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Visiting Mrs. French After 43 Years

I recently had the good fortune to return to my home town, Louisville, Kentucky. It had been about a dozen years since I was last there. One of the highlights was a wonderful visit with my former violin teacher, Ruth French. She was my teacher for five years before I graduated from high school. Where has the time gone? It had been 43 years since I last saw her. I always loved my experience at the Louisville Music Academy and have such fond memories of Mrs. French. Our visit was wonderful. Mrs. French, now 84, has such an amazing spirit. She remembered details of my lessons with her, repertoire I studied, and things I had long forgotten. And, if you can imagine this, she still teaches 7 days a week!

During our visit she took us through the building, proudly showing us all of the things she had done to it over the years, and always speaking fondly of her present and former students and the faculty she employs there. What she has accomplished with the Academy and has brought to the world of music is truly outstanding. I found her energy, kindness, and the love I have always remembered had not changed. I am so glad I went back and reconnected with her. It was one of the most fulfilling experiences I've had in a long time.

In 1989 I joined the faculty of the Western Springs School of Talent Education. At the time, I held a principal position in a professional orchestra in Canada, but teaching had gradually crept into my life and I made the decision that teaching full time was the direction I wanted to go in. I am a firm believer that there are no accidents in life, but little did I know that this life changing decision would land me in my dream job.

This is the school’s 35th anniversary year, culminating in an incredible celebration at Symphony Center in Chicago this coming May. Although I have been a part of each of our anniversary concerts, it's always a wonderful new feeling every time it happens. I can't tell you how spending a weekend with so many current and former students feels. Walking out on that stage and sharing it with well over a hundred students is an experience that cannot be explained. It can only be felt.

So, what makes a good school? Of course, great students, excellent teachers, a nice environment, plenty of performance opportunities, all of this adds up to a really good school. And there is no doubt that this is our experience at both WSSTE and the Naperville Suzuki School. But, what makes a great school? I believe that comes from the underlying love we have for the students, teaching, music, and faculty. And that comes straight from the director of the school.

Ed Kreitman is a very smart man. Not only has he figured out how to be one of the best violin teachers in existence, and he's a decent business man, he's figured out how to bring together a faculty and staff that embodies his vision for a school where everyone can achieve their highest potential. But where does this ability come from? Ed has brought together a group of highly trained individuals that all have one thing in common, a complete love for what we do as teachers, educators, and nurturers. Experiencing that energy at the school is what makes it such a success.

As most of you know, I am all about energy. I believe that the energy we hold inside transmits to everyone around us. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't walk through the halls at both schools, hear the enthusiasm coming from every studio, see the potential of talent being developed, and watch the loving relationships of students, teachers and parents. Personally, the past few years have been particularly challenging for me. There were many days when I wondered if I was going to be able to find the energy to come to the school and teach. But the second I walk into my studio, everything changes. My breathing slows down, my body relaxes, and my mood shifts dramatically. The moment that first student walks in the door my heart fills with love. The best part of teaching for me is the personal exchange of positive energy that transpires between the student, myself, and their parents. Sure it's great when a kid plays their instrument beautifully. Of course it's rewarding when they have that "ahah" moment and have figured out something. It's a wonderful moment when you witness someone feeling really good and proud about themselves. But, the truth is when your heart opens, you feel love. And there is no better feeling.

So, on May 8, 2016, we will all have an opportunity to not only witness a very tangible loving energy, but to feel it. Sure, the concert will probably be long. Yes, it will be a tiring few days of intense rehearsals, scheduling and handling logistical problems. Who cares? That's nothing compared to the hours of heartfelt gratitude we will take with us from a weekend of magic. I can already feel the energy building at the school and am very happy and proud to be a part of it all. As a teacher at the school it is my responsibility to go with this energy flow and bring into my studio and the Chicago Consort everything I can to contribute to the success of this event.

When I ended my visit at the Louisville Music Academy, I took the opportunity to share some really personal feelings with Mrs. French in a private moment. I told her that I didn't have the easiest childhood growing up, but the one thing I completely took away from my lessons was her love. As each lesson ended, somehow, in words, or a gesture, even a smile, I left her school knowing that I was going to be just fine. It wasn't always about playing the violin. It was so much more than that. She just looked at me, gave me that smile like always, said she knew, and we said goodbye. I am so glad I got to have that moment with her. It made me realize that the hour or two we spend each week with our student may just be one of the best hours in their entire week. And that hour might just be one of the best for me too. I look forward to spending time with everyone at our celebration in May!


Tom Wermuth