The Heavens Open by Jackson Gillman

This delightful tale of a beloved music teacher comes to us from member Jackson Gillman, a master story teller and “Stand Up Chameleon.”

"I perfected a seated posture which passed for intent listening, and Norwood never caught on.  Well, once he did…"
“I perfected a seated posture which passed for intent listening, and Norwood never caught on. Well, once he did…”

There are certain teachers who can have on their students a profound, life-long impact. Such was Norwood Hinkle who taught music at the Putney School for 33 years.  He had a highly refined ear for classical music, two of them actually. He had only one eye however; the other was glass. He also had a nose of course, which looked more like a raptor’s beak. He had a hairline similar to mine but it was white, so he looked like a very severe bald bald eagle.  One did NOT want to fall prey to his good eagle eye when he scanned his classroom, orchestra or chorus, to zero in on the hapless mole who was out of line, or out of tune.  While being greatly respected, he was also terribly feared. During an alumni reunion, I had occasion to sit in what used to be Norwood’s musical chamber of delight and torture. The setting prompted a flashback to being in Norwood’s Music Appreciation class.

Decades earlier, I sat in that same room under the watchful pierce of Norwood’s eye.  His one eye worked perfectly fine.  But one eye precludes having depth perception.  And indeed, Norwood could not perceive the depth to which I’d fall asleep in his class. While listening to the classical music selections we were supposed to be analyzing, I perfected a seated posture which passed for intent listening, and Norwood never caught on.  Well, once he did, but more on that later.

Norwood’s ears were very fine-tuned and he endeavored for ours to be likewise.  He taught us music theory and structure.  He played the classics for us.  We were to listen to these masterpieces academically; noting the tonic key, modulations and key changes, the exposition, the bridges, themes and variations on the theme, the deceptive cadence…  I rarely heard the final cadence, consciously at least.  Invariably, I fell asleep — a rich, cultured sleep — an utterly delightful sleep.

I do regret not fully grasping all those finer points of musical theory, but I was well-steeped in Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and the other masters.  I viscerally soaked them all in, and more often than not, was totally submerged by them. Awake, I loved the music.  Asleep, I don’t know that I loved it any less.

While my grades might not reflect it, I truly believe that Norwood was successful in turning out a quasi-educated, albeit dozing-inclined graduate of music appreciation. How I loved those lusciously sonorous cat naps!

The one time he caught me dozing was during Madrigals and he was rehearsing with the sopranos for a long, dulcet stretch during which time I drifted into bird-like dreamland. While I was in sweet repose on the opposite end of the bass section, Norwood spotted me and put a finger up to his lips. The bevy of songbirds stilled, just as they might before an oncoming thunderstorm. He picked up his water glass and silently started waltzing toward me, stalking his oblivious sitting duck, or should I say sleeping duck. The Kapellmeister was about to baptize me in his own take on Hinkle’s Water Music.  The heavens opened… Splash!…and I awoke to a cacophonous glee club. Never before or since have I been such an effortless class clown.

To Norwood Hinkle I do give my most sincere thanks for the awakenings – musical and otherwise.