Thursday, November 12, 2009

A True Life-long Learner In Music Theory


The video above shows Millie Nash, a retired Marshall Simonds Middle School (MSMS) teacher who is auditing Mr. Lovell's Music Theory class as she interacts with her classmates and her teacher. Her guest post on the experience follows:



A year ago I could not have believed that a mainsail of each day’s ship-of-my-existence would be Matt Lovell’s Music & Theory Composition I course at Burlington High School. My husband had just gone from perfect health to dead in six months—a victim of acute myeloid leukemia. I spent much of the next months dealing with all the transitions such a fate delivers. In addition, I began thinking of new things I’d like to do.

A friend/colleague at MSMS had been continually talking music theory to me—explaining how such knowledge might improve my progress in piano playing. She knew so much that I couldn’t begin to master her explanations. She suggested that I might ask to take a music theory course at BHS. The day before school opened for students this year, in a sudden burst of audacity, I managed to phone the high school music department and ask if such a thing were possible.

The next morning I heard that Matt Lovell had agreed—I was on board from day one! Little did I realize that I’d learn not only music theory and composition—but new computer skills, as well as brushing up on my math and listening abilities. After many years of being a teacher in the Burlington schools, I had become a high school student again.

The students took to my presence with complete aplomb. They easily adjusted to my asking their help, and graciously continue to assist me as needed. Because there are just enough computers for the “real” students, one upperclassman got out an extra set of headphones so that I could listen to, as well as watch, what he and other students were composing. (The Sibelius computer software is amazingly helpful for learning music composition!) This has proved a great way for me to learn, especially since I can stay after class to use a computer during a period when the room is open. (I can see how important computers are in the learning process—as well as the need for a few more—since students are sometimes stuck when a computer breaks down, leaving that student without an essential tool this course requires.)

What fun to be in a class where the students often groan when the bell rings—and ask if they can come in after school to continue their work. Best of all, I love having a teacher who takes the incredibly complex world of music and presents it in graspable chunks—going over and over what needs to be mastered. This he goes so variously—games, “earning” one’s way to the computers, class-generated problems to be solved in pairs or as a group—that we all learn more quickly than I would have thought possible. How lucky Burlington is to have such a talented teacher!

Reaction to my new venture has been interesting. One person wondered what special “pull” I had to get such a privilege. (My daughter replied, “I doubt if anyone else has ever asked.”) Others say they’d like to do such a thing—though they shy away when I explain it’s five days a week all year. The second day of class I encountered a couple of my former students in the BHS corridor; when I exclaimed, “I’m taking music theory!” they replied, “We know!” (I like the ease with which the young adjust to new ways.)

While I feel extraordinarily lucky to have this opportunity for continuing learning, I do wonder what would happen if suddenly everyone wanted to take BHS courses. I suppose it could get to be a problem. And I know that I make more work for Mr. Lovell. (He not only lets me take tests, but he allows me a chance to redo sections that I’d not finished properly.) For now, all I know for sure is that this venture is a highlight of my existence—and I am exceedingly grateful for such an opportunity.


  1. And yet another reason to pay tribute to Matt Lovell, an inspiring teacher at BHS who is well aware that music education knows no boundaries! Congratulations to Mrs. Nash (whom many of us know from her illustrious years of teaching the BEAM program at MSMS), to Mr. Lovell for his never ending patience and love for his profession, and to the students who welcome her with open arms!

  2. Go Mrs. Nash! I doubt there are many people out there who would even consider going back to high school--but you're always up for a challenge, I know! :)

  3. Millie, what an example for all of us! You are showing us that learning does not end after middle school or high school or even college, but is a life long adventure. Your big brother, Ralph

  4. "a highlight of my existence" - What a compliment to Mr Lovell and to the high school! I am in awe that this program even exists at a high school level (I would have thought it to be a college program). Enjoy the rest of your year! Your big brother's youngest daughter Sharon