Leslie Lee. Photo credit: Maggie Thornton Wallentin
I remember the moment I met her. She had brought a group of “big” kids from Hanaford to play their instruments for us. I was a proud member of Mrs. Bentsen’s second grade class at Meadowbrook Farms, and we were having an assembly in the cafeteria. It was the kind of gathering that second and third graders carried their chairs to while the kindergarteners and first graders sat criss-cross applesauce down in front. Each of those Hanaford musicians talked about their instruments and played a short tune. There was lots of chatter and “oohs” and aahs” from the audience. But, when Mrs. Lee put her “fiddle” under her chin to play a tune, no one could speak. It was incredible. There was complete silence except for the vibrations of her strings until one little boy in my class said, “She’s not playing that, that’s a recording!”
In fact, she was playing that violin, and right there and then, I decided to play the cello. The violin seemed much too difficult, but I wanted to be around this lady when I got to Hanaford.
Mrs. Lee was my music teacher from fourth to sixth grade. Yet, calling her my music teacher does not do justice to what she taught me. Mrs. Lee is truly a math, language, history, and art teacher rolled into one. She teaches fractions and counting beats with humor and patience, and she translates a host of Italian, French, and Germany words. Her favorite word being crescendo! She teaches about historical time periods and the great composers of each. When I was at Hanaford, she even had us convinced she knew Beethoven and Bach personally. Mrs. Lee is also a science teacher of sorts because music has exact, specific volume and time measurements. Yet, at its core, music is an art form designed to stir emotions and create beauty. This is where Mrs. Lee shines.
Infusing everything with humor and a dedication to each student’s different talents and sensibilities, Mrs. Lee tirelessly bred a love of music in us during our time at Hanaford. She cared deeply about the music we made together and the songs we carried in our own hearts. In her classroom, we grew as musicians and people, and Mrs. Lee let us know that passions define life. She always preached that missing a sharp or a flat once in a while doesn’t detract from the beauty of a piece of music. Being a technician does not make you a musician. Music, like any passion, must come from the heart. I’ve carried that powerful message with me ever since and into other disciplines.
The best part of playing in Mrs. Lee’s Hanaford Orchestra was traveling back to Meadowbrook to play my cello for the lower elementary students. I remember thinking how odd it felt. Everything seemed different. The school seemed smaller, the kids seemed so much younger, and I felt so disoriented. One thing had not changed, though. When Mrs. Lee put that violin under her chin, everyone gathered there fell silent. They were amazed.
Grace Miner is a sophomore at East Greenwich High School. You can read about #52 – inventor Mary Anderson – here. 50 Incredible women to go!