for the parades and half time at the games. We were pulled aside randomly for testing to make sure we knew our parts. After my freshman year, I was never tested for memorizing my music again. Memorizing music was something that came naturally to me. In fact, after 30+ years, I STILL remember my parts. At this point, I don’t think I will ever forget. That is a beautiful thing.
The next few years I switched to alto saxophone in our symphonic band and the jazz band, as well as playing the baritone saxophone. Ah, the more bass the better! The baritone saxophone was so much fun. I think it was nearly as big as me!
I asked to borrow a flute because I wanted to learn. Mr. Hackett let me borrow one. I played it here and there for various things in band. It was wonderful.
We had a pep band that played for the boys’ basketball home games. We were allowed to dress the way we wanted, which was usually VERY strangely. I would sit in the back of the group with my friends and try to learn to play different instruments… I remember the brass being so hard! I did learn a chromatic scale on the trumpet though. Chalk one up for me there! The drummers taught me to play the drum set. I learned the bass guitar. I couldn’t get enough. I wanted to learn it all.
The day before graduation at the end of my junior year, Mr. Hackett asked if I wanted to learn how to play the bassoon. We would be losing a player who was graduating that year. Of course, I said yes. He sent me home with a bassoon, books, and music. I played that bassoon the next evening at the graduation. That was one of the most rewarding feelings in the world. I am stubborn and determined. I was going to make it happen. I ended up being the drum major for the marching band. I also played the bassoon in the youth symphony. That was one of the best experiences I have ever had. You have to audition to be in this elite group. I played the bassoon for less than a year, and was able to be a part of this incredible group of talented people.
Think about all of this for just a moment… If I didn’t have Mr. Hackett as my teacher, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to experience any of that. I most definitely wouldn’t be the musician I am today. I am proud to say that I can still play the bassoon, saxophone, and the flute to this day. (Granted, it has been awhile, BUT I can!) He saw something in me that I didn’t even know was there. I don’t think my parents even knew it. Somehow, he did. I can’t even begin to tell you how much confidence it gave me to be able to learn all those instruments in record time. Yes, I was still a shy girl, but the music brought something out in me.
After I graduated, I saw Mr. Hackett around town occasionally, and he would always, in his teacher way, lecture me about not going to college. Yeah, I know, I totally should’ve gone. Granted, my life would be so much different now. I could be touring the world, as some of my dear friends are. I could be playing in a symphony, also as some of my dear friends are, but deep down in my heart, I don’t think I was supposed to at that time in my life. I just wasn’t in a place that could have supported all of my social anxieties and life experiences.
Over the last year or so, I have tried to go and visit my beloved teacher as his health has declined. I am so thankful for the time I have had to support my dear friend, and to visit with her dad… Ephraim Hackett. It made my day to see his face light up when I said hello. It made me feel so special to know that he never forgot who I was. It was nice to just sit and talk… about whatever came to mind.
I have such fond memories of my high school years. I didn’t like high school in general, but music made it all better for me, and I am forever grateful to have such special memories of that. Music brought my friends and I together… and those friendships are still strong to this day. I am so very thankful for that.
And so, as this day comes to a close, I tearfully say goodbye to my friend and mentor. Thank you for all of your words of encouragement. Thank you for your kindness and understanding. Thank you for believing in me. Thank you for teaching me to believe in myself. Thank you for helping me be my best version of myself. Thank you for helping me discover and develop my passion and love for music.
You have had a positive influence for hundreds (or maybe even thousands) of lives over all these years. This day, I’m sure, has brought sadness to many.
You will never be forgotten.
Rest in peace Eph. I will miss you greatly. ❤