Photos of Gail Fischler as a 3-year old are proof that the Tucson Youth Music instructor has spent her life playing the piano. Wearing a white dress and an inquisitive glare, she looks every bit the young musical prodigy.
Years later, she’s still going strong but there were periods of doubt in high school in her native Northern California. After years of weekly lessons, constant practice and school production performances, her dedication began wavering.
“I got to the point where I wanted to quit,” she said. “I wasn’t practicing.”
She got back on track by picking up a new passion: playing the organ. Mrs. Day, her piano teacher, started mixing in organ lessons for variety, providing Gail with another outlet for her love of music. The effects were long-term, impacting the way Gail gives lessons today.
“What I learned from organ lessons was about teaching, not only playing,” she said. “I’m always aware of the value of being flexible so a student continues lessons even when they aren’t practicing much.”
Newly invigorated, Gail fully embraced music as a career, graduating from San Jose State University with a music degree focused on secondary education. The undergraduate experience was intimidating, but she thrived in the competitive environment.
“All of the sudden, it’s a whole new world,” Gail said. “There are people who are a lot better than you.”
She moved to Tucson came after receiving a scholarship from the University of Arizona, where she went on to earn a master’s in piano performance. She stayed in Tucson to teach in the public school system and privately at her newly built home studio.
Gail became active in music education advocacy not long after graduation. During her time volunteering for local, state, and national music teacher associations, she found another calling when she came across the MusicLink Foundation, which, like TYM, provides low- or no-cost instruction to children whose families can’t afford lessons.
“I was happy to help,” Gail said. “Assisting underserved students was one of the things that inspired me to go back for my PhD. I felt like I didn’t know enough. There was something missing.”
Already in Tucson, Gail went for her doctorate at the UA, earning a degree in music education and piano performance/pedagogy six years after completing her masters. Her dissertation was titled, “Music Teacher Role in Community Schools of the Arts Pertaining to School, Community, and the Profession.”
It was as a doctoral student that she discovered Tucson Youth Music, a perfect opportunity to pair her love of music with her goal of helping underserved students. Off and on, she’s been a TYM instructor since 2007.
“The families we serve sometimes have to go way beyond what you would think to get their children to lessons,” Gail said. “Some have no transportation and the children have to take buses or have relatives bring them.It’s really humbling to me as a teacher.”
She enjoys working individually with her students. One of them is a senior in the Rincon High Jazz Ensemble who’s working on a project that shows how jazz chords are notated and played in an ensemble compared to classical music. Another is a 13-year old who’s composing a piano part to play live over electronic music.
“The students I teach have graduated from our class program,” Gail said. “They’re pushing all the time to learn more. They’re very motivated.”
Gail and her fellow TYM instructors are helping carry forward their love of music and the lessons they learned as youngsters. Maybe more important, they are using music as a device for their students to become confident and disciplined adults.
She’s happy that she stayed true to her passion. Gail and her students should thank Mrs. Day for that.
“Something I’ve said to somebody could be used 10 years after they leave me,” Gail said. “I’ve had students write to tell me things like that. It’s not just music … I think we teach them to have faith in themselves.”
Gail Fischler is the founder and owner of a music-focused blog titled Piano Addict.