RIP WALTER LIEBLING
Since learning early on Tuesday of his passing, I have been fighting back tears and at the same time chuckling to myself thinking about Mr. Liebling. I have been putting off trying to figure out what to say at this moment of unmeasurable loss because I can’t stop to concentrate. My children, a senior and junior in high school, have after school marching band, piano lessons, acting and dance classes, musical theater rehearsals, husband needs dinner early because he has jazz band, 400 marching uniforms need fitting/altering,… The list doesn’t end. But then I think, “my life is this way because of Walter Liebling.” He taught me to love music and to be creative, and I’d like to think that I passed that love on to my children. Watching their eyes light up when they can’t wait to walk through the band hall door, I know he would be proud. Mr. Liebling taught us that music is a refuge. Creativity is fulfilling. Appreciation and applause for what you’ve created is one of life’s highs.
Years ago before I had children, when Mr. Liebling retired from Lincoln, Iris Lestani asked me to come down to Buenos Aires and attend his last concert. I was heartbroken that I couldn’t go, but I did write a speech for the occasion. I’d like to share it again because it still applies.
Sir James Barrie, Peter Pan’s creator, said, “If you cannot teach me to fly, teach me to sing.” At times, Mr. Liebling surely must have thought that teaching some of us to fly would have been easier than teaching us to sing. But, he still pursued a career in music and teaching. What a courageous calling! To teach a generation of bumbling high school kids the joy that can be found in music! We came from all over the world. Through Mr. Liebling we found that no matter what culture we grew up in or what language we spoke, music brought us together in harmony. Some of it was lofty and sophisticated, some of it was downright silly, and ALL of it was fun. We sang Dis Train is Bound for Glory, Non Nobis Domine, and The Animal Madrigal. We played 25 or 6 to 4, New York New York, and Gaudeamus Igitur. The Muppet Show, Truth of Truths, and Flower Drum Song… whatever it was, we loved it because he loved it. We took our shows on the road to people who didn’t speak very much English and they loved it. Music truly is the universal language of mankind.
My first memory of Walter Liebling dates to 1978 when I was in 8th grade and in the chorus of My Fair Lady. He was daintily strolling across the band hall floor--head tilted proudly back, pinkies extended, toes pointed, back straight—showing us how a proper lady at the Ascot races should walk. I was hooked. I took chorus and band every single semester of high school. The more I learned, the more I loved it because I was given the chance to be creative. The best part was that other people liked what I was creating. I, and I’m sure many, many more of his students, are thankful for Mr. Liebling’s nurturing. I don’t think there was anyone who did not look forward to music class every day.
Mr. Liebling, through your teaching, you sent your music and part of yourself, all over the world. Certainly, your gifts to Lincoln students will never stop. Your music will not end just because you are retiring. My wish for you is that your days beyond Lincoln will continue to be filled with originality and love, and with the gratification and knowledge that your influence has reached every corner of this earth. William Shakespeare said it best in Twelfth Night: “If music be the food of love, play on…..”
I imagine that when the gates of Heaven swung open and the choir of angels lifted their voices and the trumpets blared to welcome Mr. Liebling, he waved his hands in the air and said “Stop! Take it from the top again!”
Then, in my heart’s imagination, I see Mr. Liebling taking one last bow at one last curtain call. Please join me in a hearty, loving, and well-earned round of applause for a job well-done, a life well-lived, and a powerful legacy left to us by Walter Liebling.