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The greatest teacher

By Daniel Sanguinetti, September 8 2023—

Master Yoda, Mr. Miyagi and Uncle Ben. The image of a wise, old mentor who guides a young learning hero is ingrained in the mythologies, stories and entertainment that we engage with. It is a trope as old as story-telling itself, and for many of us has influenced the way we perceive teachers in the real world. 

Our parents, our teachers, professors and coaches — we look to them to show us how to navigate the world. Whether it be how to do a basic task or if we need guidance on something so much bigger. But in my mind, there is a power dynamic that has been codified in this relationship: the student is always beneath the teacher. 

Most of the teachers I’ve known I’ve always seen as just that — a teacher or mentor, and almost never as someone I consider a friend. But maybe it doesn’t have to be that way, who said a teacher can’t be a friend, or vice versa?

In my eyes, a great teacher can do so much more than just explain something in a way that makes sense. A great teacher can help us to engage with a topic or subject in new and interesting ways. A great teacher can make learning interesting by approaching their methods and teachings in new and interesting ways besides a typical lecture or slideshow. In my experience, a great teacher is one who inspires a passion that drives you to grow and learn because you want to and not just because you have to. 

For these reasons, I think making friends and connections in a place like a university is incredible. When you meet the right people, you can learn and grow just as much from them as any one of the professors who teach the classes. This is how I met my people through university and how the friends we make allow us to become the kind of person we want to be.

In my first year as a Bachelor of Music at the University of Calgary, I was required to enroll in at least one of the university’s ensembles for the year. I picked choir for two reasons: first was that I didn’t play any orchestral instruments, meaning I couldn’t audition for the orchestra or symphonic bands. The second reason was that I wanted to learn how to sing. I only played guitar up to that point and the music I listened to was almost exclusively popular music. I also wanted to get into songwriting, so it seemed natural to start with choir.

Choir taught me a lot of fundamentals such as reading the conductor and learning what each intricate hand and arm movement communicates, marking up the score with proper vowels and pronunciations, stagger breathing, blending with your section and so much more. 

In this case, I learned many of the important parts of singing in a choir simply by being a part of it. This is something I’ve continued to do and encourage everyone to try. Sometimes the best way to start learning something is simply by just doing it

However, I found myself not feeling any real drive or connection to singing at that point. It had nothing to do with the choice of music or the director. I enjoyed performing the music even though it wasn’t my preferred style of music. At the end of it all, I still felt very insecure whenever I tried to practice my choral parts, whether in a practice room on campus or in the farthest most quiet corner of my house. I also found myself having an identity crisis with my voice — all my favourite male singers could belt and sing high but my voice is naturally pretty low. I was not happy with that so as a result, I was not making much progress towards my goal. I only practiced for choir, was not very motivated to develop my skills or write my own music, and above all I was not having fun. 

In the second semester of my first year, I found a small student club that was slowly but surely building an audience for themselves in the halls of Craigie Hall — Musical Theatre UCalgary. A young club that sought to bring musical theatre opportunities to students on campus. In January of 2022, they were gearing up to host their first major production of Legally Blonde: The Musical. I decided to audition for the show having only done non-musical theatre in high school, not sure if I’d even enjoy or fit in a musical. Somehow, despite zero dancing ability, very dusty acting, and okay singing at best, I was accepted into the cast. It was through Legally Blonde that I met a friend who also happened to be a great teacher. 

I met the musical director of the show soon after rehearsals began. We became friends through the two of us studying music here at the university. The entire time I’ve known her, she has always gone above and beyond in sharing her love of singing and inspiring others to discover the joy of music. During rehearsals, our small ragtag cast would power through as best as we could, learning these songs and giving them as much power and life as we could with our tiny ensemble. Every time we got our harmonies right and put all our parts together the musical director would light up with pure joy and excitement. Outside of the dedicated music rehearsals, she was always open to working with us individually, even with songs unrelated to the show. Each and every time she did, it was always out of friendship and passion and never once did she ever attempt to capitalize off it for a quick dollar. 

I think it speaks volumes about a person when they are so eager to share their knowledge with others out of love and not out of a desire for money. I have experience with others who would jump at the opportunity to charge for a class or a lesson in that circumstance.

I have the musical director and the amazing people I’ve met in musical theatre to thank for the progress I’ve made toward the person I want to be. Part of being a musician and an artist is learning to find your voice and theatre gave me a space where I could feel comfortable with my voice. No longer is it frustration that I can’t belt like Steve Perry, but it’s love and gratitude for a voice that is uniquely mine. The acceptance was just the first step — I was less distracted with trying to be someone else and more focused on exploring my musicality. Now, whenever I am rehearsing any vocal music I don’t feel a need to be a thousand miles away from everyone so that the only person who hears me is myself. I can spend a day writing a song and feeling the joy of creation the entire time I’m engaged with it. 

Above everything, no matter how good of a singer I actually am or how good any of my songs are — that isn’t the point of this article. Ultimately, befriending the musical director gave me something that I am forever grateful for which is a genuine love for singing. Singing no longer feels like a chore or a subject to study for. As long as it remains something that brings me joy, I am going to keep doing it and bettering myself each time I do, even when the world tells me that my voice doesn’t deserve to be heard.

As I now approach my third year of music, I am ready to approach it with a different attitude in regard to learning. There’s a lot to learn from the professors and the TAs in my classes. However, I think there’s so much we can learn from our friends and the people who are side-by-side with us in the classroom. 

The day we walk the stage we are awarded a piece of paper that hundreds, if not thousands of other people also receive with us. It marks that we completed the exact requirements the University has set out for us and that we are ready to pursue new frontiers. But I believe, it’s not the classes that everyone takes that define what a degree means. It’s the people we meet in our time here and the experiences outside our classes that enrich our lives and influence who we become far more.

This article is a part of our Voices section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet editorial board.

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