Munich in English - selected by independent Locals for Cosmopolitans, Newcomers and Residents - since 1989

back to overview

October 2000

A Happy Tune

Singing the praises of one dynamic music teacher

Munich International School third and fourth graders take lemons to music class. A token of appreciation for their teacher Evelyn Smith, and her cuddly stuffed toy “lemon bird,” which demonstrates the proper mouth formation to employ when playing the recorder, the citrus fruit is eaten, then pits are ceremoniously spit into the nearest trash can. Smith, choir director and junior school music teacher at MIS since 1984, not only encourages boisterous behavior — “music classes are like birthday parties and they should be” — the joyful instructor instigates it. “Not every child will prove to be a ‘baby Mozart,’” smiles Smith. “In making class fun for every student, teachers train audiences of tomorrow to appreciate music.”
“Isn’t it great,” Smith shouts, opening her arms wide to behold her spacious classroom, lined with shelves crammed with xylophones, tambourines, glockenspiels and a wide variety of other “noisemakers.” “It’s the best room on campus!” It is in that spirit that Smith conducts her classes at the Starnberg-based private school.
“The best years of my life have been spent here,” offers the Louisiana native. “The kids learn from 4 [years of age] on that they are seen as individuals. It is a painless and wonderful way to be educated!” Smith urges that, though MIS is a pricey academic institution, the attitude among staff and students is anything but elitist. “Being a multicultural group, we value differences,” says the mother of two MIS alumna. “And I don’t mean differences in wealth or income.” Smith’s young charges are taught music theory via Munich-born composer Carl Orff’s (1895-1982) Schulwerk method. “We dance, we sing, we bang on these neat percussion instruments,” explains the animated faculty member. Smith has also developed an effective system for teaching music reading that is so ingenious, it warrants a bit of secrecy.
“Everyone tells me I should patent it! I discovered it a year ago,” she divulges. The idea, originally stumbled upon when the melody enthusiast matched musical notes with colored bells, paid off. “After a while my kids suddenly went from reading bells to reading notes! It is amazing to watch when it all comes together!” In her first 15 years at the school, Smith was choir director for groups at all grade levels. This year the change-welcoming teacher has launched an innovative new project.
Participants from grades 4 through 12 — as well as three third-grade wiz kids — have been melded into what Smith has dubbed the MIS World Choir. “We will sing in as many languages as possible,” says the expat vocal coach. Though some parents are skeptical of the mixed-age ensemble, Smith has given the matter great thought. “There will be 65 singers in the choir. I will arrange them into small groups, like little families,” she explains.
“The older ones will help the younger ones, the younger ones will look up to their elders. I think it will work.” Other students, who wish to sing and for whom there is now no choir, have Smith’s attention too. In a break-time group the humorous educator calls “Recess Pieces,” those who “aren’t in the big choir can sing with us, even if they know only two notes.”
A tireless Smith also lends her leadership to an adult choir.Members, in keeping with their director’s “musical banquet concept,” throw an annual bash. Elegantly dressed ticket holders bring cutlery and tasteful table adornments, to be served a potluck dinner — and a lengthy serenade — courtesy of the choir. “It is such a nice evening,” Smith delivers with a warm grin. “We won’t let the audience go until we’ve sung everything we know.”
Outside campus confines, Smith enjoys the company of her daughters Kelly, 20, and Maggie, 18; her husband, Donald George — a freelance opera singer — and their two cats. “Our family takes great pleasure in small things. We bake our own bread, I make my own yogurt. We don’t own a TV and we eat by candlelight. Our neighbors jokingly call us ‘the perfectly normal Smiths.’” Quiet time for the upbeat musician is spent quilting. “I love it,” gushes Smith. “Listen, when I die, I want my largest armoire to be filled with my quilts. For me, they are like my DNA, like dinosaur tracks. Every stitch is a breath.” A woman obviously in possession of inner peace, Smith is happy to pass that on to all generations. In both personal and official correspondence — “I even write it on letters to the city” — the happy-go-lucky teacher adds anything but a sour note. “Keep on singing.”

tell a friend