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A Half Century of Teaching

Thursday, April 17, 2014

This year is a sort of milestone for me, as it represents the passage of 50 years of my being a "professional" banjo and guitar teacher. While many others have achieved this same level of...what, "infamy?"...it is the first time I've done it, and I seriously doubt I'll get to comment on the completion of a 2nd half century of existing, much less teaching.

I say "professional" because, whereas I had been teaching friends and friends-of-friends for a couple of years by 1964, it was that year that I was hired by the Haddonfield (NJ) Conservatory of Music as a folk guitar and banjo teacher.  I was a 19-year-old college drop-out at the time, and brash enough to think I could do it; I was, nonetheless, a bit intimidated after being hired when I learned that many of the conservatory's other teachers played in the Philadelphia Orchestra, while several others were high school music teachers.

I mean, I was surrounded by musicians.  I was merely a banjo player--at that time, I couldn't even read music.  Almost all the other teachers were great people though, and many of them confided to me in so many words that they were amazed how well I could play without the ability to read!  Suffice it to say, I felt it incumbent on me to learn...

It was my only job then, so I had lots of time and was soon teaching 6 days per week.  The "Great Folk Scare" was in full swing, and in short order I had more simultaneous students than anyone else there had ever had--at the peak, I had more than 60 people a week on my schedule (mostly kids who wanted to be folk singers).

I stayed there until 1971 making a living for myself (and a few years later for my new family) by teaching and playing (funny, 7 years sure seemed like a long time back then). That year, my having finally put myself through undergraduate school, my family and I set off for grad school in Missouri.

So, just think, that 50 years since I started seriously teaching means the passage of a half century of posting signs on my studio walls saying:  "Practice makes calluses," "It's only a banjo," and "It's better to play the wrong thing at the right time than the right thing at the wrong time." (I've added a few platitudes since then, of course, but those go all the way back!)

Coincidentally, it's now also 50 years since I bought the Ode banjo that I still play.  (I've got to wait until next year to be able to make that claim for my beloved Martin D-35, though.)

The interesting thing to me is this: I still enjoy teaching.  My interaction with the thousands of people I've taught over the years has been especially rewarding.  Of course, there are many who fell by the musical wayside, but I have been in contact with a surprisingly large number of former students who have remained musically active, some as professionals (and still blaming me for it).  The very best part is hearing from some of these students of a half century ago and learning how something that I shared with them has remained so dear to them for such a long time.

Oh, while it has nothing to do with music or teaching, I should also point out that it's now been over 50 years since my mustache has been shaved off!

7 comments

Changes at the store

Sunday, January 6, 2013 2 comments

And here we sit...

Saturday, November 10, 2012 1 comment

And we're off!

Friday, June 24, 2011 18 comments

My wife has been deported!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010 18 comments

Finished!

Saturday, January 30, 2010 5 comments

Half way through...

Saturday, January 2, 2010 8 comments

and the beat goes on...

Thursday, November 12, 2009 10 comments

Breathing again!

Monday, November 2, 2009 11 comments

Wow. Almost a year...

Thursday, March 26, 2009 12 comments

It's not all roses...

Saturday, April 19, 2008 12 comments

5-1/2 months later

Wednesday, March 26, 2008 8 comments

A new Zepp means a new ZEPP.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007 12 comments

Off to Clifftop...

Thursday, August 2, 2007 Add Comment

3D ultrasound is amazing!

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Back from Vacation!

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Incommunicado

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zeppmusic.com
Playing Since: 1961
Interests:
[Teaching] [Socializing] [Helping]

Occupation: Retired entomologist

Gender: Male
Age: 73

My Instruments:
Too many to mention, though my 1964 Ode bought new from Chuck Ogsbury has been a steadfast bluegrass friend, and the Mike Ramsey Fairbanks Electric prototype he made in 1998 is my everyday, go-to open back. Following my retirement, I began thinning the herd, and have several one-of-a-kind instruments listed for sale in the BHO classifieds.

Favorite Bands/Musicians:
Again, just too many to mention, though Mississippi John Hurt and Doc Watson remain all-time favorites. The Greenbriar Boys, and especially the banjo of Bob Yellin, got me into bluegrass. Bob, Bill Keith and Earl Scruggs all have had major influence in my playing. If you catch me passively listening to recorded music, it's probably Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Telemann, Haydn, Mozart or Beethoven, though.

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Visible to: Public
Created 8/23/2003
Last Visit 12/6/2018

Started playing guitar in 1958, added banjo in 1961, and that became the musical love of my life.<p> Meeting the Greenbriar Boys turned me on to bluegrass while I was still in high school, and I dedicated myself to becoming a bluegrass player. I dedicated myself so much that I flunked out of my freshman year of college (Rutgers), but then used the banjo to make my living and finish up my B.A. at Temple University by playing in BG bands and teaching at a conservatory during the folk boom of the 1960s.<p> In 1971, I went off to the University of Missouri and shoved my instruments under the bed for 5 years while I was getting my Master's and Ph.D. in entomology.<p> After school, I took a position on the Cornell Entomology faculty, and started playing with a local band. I left Cornell to take a job in industry and moved from Ithaca in 1982 and thus had to quit what has proven to be the last band I played with.<p> Since then, I have focused my playing on clawhammer, though I still teach and enjoy bluegrass style.<p> Live By the Sword Dept: Though I had a good career in the agrochemical industry, including living in France for several years at company expense, a 1997 downsizing led to my forced retirement (we call that being "fired") and a divorce, so I returned to my musical roots and bought a small town music store in 1998. This proved to be a most perspicacious move, as I met Carmen, now my wife and the love of my life when she came in as an unsuspecting customer that year! She and I had a son in 2007, so I'm now one of those old guys with young children.<p> Gradually, I converted the store to a strictly acoustic, bluegrass and old-time oriented shop with a decidedly heavy banjo theme. At the end of 2014, I closed the shop so I could retire and spend more time with my family, which I am truly enjoying!<p>

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