“Music is my life!” exclaimed Mrs. Twinkle from Kevin Henkes’ book “Chrysanthemum.” My name is Rosalia and, well, music is my life, too!
I was born in a small suburb of Detroit to a young Sicilian couple. My dad, along with his parents and two younger brothers, emigrated from Naso, Sicily and came through Ellis Island in December of 1960. He was 16 years old. Like many stories of our immigrant ancestors, they came with only the clothes on their backs and a few dollars in their pockets. And because my grandmother was sponsored by one of her brothers who immigrated to Michigan a few months before, she made the journey to a foreign land with courage and hope. The Franchina/Emanuele Family came here for a better life and for opportunities they would never have in their beautiful, albeit poor, town of Naso.
After graduating high school and obtaining his barbering license, my dad bought his first home (right next door to his parents’ home!) and then set off to Sicily to find his bride. He and my mom married in 1972 and they came to Michigan a couple months later. My dad has always been fascinated with the accordion. He wanted nothing more in his young life than to learn how to play it, but he never had the chance to learn back home. However, one of his uncles who came to Michigan knew how to play and offered to give him lessons. Daddy’s been in heaven ever since… at the time of this posting, in fact, a single day never goes by that he doesn’t pick up the accordion to play.
When I was three years old, my parents began teaching me how to sing their favorite songs. My earliest memories of music were all Sicilian and Italian folk songs from the war. My parents didn’t know any children’s songs (even from their own childhood experiences) and spoke only in their native Sicilian dialect to me. I was heavily immersed in this beautiful language and through my lifelong experiences with singing, I have been able to retain my Sicilian dialect as well as learn the formal Italian language. Though I have a limited vocabulary in my native language, all I need is a week back in Italy for the words to start flowing again.
Since my dad plays the accordion, it stands to reason that he would want me to learn the instrument as well. I began taking lessons when I was about five years old. I still remember one of the first songs I learned… “The Wishing Well Waltz.” A couple years later, I started playing piano. In fourth grade I added the clarinet and in high school I learned to play violin. Sometimes I even dabbled with the tenor saxophone when my band director needed me to play it in the jazz band. I was drum major of our high school marching band for two years and had a lot of fun. When I was about nine years old, I began entering local and state competitions with the accordion. When I was fourteen and sixteen, I participated in two international competitions. Though I did very well in regional competitions, those international ones were tough and I burned out by the time I entered my last competition.
I always knew I would have a life of music-making but never really knew what I wanted to do. Even though I have always loved to sing and go to the opera, I was not interested in the dramatic aspect of Opera Theater, so I decided to focus my attention in college to piano pedagogy. My eight years at Michigan State University were some of the best years of my life. When I received my Bachelor of Music degree, my piano professor asked what I wanted to do for my graduate studies and by that time I was undecided between wanting to be a college professor of piano or a music educator of young children. During graduate school, I taught the piano group classes for young children as well as general music classes at a local Montessori school in Lansing. I had found that I really enjoyed both roles and was thrilled to have any experiences I was given. When I graduated with my Master of Music degree in 2000, I taught piano and early childhood music classes at a local community college for four years. Then in 2004 I began teaching early childhood music at a private elementary school in the Detroit area and in the fall of 2016 switched to general music for first, second, and third grades. I love everything about my job, especially the children that warm my heart every day.
I have been teaching music now for 20 years. I wish I could say that I have a favorite age, but the truth is that I don’t. What I can say for certain, however, is that I see the joy of music-making in all ages across time. I have three beautiful children of my own and they have taught me more than I could ever appreciate… I have heard infants make music babble. I have heard toddlers sing beautifully in tune. I have taught first graders to play Orff instruments and accompany their classmates. I have taught choirs to sing partner songs. I have taught third graders to play the recorder and feel pride when they can accurately play a song. I have entered up to 40 students per year in piano festivals. I have witnessed a middle school classical pianist go to the School of Rock and learn to become a songwriter. I have coached singers auditioning for musical theater roles. I have worked with adults who just bought a piano and want to learn how to play. I have felt joy in the achievements of my own children as well as those of my students.
Over the past several years, my teaching style, like that of most all the teachers I’ve encountered, has become eclectic. I am primarily rooted in the teachings of Dr. Edwin Gordon’s Music Learning Theory, but I have also had wonderful experiences incorporating Orff-Schulwerk and Education through Movement in my methodologies. There is no such thing as exclusivity any more. My goal is to become a communicator of music. I want children to love to sing as much as I love it. I want them to learn to play an instrument and feel great about their accomplishment. I want them to understand what they are hearing when they go to an orchestral concert. I want them to tell me stories about the opera they went to see with their parents and I love to see the enthusiasm in their expressions when they recognize a piece of music I play for them.
We all have a story about how music has shaped our lives. It is my hope that the experiences I share through this blog will inspire YOU, my fellow musicians and teachers, to share your story and to keep up the good work you are doing. Music for music’s sake is a great reason to teach and/or learn music. Thanks for reading!