It was a very strange weekend. My daughter had her guitar lesson at 1pm on Saturday. Rachel has played guitar for about 18 months and as it turns out, is kind of a natural. In fact, music is really her thing. She plays flute, tried out and made jazz band in 6th grade (not all that common for 6th graders to make it), has written and performed her own songs on both guitar and keyboard, took voice lessons a couple of years ago and stood up in front of a packed restaurant to sing. It blows my mind, because she's always been an exceedingly shy child. But music is her way of connecting.
The elementary school band teacher was her guitar teacher for the eighteen months leading up to early January. After a while I noticed she was floundering a bit, and not as enraptured with her guitar. I felt strongly that she needed to be in a situation where she might perform in an ensemble. She needed to be pushed in order to get to the next level. The community newspaper had an article about a place nearby called the Academy of Modern Music, in which they had exactly what I thought Rachel needed. Private lessons as well as ensemble performances.
I spoke with Pat Cerello, the guy who ran the Academy, and subsequently brought Rachel over one Saturday to get a feel for the place. He spent fifteen minutes listening to my shy girl play and said she wasn't quite ready for ensemble work, but he'd be glad to take her on in private lessons. We decided to go for it, and believe me, it wasn't an easy decision because Rachel was extremely attached to her current guitar teacher, who'd also been her elementary school band teacher the previous couple of years. The transition from elementary school to middle school isn't always easy, and this, for Rachel, was one more break. Still, she really wanted to do this and was excited at the prospects of working with Pat.
Her lessons started six weeks ago, and I was amazed at how quickly he got Rachel playing more advanced music. He focused and challenged her in an extremely short period of time. The guy was full of great stories, having played with a huge number of people over the years, while also teaching music at NYU and here in New Jersey. My daughter remarked that he was giving her a ton of hard stuff to work on and that she was enjoying it a great deal. By the second week of lessons, Pat told me she was much farther along than he'd realized and began to challenge her even more.
This past Saturday, we arrived at the music school to find a hastily scribbled note on the door that said lessons were cancelled indefinitely. While we stared dumbfounded at the sign, a man walked up the street and asked us if we were there for lessons with Pat. When we replied that we were, he told us that unfortunately Pat had passed away earlier in the week (the Monday after Valentine's Day). Despite being only 56 years of age and in good health, he'd had a massive heart attack, and left behind his wife and two daughters.
This man, Pat's landlord and friend for many years told us that the family was going to continue on with the music school -- Pat had many friends who would take over lessons -- and that they hoped people would stay with them.
Rachel and I stared at each other, completely at a loss. We'd only known Pat for six weeks, and then, for only about 30 minutes or so each week. But the loss struck hard for some reason. I feel awful for his family, and for his friends and students who had come to rely on this talented musician and teacher.
While working with her on a Taylor Swift song (Taylor Swift is my daughter's idol), he would always try to get Rachel to sing because he didn't feel like he could carry off the nineteen-year-old girl voice. He was teaching my daughter bar chords and and explained that while Taylor Swift would play certain chords, she needed other musicians in her band to play slightly different chords. He asked her to consider what would happen if Taylor Swift hired the two of them for her band. Then he paused, and said that, well, Taylor Swift was more likely to hire Rachel for her band. Pat's wife called from the front desk, "You got that right!".
He made Rachel giggle. He made her laugh. He challenged her. Pat made her a better musician in an extremely short time -- too brief a time. The suddenness of Pat's passing shocks me even now. He'll be missed. My deepest sympathies to his family and his many friends.