My son graduated from OPRF High School a few weeks ago. He left on a backpacking expedition to Europe, and I am left behind wondering where the time went. After the ceremony, a few families had dinner and the question came up — who, aside from people in your family, has had the biggest impact on your life.
My son singled out two people: Ashley Kannan, his teacher at Julian Middle School and Perry Johnson, his piano teacher. I'll add a few others.
Mr. Kannan, who called his students "scholars," made his science class a search for knowledge with a capital "K." He was always available. He arrived at school before 6 a.m. and would answer questions about homework into the evening.
He made his students feel like they were part of a search for big ideas. After talking with students as if they were part of this search, some, my son included, started to believe that they were scholars. So, Mr. Kannan, thanks.
My son started piano lessons at the age of 4 at Steckman's School of Music. His first piano teacher was an immensely over-qualified Russian woman named Natasha Lychenko. She taught opera singers at Northwestern University and piano on the side. (only in Oak Park!). She was patient and kind and got him started. Thank you, Natasha, wherever you are.
After the first Natasha moved on, we eventually found the second Natasha who teaches in River Forest — Natasha Bogojevich, a Serbian-born teacher, composer and artist who taught my son not just to play the music but to feel it. She "tuned" his listening by introducing him to modern composers and allowed him to play more by ear than by strict technique. I think she gave him his first taste of what it is to be artist. Thank you, Natasha.
My son, Natasha and I eventually realized that he needed to move to a different kind of teacher. He ended up auditioning for Perry Johnson, as fine a piano teacher as exists in the Chicago area. We are lucky to have him in Oak Park. He studied in Paris, has performed with symphonies, and is funny and blunt with his students, which for some reason works for him.
Perry can be impatient. At the first audition, he said, "There are three composers for piano. Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin. And we need to start on them like now." Which they did. My son practiced more than ever. He became more disciplined, subtle and complex in his playing.
More importantly, Perry helped him hear the inner voice that exists in all of us but finds its expression only in art. I don't think my son will ever perform at Carnegie Hall (I am not a Tiger Dad after all), but through his music he can now express calmness, passion, intensity, whatever. So, Perry, thank you.
As with an Academy Award speech, there are far more people to thank than there are lines in this column. But to all — and you know who you are — thank you.
Answer Book 2018
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