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My Teacher

Reading all the tributes to Glen Adsit on Facebook over the last day, I’ve been reflecting on what an honor it is to have been in the sphere of influence of this man. He was possibly the most dynamic person I have ever known, and unquestionably the foremost influence on me as a teacher.

When Glen (I think throughout undergrad I always called him “Mr. Adsit”) arrived at Hartt in my sophomore year, I remember students grumbling about this new expectation that all of a sudden we were supposed to care about wind ensemble, a class that had previously been something you just had to show up for. But Glen never just showed up for things, and he wouldn’t tolerate that from his students. In a short time he turned the wind ensemble into a cornerstone of the school, and the centerpiece of the music education of so many of us. He brought national attention to Hartt and, in his rehearsal room, fostered the development of countless future music teachers, performers, conductors, composers, recording engineers, etc, etc, etc. Under his baton we learned what passion was, how to strive for excellence, what it felt like to achieve that rare moment of complete connection as an ensemble.

I remember the first day of my first-ever conducting class with Glen. He asked for a volunteer to get up in front of the class and conduct Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. I shrank in my seat but he saw the fear on my face, so naturally he picked on me. Glen had an uncanny ability to read people at lightning speed, and from that first day I felt like he recognized something special in me. His support of me as a clarinetist, conductor, and teacher contributed more to my growth than anything else in my entire education. I remember him coming to watch me conduct “When the Rhinos Do the Rumba in the Rain” during my first student teaching placement, and I still occasionally read the congratulatory email he sent me afterwards. I remember him helping me prepare to take over directing my home town community band, lending me scores and helping me craft a program, then later eagerly watching the concert video with me and giving me advice on my audience banter. I remember him helping me out a few months into my first job as a middle school band teacher, when I called him freaking out because the kids could barely play and I didn’t know how I was going to put on a winter concert (“Okay, here’s what you’re gonna do…do you know what an ‘informance’ is?”). I remember how excited he was when I called to say that I was thinking about coming back for my master’s degree, and how fun it was to pick up right where we had left off. (I think in the very first wind ensemble rehearsal I said something snarky, and he laughed and reassured the rest of the group, “It’s okay, Mel and I go way back.”) I remember conducting a Symphony Band rehearsal and achieving a moment of perfect connection with the ensemble; after the piece finished I looked over at Glen to see him beaming in the corner (“YESSS!!!”) For everything I got from him (I was once accused in a conducting clinic of being a Glen Adsit clone—what a compliment!) I always felt so gratified when Glen got excited about something in my conducting or my teaching that was all my own (“That was fanTAStic!”)

He was always on my side; once at a dress rehearsal in undergrad when he saw me visibly upset about an argument I’d just had, and he came over to me and said, “It’s okay. Get your breathing together, and we’ll kick some ass afterward.”

Glen was the kind of mentor you wanted to make proud, and he celebrated successes with heaping piles of joy. To this day, when I complete a project that I am really proud of, he is one of the first people I think to tell about it. He used to tell me I could do anything I wanted. What a blessing to have someone with that much belief in you, who would at once hold huge aspirations (the next great college band conductor!) and celebrate with equal enthusiasm the less prestigious but just as meaningful wins (making a difference in the lives of high school students!)

Glen was the type of teacher that I aspire to be—someone whose mere presence is enough to make you feel like you’re learning something. I think of his teaching advice nearly every day. As I was writing some of this during my prep period at school today I was thinking of all the students I’ve had over the years, especially those who went on to become music teachers themselves. What a special lineage we are part of.

I woke up this morning a little teary-eyed, but also chuckling to myself about Glen’s habit of saying, in explaining a concept, “There are two things…” He would go on to explain the first thing in great detail, with a few tangents and anecdotes along the way. But I am telling you that in the 23 years that I knew him, he NEVER got around to the second thing. Not once. So I guess he leaves that mystery for us to solve for ourselves. It’s possibly the only thing he ever withheld from us, spending so much of his life pouring out limitless energy into his students, his colleagues, and the musical world at large.

If in my life I am able to have a tenth of the impact on my corner of the universe that Glen had on his, I will be satisfied. We all expected more time with him, but no one can say he didn’t live his life to the fullest and then some.

I think it will be tough the next time I walk through the Fuller building, knowing that I won’t hear him rehearsing the wind ensemble, and that I won’t have another chance to run into him and be greeted with his huge grin and a hug, (“Hey, Mel!!”) I hope he knew that the love that he showed me was mutual.

I’m thinking of his family and close friends tonight, and to everyone affected by this great loss. I feel truly honored to be in your company.

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