2014: Marge Engle

Marge Engle—2014 Teacher of the Year

On May 14, 2014, GCMTA was proud to present to Marge Engle the first Teacher of the Year Award. Below is a reprint of a very inspirational letter sent by a former student of Marge.

Letter of Recommendation for Marge Engle as GCMTA 2014
Teacher of the Year

I started studying piano with Marge Engle when I was ten and had a lesson at her house almost every week until I graduated from high school. She taught me so much that it seems I must have studied with her for fifty years. She didn’t just teach me about piano, she was taught me music theory, and music history, and even music pedagogy. She also taught me a little about playing the trumpet, and the horn, and the clarinet. She took me to my first orchestra concert, she came to my band concerts, and she accompanied me when I played at solo and ensemble festivals. She was always excited about music and about sharing it with me. Her passion was inspiring. When people ask me why I decided to build my life around music, the answer is simple. Marge Engle.

I wasn’t a great student when she met me. I didn’t want to do my finger exercises and I didn’t want to play Bach Inventions. I liked popular music and I wanted to play songs by Journey, and Prince, and The Police, and Michael Jackson. And it wasn’t long before she “gave up” and let me play them.

At least I thought she gave up. What she was actually doing was meeting me where I was. Without me knowing, she used those songs to teach me about chord progressions and voicing, and form, and as much technique as she could squeeze in. And when I “discovered” the Beatles, she worked with me on those songs, too. At one lesson, she told me that if I liked songs like Blackbird and When I’m Sixty-Four, then I might like some songs by George Gershwin. She gave me a book full of Gershwin songs to take home. After a week with the book, I fell in love with them. Soon she was teaching me how to play Embraceable You, They Can’t Take That Away From Me, Someone to Watch Over Me, and Summertime. She taught me all about the Great American Songbook, and told me I should try to actually sing some of those songs. Soon she had me singing tunes from Brigadoon and State Fair. 

She began pushing me further back in time, and soon I was playing some of Edward MacDowell’s Sea Pieces, and then short works by Beethoven, and then movements of sonatas by Mozart. And I loved them! Suddenly, I understood why I REALLY needed to practice those scales. I couldn’t get enough Mozart, and she showed me how the chords worked just like she did in those Journey songs, and she taught me about sonata form and the rondo. Before long I was playing Bach and SINGING Handel! And then…she blew my mind by tossing me back into the 20th century with the Bartok Mikrokosmos! From Bach to Bartok, and on to the Beatles and Michael Jackson, she taught me how all music is related, and she showed me it was okay to love it all.

The most important thing I learned from Mrs. Engle is that you shouldn’t always expect a student to meet you where you are. Sometimes you have to meet them where they are to help them discover the endlessly amazing possibilities of music. Mrs. Engle could have given up on me, or worse, she could have forced Bach and Mozart on me and made me resent their music forever. Instead, she made learning fun. In fact, for a long time I didn’t even realize I was learning anything. 

These days most of my music is made on percussion instruments, but the book of Mozart piano sonatas Mrs. Engle gave me is always on my piano at home. I sit down at the keyboard almost every day and play some of the same sonatas she taught me over twenty-five years ago. 

I’ve told Mrs. Engle many times how much she did for me, how much she taught me, and how much I owe her. She always refuses to take any credit at all. I hope she is just being modest, because I would be very sad if she really doesn’t understand what she did for me. Every time I teach or perform, she is there with me. And for as long as I teach, and for as long as I perform, she will always be there with me. And I can’t thank her enough for being there.