As a new year begins I am reflecting on an afternoon I spent on the last Sunday in December – at a celebration of life – for Dr. Marvin Rabin. I went to the event out of respect for the gentleman, known as a “pioneer in music education.” I personally only knew him as the founder of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra. I went hoping to learn more about his musical gifts. Instead I came away truly inspired by his manner of living.
The story about his role in youth symphony development can be found in the Wisconsin State Journal (March 14, 2011). In this article announcing his Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wisconsin Foundation for School Music I learned that Dr. Rabin had planned to be an educator of history and that a music scholarship made college a possibility; then came a war where he was asked to serve. Following the war the GI bill provided him the means to go to Eastman School of Music. What happened after that is what has made musical history and allowed him to become a man of prominence that I could learn from.
However, what made him special to so many was not really linked to his chosen profession. Here is what I learned: Marvin Rabin was a skilled listener, a lifetime learner and possibly the most optimistic man I have had the opportunity to hear about.
The article that ran in the Wisconsin State Journal when he passed away opened with, “Marvin Rabin, whose name is synonymous with music education in Wisconsin, is being remembered as a talented conductor and teacher, and a passionate advocate for young musicians.” But what I learned on the last cold Sunday in December is that he was so much more than that.
When he was awarded the lifetime achievement award his son Ralph said, “As a teacher, he makes students feel the importance of who they are and what they can become.” That was what the celebration was about – how Marvin Rabin made others feel.
Those who spoke at his celebration told of a man who enjoyed constant learning through reading, music and conversations. He especially enjoyed long conversations learning about another person’s point of view. The key word here being learning. I heard that when he engaged in conversation the person he was speaking to felt as if they were the ONLY one in the room. I learned his questions were never asked in a way to make the respondent feel defensive, instead they always elevated the discussion. Those who asked him for feedback on a performance said he was always brutally honest – he wanted the person to grow from his critique – so no matter how rough the review they thanked him and knew it would make them a better musician and probably even a better person.
There were so many there grateful for his time in their life. What a life – music, reading, conversation, love.
Thank you Marvin Rabin for a life well-lived.
Photo from Wisconsin State Journal