By Bob Morrison, Director of Arts Ed NJ
My life and success are due to the amalgamation of all the people and experiences I have gathered along the way. My experiences growing up in the Phoenixville Pennsylvania area really laid the foundation for my musical journey. It started at East Pikeland Elementary school… where Charles Blum was the music teacher and gave me my start in 4th grade as a drummer in a little music room in the basement of the school. I still remember going down those steps for my lessons each week with $2 pair of drum stick I purchased from Jaworski’s music store
Bob Herr was my junior high school band director. He provided me with new opportunities and expanded my horizon with the various percussion instruments. It was here that I became interested in marching percussion where we would work on cadences for the drum line. It was also during this time that Mr. Herr would recruit us to play in the Lukens Steel Band for various parades… I was able to play in the jazz band as well as the intercounty band on timpani… all things Mr. Herr encouraged me to do.
It was where I met Charles Gutkowski who owned the local funeral home (his daughter Susan was in the band). He was on the Board of Education. I thought, how cool was that to have a music parent on the board of education. This was an inspiration for my own service on a board of education… when I was a 7th grader.
In high school is where I began to interact with my high school band director Mike Solick and his assistant John Villella. I was in the marching band (playing trios) and wind ensemble (playing Timpani) and it was in my senior year that I really started to think there might be something to this music thing for me.
I was at the time an OK percussionist and somewhat of a character, no real distinguishing traits, I would even say I was an underachieving student… who would test the limits of the patience of both Mr. Solick and John Villella. I was particularly challenging for John since he was a first year Assistant band director… and I was senior drummer with, well the attitude of a high school senior drummer… I was very capable of being a jerk. I can never apologize enough to John for being such a pain during his first year. Looking back, I am amazed either of them put up with me… let alone that John has blessed my life with his friendship for the last 40 years in spite of all I put him through.
Mike was an extremely demanding director. I do not mean that in a derogatory way. He had high standards, an expectation of excellence, and he was not happy when talent was going to waste. He challenged me to be better, to do more, to expect more of myself than I thought I had a right to. And while he would show me some tough love to get me to recognize the gifts I’d been given and the potential I had… he would aggressively defend me to the administration. It was on more than one occasion when Mr. Solick stepped in to keep me from getting severe punishment including one suspension. For what has faded from my memory.
I am sharing this because I do not want people to get the wrong impression. I was not a perfect student, I was not in the honor society nor the honor roll, or Key Club… I was one of the students in the middle… the type of student that could often be overlooked and follow the wrong pathway. Mr. Solick made sure that did not happen to me as he did for so many others.
Mike Solick was a truly great educator. I finally was able to show him how important he was to shaping my life when I was working on the film in the Mr. Hollands Opus. It was the winter of 1995 and we were doing 50 premieres across the country. I was able to send him a note along with an invitation to the Philadelphia Premiere to let him know he was the Mr. Holland in my life. I never saw him after high school but I am grateful for all he did for me… and most importantly for the potential he saw in me. And to think all It started with Mr. Blum and a $2 pair of drum sticks I purchased from Jaworski’s music store in the basement of East Pikeland Elementary School.
I have shared with you a little bit of the story of the impact that Charles, Bob, John and Mike and so many others had on my life for a reason. I am just one person. Now, think about hundreds of thousands of teachers like them and the millions of students these teachers impact every day and you begin to get a sense of why I do what I do.
That is why I am thankful to them for opening a pathway for me to discover who I could become. And it is because of them that I fight every day for the thousands of educators just like them… shaping the lives of other students… just like me.