Teachers change lives every day

Thank you, Mr. Byrd

Author: Donna Oakley
Teacher's name: Mr. Dennis Byrd
Teacher's school: Holy Heart Of Mary

I was definitely not a student who stood out to any teacher. That’s probably due to the fact that I never took part in any school activities – and nothing about studying ‘inspired’ me. Then I was blessed to have Mr. Dennis Byrd as my English teacher at Holy Heart of Mary back in 1977. I always loved reading – but I loved music more. I never took the time to properly learn how to read it – or write it. During another extremely boring (to me) session of having to learn Shakespeare – Mr. Byrd could see that he was losing us all into a fog of indifference. So – he told us he would make a deal with us. If we promised to apply ourselves to learning Shakespeare so we could pass our final exams – he would teach us how to ‘listen properly’ to the language of lyrics! I was hooked! I loved songs and could remember lyrics after hearing the song twice. But I never really ‘listened’ to the story of the song. Why did the songwriter use those words and what were they trying to say? He gave us the songs ‘At Seventeen’ by Janis Ian (who I have met and shared this story with), and ‘American Pie’ by Don McLean, and ‘Both Sides Now’ by Joni Mitchell. This opportunity opened my eyes to something I didn’t know I had inside me — the ability to write lyrics/songs. For the first time – I listened to music with different ears – really HEARING what the songwriter was saying. That was at a time in my life when I would be about 17. Here I am today at 56 years old and I have recently put 10 of my own songs onto my own CD. When I was writing the acknowledgements part of the CD cover, Mr. Dennis Byrd was top of the list! My high school friend Cathy Keough-Mullett (pictured with me) made sure he got a copy of the CD and she told me he was very touched by the mention, and never realized his class had that impact on me. I’m sure that little holiday from Shakespeare influenced a lot of us. So – thank you Mr. Dennis Byrd for stepping outside the straight and narrow curriculum. It really did change my way of looking at lyrics….. and how I write my own.

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