Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Musical Substitute

In honor of the beginning of the school year, I shall repost an entry from September of 2006.

Substitute teaching is not for the faint of heart. I know. I have been a substitute teacher. I didn't last long. I can't remember which class was my last - the kindergarten class when I had to put ALL of them in "time out" at the same time, the high school art class where they were throwing clay at each other or the middle school class that broke the pencil sharpener because all of a sudden EVERYONE'S pencil was too dull.

I think it was payback for some of the things that I did to substitute teachers. I wasn't that bad, but I did participate in a spitball marathon one time and another time I agreed to switch seats with someone and answered to a different name all class period. There was one teacher, however, who made a distinct impression on me.


He was a substitute for my eighth grade history class. He was probably in his late sixties or early seventies. No one had the heart to mess with him. Our teacher had left instructions for us to read a couple of chapters and do the study questions - enough work to keep us busy for the entire class period. Well, I was a quick study so I got done pretty early. I sat in the first row so somehow I struck up a conversation with the substitute. I am so glad that I did.

He was retired and substituted for something to do. I don't remember his primary career, but I do remember what he said he did as a youth. He had been a piano player for the local movie theater in the days of silent movies. He told me stories of his life in "the movies". He must have been an exceptional player. He said that they would send the reels of film and the score at the same time. Most of the time he wouldn't have any time to practice before the first showing. He would sit down and see the music and the film for the first time when at the first showing. Also, the sheet music would have been all over the country with dozens and dozens of other piano players and sometimes it arrived with a page missing here or there. When that happened, he had to improvise. Think about that - he had to improvise a musical score to a movie that he had never seen. That sounds amazingly fun!

That man is the only substitute that I really remember from my whole school career. I never saw him again after that day. I don't remember his name. I barely remember his face. I just remember that I came away from that class period with romantic scenes from the silent movie days dancing through my head to an improvised piano.

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