She's shared the gift of music for 40 years

Teacher: Barbara Doster retires this month after introducing pupils to the magic of song for decades.

June 06, 1999|By Erika D. Peterman | Erika D. Peterman,SUN STAFF

It's first period in Barbara Doster's music class at Columbia's Bryant Woods Elementary School, and the third-graders are limping through "This Is My Country" as though their voices are already on summer vacation.

"You sound a little dead," Doster calls from behind the piano, continuing to bang out the tune. "Sing from the toes all the way to the head!"

After 40 years of teaching music -- 20 of them in Howard County schools -- Doster knows how to get the most out of a class. But when the school year ends June 16, Doster will pack up the autoharps, washboards and rhythm spoons for good, trading in a long career for retirement with her husband, Robert, in Winter Haven, Fla.

"For about a year, I don't intend to do much of anything," Doster says, chuckling.

Since beginning her career as a music teacher in Frederick in 1958, she has shared her knowledge of music with 3-year-olds and 21-year-olds, first-graders and college students. She has taught a department store manager in his 60s to play an organ he bought as a piece of furniture, and she's given voice lessons to the wife of the arranger for the Air Force band. She has taught in public schools and in her private studio, and she's helped sell instruments in a music store her husband managed.

Doster came to Howard County in 1979, moving from State College, Pa., after her husband, a former high school band director, accepted a position at then-Towson State University. Her career here has taken her to Talbott Springs, Clarksville, Clemens Crossing and Dasher Green elementary schools, the Cedar Lane School and, finally, Bryant Woods Elementary.

"I find in Howard County there is tremendous support of the music program. It's been an absolute joy to teach here," Doster says. "We get, I feel, generous support financially to run a good program for the kids."

Doster says little has changed in music education in the two generations she has been teaching. One change, she says, is that fewer children are exposed to the musical classics at home and are listening to songs that may be too grown-up for young ears, she says.

"At home, children are not listening to age-appropriate music in many instances," she says. "The kids are getting a very one-sided idea of what music is."

Not that Doster -- a fan of show tunes, country and bluegrass -- is a fuddy-duddy. She sometimes gives her pupils an opportunity to share their favorite music in class, even if that means a steady diet of The Backstreet Boys and Brandy.

"The rhythm of rap I like," Doster says. "I taught them a concert rap. It was called `The Concert Etiquette Rap.' The lyrics were fine."

Vital subject

Though music programs are often the first to be cut in some school districts in a budget crisis, Doster believes the subject is as important as any other. After all, it's a basic skill that involves reading, math and interpretation. It's also a subject that young children latch onto easily, evidenced by all the clamoring to play instruments.

"I'm getting in on the bottom rung, getting them enthusiastic about it. They want to please and they want to learn," Doster says. "They're open to a lot of things in music."

Growing up in Minersville, Pa., Doster thought she'd go to college and spend her time in science labs. Her parents had other ideas.

"I had a scholarship offer to Temple [University] in chemistry, but my father prevailed," she says.

A father's influence

Doster's love of music was influenced heavily by her father, a voice teacher whose musical training came primarily through the family's church. She often filled in as his piano accompanist to earn money.

"I loved music. I was involved with it from the time I was about 6 years old," Doster says. "I had a lot of parental enthusiasm for what they wanted me to do. I'm grateful for that."

Doster headed to Lebanon Valley College in Pennsylvania to study music. There, she met her future husband, who eventually became a music major as well.

"We both are musicians, so we don't have to wonder what each other is thinking," she says.

A day in class

In class, Doster is a mixture of comedian, accompanist and no-fooling-around classroom administrator. When a group of children drags their thimbled thumbs across washboards instead of creating the proper light, crisp rhythms, Doster intervenes.

"You sound like a record that's wearing down," she says of the scratchy drone. "Can you get that spring in your fingers? That's the way!"

A little girl in overalls is crouched alone, away from the boys in the washboard group.

"Would you sit with the boys?" Doster asks brightly. "They won't hurt you."

The second-period class arrives at 9:30, hyper and fidgety from physical education. Doster tells them to have a seat and put their heads down while she plays the "Star Wars" theme on the stereo to calm them down.

"Can't work in music class while you're crazy," she says matter-of-factly. "Doesn't happen."

Soon, the children are engaged in a rousing chorus of voices, washboards, spoons and autoharps. Doster promises frozen treats and a movie on the last day of school.

"To be paid for what you're happiest doing is a wonderful thing," Doster says. "I thoroughly enjoy it. It's kept me young."

Pub Date: 6/06/99

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