Live Life Rosie(r)
Spread Love Everywhere You Go
By NAfME Member Lori Schwartz Reichl
A similar version of this article was originally published in the March 2018 teacher edition of
In Tune Magazine.
“Spread love everywhere you go. . . Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.” ~ Mother Teresa
On June 17, 2017, my family suffered a devastating loss. My Aunt Rosie died. “Sister Rosie” as she was known to all who loved her, died at the age of 61 from a quickly spreading cancer. She was my dad’s sister and the youngest of 11 children. She was a nun. Not a nun in the traditional sense though. She was known to drop a saucy word or two, down a shot of Jägermeister, strum a guitar like a rock star, and sing like an angel. She was a holy spinster. She was pure joy. And, she was the musical glue of our family.
As I write this story, images of my aunt singing, dancing, laughing, and loving flood my mind. She adored music and shared her talents with everyone she met. She could make people who insisted they couldn’t carry a tune, sing with her—and enjoy it.
After her death, fond memories of my aunt were shared. Family and friends conjured up photographs of Sister Rosie with chocolate strategically placed over a “lost” tooth, dressed as a psychic gazing into her crystal ball, wearing her Pittsburgh sports apparel, snuggling a precious child, or strumming her guitar while singing—most likely our family traditions of “Ein Prosit” and “Edelweiss.” She was hilarious and appropriately so, born on April Fools’ Day. You were destined to laugh and sing in her presence and certain to leave her feeling happier.
One of my greatest regrets is not spending time with my aunt in her last year of life before her illness. I had hoped to make the long-distance trek to visit her with my then one-year-old daughter, as I wanted my child to sing and dance with Aunt Rosie as I had done as a little girl. We never did. Looking back, no commitment should have been more important than making memories together.
How do you approach the time spent with the students enrolled in your care? Do you enjoy their presence and not just the learning or making of music? Do you focus on them as human beings, rather than just musicians?
For 38 years Sister Rosie devoted her life to her religious faith. I was 38 years old when she died. This coincidence struck a momentous chord with me. I was also expecting the birth of my second child and realized life would change drastically. Not long after Sister Rosie’s death, I coined a phrase that I secretly (until now) repeat to myself. I promise to “Live life Rosie(r).” I live in the present more, rather than fearing future uncertainties. I spend less time worrying and more time doing. I care less about what people think of me, and more about how to care for those I love. I consciously put my phone away when spending quality time with others. (I know Rosie had a cell phone, but I can’t recall ever seeing her use it.) I call, email, or text friends just to say hi and let them know I miss them. If loved ones are nearby, I insist on spending time together. Chores, errands, work—any of that can wait, if it means enjoying time with those for whom I care. I do more of what I love and less of what I think I have to do.
Not only was Sister Rosie a nun and musician, but she was an educator, too. She taught music to elementary and middle school students. Although I never witnessed her inspirational classroom techniques, I’m certain of how she taught—straight from her heart.
Living life Rosie(r) got me thinking: How do you approach the time spent with the students enrolled in your care? Do you enjoy their presence and not just the learning or making of music? Do you focus on them as human beings, rather than just musicians? Do you appreciate the daily interactions with them rather than constantly worrying about the upcoming performance? As adjudication season approaches, this can be a stressful time for music educators and for our student musicians. Our musical goal is to create a superior product, but this should not come at the expense of treating students without kindness and compassion. We must aim to provide a positive, yet instructional experience, without abandoning high behavioral and musical expectations. A combination of both can provide the perfect recipe for success.
In my February 2017 In Tune article and last month’s NAfME blog entitled “Prepare to Be Judged: There Is No Better Adjudicator Than Yourself,” I told the story of preparing my students for a high stakes performance. After sharing my concern with my husband about my students’ lack of preparation and commitment for this state-wide performance, he abruptly pointed out that I could be causing the deficiency. I began the uncomfortable, yet rewarding, process of self-reflection.
The next day at school, unbeknown to my students, I made an audio recording of our rehearsal. I wanted to hear what my students heard. When I listened to the recording, I was shocked. I did not recognize myself. I cringed when I heard the negative tone of my voice. The stress of the situation had tarnished my spirit. My agitation was obvious. I lacked positivity. I offered few compliments. Passion was absent from my teaching. My husband was right. I wasn’t inspiring anyone, and my students certainly weren’t leaving my presence happier. I was only focused on the musical product and not the students placed in my care.
I never told my students what I had done until after the performance. However, I did make a conscious attempt to return to my cheerful self, refine my teaching strategies, and improve my responses to students. I formulated a more accurate lesson plan in preparation for each rehearsal. While instructing, I spoke to the members of my ensemble in a more positive tone. I complimented the students more often. I made suggestions for improvement, rather than stating what wasn’t working well. I smiled more. “Story Time with Lori” (see December 2016’s column in In Tune Magazine) made an appearance. I added a high-kick or two during my conducting. I high-fived the students. I sang—any song that sparked inspiration. I enjoyed the time spent with my students again and they instantly performed at a higher level. They were happier, too.
I’m certain my Aunt Rosie enjoyed the time spent with her students and looked forward to seeing them each day, as she incessantly did with our family. As educators, we should treat our students as an extension of our family—expecting the most from them, while caring for them and enjoying their presence. It is possible to teach them to be better musicians and higher-quality students and inspire happiness. Mother Teresa said, “Spread love everywhere you go: First of all, in your own house . . . let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier.” To this I sing, “Live life Rosie(r)!”
About the author:
Lori is the author of the series “Key Changes: Refreshing Your Music Program” published monthly in the teacher edition of In Tune Magazine where she provides resources to enhance the music classroom. As a writer for Teaching Music Magazine, she interviews master educators. Lori is an active adjudicator, clinician, and conductor. As an avid presenter at conferences, professional development sessions, and universities nationwide, she serves as a resource for building inspiring music programs, developing effective classroom management techniques and rehearsal routines, motivating diverse learners, and achieving unity in ensembles. Within Maryland, Lori serves as Music Education Intern Supervisor at Towson University and as Coordinator of Howard County Public School System’s Secondary Solo and Ensemble Festival. As Director of the Regional Repertory Wind Ensemble, she has collaborated with composers Brian Balmages, Tyler S. Grant, Samuel Hazo, Richard Saucedo, Robert Sheldon, and Frank Ticheli. Learn more about Lori here.