Two weeks ago, I called my dear high school music teacher, Mr. Dengler, to tell him that I have been appointed as the new Director of Vocal Music at the Hill School. Instead of the usual lively greeting, “Hello?~”, I got the answering machine. I left him a message. Four days later, I heard back from Mrs. Dengler; she said Mr. D had been sick for the past seven months. She paused and said, “He is really sick.” After our brief conversation, I contacted several of my classmates who were part of our singing group and we decided on a date to go visit him.
A day before our visiting day, we found out he had passed. Tomorrow, I will be driving to Mr. Dengler’s memorial service to join Mrs. Dengler and many people who had been touched by his life. I am writing a letter to my dear teacher and friend. I wanted to say these words to him…
Dear Mr. D,
As I drove home today, feeling a little numb and thinking about the drive tomorrow to your memorial service, I saw a car with the plate, “BUD5734” (OK, I can’t remember the 4 numbers, but the first three letters spelled out your name). Yes, I have been thinking of you – a lot. And missing you. I know that you are alive and well in heaven, conducting choirs of angels. Although my heart is heavy and sad, the thought of you makes me smile.
When we first met at AIS, I was an awkward new 7th grader (by the way, today’s teens would use the term, “fetus” to point out how young a student is), you immediately became my fan. Hearing my piano playing, you gave me opportunities to accompany the Upper School Glee Club and the Bel Cantos. Although I was in middle school, you let me mingle with the big girls to make serious music. It wasn’t a big deal that there were schedule differences in the two divisions – made the schedule to work for me. Who does that? Seriously, what did you see in me back then?
You let me learn through two different major tours with the Bels, one in Ohio and the other in Texas. How did you manage the logistics and bring Mrs. Dengler along to travel with a group of teenage girls? How did you deal with girl-dramas and keep your cool? How did you make such beautiful music every day? How is it that we ALL learned to love music and sing as much our hearts can possibly experience?
My favorite memories of you are the times you talked to me. Remember how I was the only student in AP Music? You sure talked my ear off…and thank you, I got a 5 for that exam because of you… But more than many classes or music theory discussions (or even the analysis of the most intricate classical piece you and I loved), I remember our conversations. I was surprised when you made a series of dot matrix paper banner that spread across the whole side of the music room that read: “The Pursuit of Excellence”. You knew I was falling apart as a passionate, but naive perfectionist. You listened. You let me make mistakes, and showed me how to keep working.
I don’t know if I ever told you: I loved every early rehearsal we had. You were dedicated to the music you introduced to us. You were more dedicated to us as young people and that drew us in. I loved that Bach, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Porter, Gershwin, Berlin, and the hottest pop songs of the 80’s were our repertoire. You set the bar high, so we were never bored. And you let us know that you were proud of us.
I loved that we met up at an ACDA conference when I was in grad school as a conducting major. Although you didn’t see me conduct, you saw me singing. You said that I improved in my breathing and that my posture got better! I felt so grown up hearing you said that.
I am so thankful that my family got to meet you and Mrs. D. I loved writing you letters or telling you our family updates over the phone. It was such an honor to tell people how you, my high school music teacher, still called me on my birthday. That’s a lot of birthday phone calls!
I am sorry the 93′ Bel Canto girls – Jenn, Meredith, Kelly, Meggin, Laura, Ellen, Tanya – and I missed visiting you. We wanted to sing you a song or two. The spiritual, “Every Time I Feel the Spirit” would have been one definite selection. We remember how vibrant and full of life you were – smiling, directing us, convicting us. But the lyrics to “Every Time We Say Goodbye” lingers in my mind right now and will not go away…
Mr. D., I hope I make you proud. I still feel like I need to learn so much as a teacher – to give selflessly, to always care for more than what is required, to love people boundlessly. I know that many will come tomorrow to pay tribute to you. You shared a beautiful life with us. Thank you so much, we celebrate you.
I hope you know that you will always live on in the music I make.
God bless you, Mr. D!
With much love and appreciation,