Pamela Michaels' Learning Story


Mr. Ward created a 60-member chorus and a 60-member marching band from a small high school student body in a DOD (Department of Defense) school in Berlin, Germany, during the days of the ‘Cold War’ – and he did so in only 4-5 years’ time. Mr. Ward was from California, and for military kids who identified each other by the state they were from, California was considered a beacon of coolness. It didn’t hurt that Mr. Ward had a handsome boyishness about him, either, although he was quite the experienced teacher and musician who held a deep knowledge of both music and an understanding of the adolescent heart. Mr. Ward taught us about the pride and discipline necessary to create beautiful harmonies and the rhythms of being in synchronization. The chorus and band had beautiful robes and uniforms that showed the school colors of maroon and white. To enhance the band’s performance at sports events, baton twirlers/cheerleaders wore stunning outfits of maroon velvet trimmed with white fur that were ordered from – California (!) When Mr. Ward decided that the band should become an orchestra, he foraged for violins, violas and cellos which students could purchase for unheard-of yard sale prices – $15 for a violin! To recruit and encourage potential strings players, Mr. Ward would get you a get-out-of P.E. pass. A full-scale musical was rehearsed and performed every spring, complete with full costumes and sets, trips were taken to DOD schools in other German cities, and joint performances between the German and American music departments were arranged to further relations between the two cultures. How did Mr. Ward accomplish all of this music in such a short time? I remember charm, grit, some well-timed politicking, a mischievous streak – he once got hold of a note from a reluctant tenor to his girlfriend and threatened to read it over the school intercom if said tenor didn’t join the chorus – a no-nonsense aura when conducting rehearsals, and a steel-forged resolve to bring music to anyone who showed the slightest inclination. The Mozart Requiem, Brigadoon, stage design, singing, dancing, the discipline of studying music, performing with students from another culture and sharing this joy with others…… teen-aged soul responded completely, and the memories etched therein remain. Caveat: My parents, along with many other parents of that particular community, placed a high priority on cultural education; we were given piano lessons, taken to classical music concerts, and were encouraged in many ways to make music a regular part of our lives. My father was the other ‘music teacher extraordinaire’ – he taught by example, bringing his second-hand Steinway piano with him wherever we went, and hosted many a party with the karaoke of the day – old-fashioned sing-a-longs. My mother fostered my visual art talent, seeing that I had materials, giving me encouragement, taking me to art museums and checking in with various art teachers. Mr. Ward had the support of many parents such as mine, who believed in him and what he had to offer. No wonder I wound up teaching both art and piano, and writing music on the side. Thank you, Mr. Ward, wherever you are; and to my parents, who opened so many doors, I can’t thank you enough.