Where Credit is Due
About a month ago, I re-entered the workplace and accepted a security position at the Riverside Convention Center. During the public opening, I met a woman I recognized from my high school days. Back in the early 1970s, Riverside Unified School District had a fine arts program, which meant most schools offered instruction in orchestra. I played the viola and the woman I met (who had been a year ahead of me) played second violin. To my delight, she told me that my first music instructor, Harry Tarr, was still alive and residing near San Luis Obispo, California. She promised to put me in touch with Harry.
A few days later, I received a mailing address for Mr. Tarr. It was my hope to thank him for teaching me a skill that has lasted me for a lifetime. What an opportunity! The thought that I would be able to thank the man who had made such an incredible impact on my life was truly a God-send. I wasted no time in writing to him. About a week later, I received a phone message that Mr. Tarr had received my letter and that he intended to write me back. His voice sounded genuinely pleased to have received my affirmation of his teaching efforts after nearly four decades in his retirement.
I was nine years old in 1966, when Mr. Tarr arrived at John Adams Elementary School with an armload of stringed instruments in Mrs. Merrill’s fourth grade classroom. As I recall, he played a song on the violin and then invited the children to inspect the different stringed instruments he had set out on the counters. I chose the viola because all the other kids went for the violins. Within a few months, my mother had purchased me a half-size viola through a rent-to own contract from a local music store. Dad even tried his hand at playing my viola a few times at the house.
As I recall, Harry Tarr was a very patient man and practical taskmaster. He insisted on good form and posture while holding and playing the viola. There was only one way to properly play an instrument and that was the right way. It wasn’t long before I was performing in public at school assemblies. Eventually, I was introduced to ensemble groups and full orchestras. And those groups led to performances all over Riverside in even larger settings.
Mr. Tarr taught me to appreciate classical music (and the intricate arrangements and harmonies that went into musical compositions) at a time when Rock’n’Roll was more popular with kids. He challenged me to work harder, learn to translate written notes into sound through sight-reading a musical score, to feel the metronome beat in each song using my head and feet, and to hear the intonation of the instruments. Through repetition and constant training, I became proficient as a musician.
By junior high school (now called middle school), I learned to compete in music festivals and was invited to join other musical groups. Mr. Tarr retired when I reached high school. But by that time, my musical repertoire and abilities had flourished. Because of my instructor, I played in quartets, a Hungarian youth orchestra, a number of school musicals, assorted festivals, and larger regional orchestras. And because of my training, I was able to learn the guitar and electric bass later in life.
When I left high school and joined the Army, violists were not in great demand by the olive drab. However, in Army basic training I was able to pick up and play a snare drum and call cadence while marching. (All of that time-keeping and rhythmic beat counting was wired in my brain.) When I joined Discovery Christian Church at age thirty, my musical abilities led me to lead worship in a band. And songwriting, arranging, and musical recording were possible because of what I learned at a very young age from one very dedicated music teacher: Harry Tarr.
I cannot say enough about what Mr. Tarr did for me in my life. It is a debt I could never repay. Here is the last paragraph of the letter I wrote to Mr. Tarr on March 4, 2014, which honors him for what he did for me:
“I hope and pray you are as blessed by this letter as I am in writing it. I just wanted you to know what a great and wonderful difference you made in my life. Thank you again for your mentoring me and dedication to teaching music.”
In the last week of March 2014, I received a wonderfully written letter from my old music teacher. And he revealed some things about his life that were similar to mine. Although he could not recall the name of his first music instructor, Harry began playing at age nine. He served in the US Army after high school. And he was very involved in his church. What Tarr-ific timing that I should be able to communicate and thank my old music teacher.
Perhaps I should not be surprised by the timing. God’s timing is always good. And this opportunity to say “Thank you” had God written all over it. I am a witness to God’s favor and a recipient of His grace, each and every day. And it was great to be able to give credit where credit is due. For Harry Tarr, he was able to receive positive feedback from one of his former students. And to God I give credit for the gifts and talents He has granted me. I pray I do not squander them.
How rare a moment it was for me to thank my old mentor. What a blessing it was to tell him about how he had blessed my life. All too often such thank yous are offered postmortem, when those who have impacted us the most have passed and are out of reach and touch. I thank God for Harry Tarr. For, by God’s grace, Harry’s influence on my life will outlive me.
Is there someone yet living whom you owe thanks to for influencing your life for the better, for good? Perhaps now—before the opportunity passes—is a good time to tell that someone how grateful you really are. Share your blessing and be blessed.
May God Bless You, if you do.
(copyright 2014, Gregory Allen Doyle)