Writings about Music
First Music Teacher
Letter from Michael Robinson to his first music teacher, Ben DiDia
Michael Robinson wearing a Little League uniform (his batting average was .735) outside his yellow house on Michael William Road in North Merrick on the South Shore of Nassau County in New York
This letter was written when I was eleven prior to my family moving from North Merrick to Wantagh, a few miles away, both on the South Shore of Long Island in Nassau County, New York. Mr. DiDia was the band director at Camp Avenue Elementary School. I had passed a musical aptitude test that DiDia gave to regular classes, and after commenting upon the large size of my hands, decided that I would play trumpet. Subsequent teachers included the most famous musicians and composers in the world, but teachers like Ben DiDia, Richard Baffa and Rollan Masciarelli remain close to my heart and mind, their being my formal introduction to the world of music. Both DiDia and Baffa appointed me President of the school band, while Masciarelli presented me with the Louis Armstrong Award. A subsequent piano teacher, Barney Bragin, had a monumental influence on myself, and I intend to write an essay about him. DiDia and Baffa were both clarinetists, while Masciarelli was a trumpeter. Bragin played both clarinet and piano.
June 29, 1967
Dear Mr. DiDia,
I have been one of your many musical students for 2 years. During those 2 years I have worked with the most talented, understanding and funny music teacher I ever had or will have. You taught me all I know about my instrument and made it easy to learn.
I regret moving mainly because I will miss you as a great teacher and friend.
Your friend forever,
I still remember clearly that day Ben DiDia came into my third grade class to give us the music aptitude test, and how he subsequently examined my hands while deciding what instrument I would play. There was something ceremonial and momentous in the air about these unannounced moments. Other memories of DiDia are ingrained, too, including how he once complimented my playing during band class as an example for the other students.
DiDia, who I later learned was a fine clarinetist, gave me an excellent introduction to the art of music because he was highly enthusiastic, disciplined, and had a great sense of humor, too, though I cannot recall any specific jokes he told. There was the sense that age differences were irrelevant and we were all connected as people enjoying what we were doing.
Fortunately, the band teachers I had after moving to Wantagh, named for the chief of the Mericoke Indian tribe, and also the town where Jones Beach is situated, were also excellent. They were, as mentioned above, Richard Baffa in Junior High, and Rollan Masciarelli in High School. I remained oblivious to the fact that DiDia, Baffa and Masciarelli were all Italian American until well into my college years. Bragin was Jewish like myself. After he left us, I learned for the first time that his mother who was either Brazilian or Argentinian, a lineage that now computes looking back.
Details about my early musical life are discussed in Autobiography originally published by electronicmusic.com in 1997.
Fortunately, my parents made a photocopy of my letter to Mr. DiDia reminding me of his outstanding nature to this day.
- Michael Robinson, November 2018 (additions made October 2020) Los Angeles
© 2018-2020 Michael Robinson All rights reserved
Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer and writer (musicologist).