May 23, 2024

Dr. Saul Feinberg 1932–2024

Picture of Saul Feinberg as a young man

An extraordinary musician, superb pianist, gifted composer and warm, generous human being, Dr. Saul Feinberg’s talents and musical accomplishments could have taken him down several musical career paths. However, the art of teaching music listening, as opposed to performing it or composing it, exerted the greatest attraction for his inquisitive personality and brilliant mind. Having earned his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in music education, he began a quest to create an original way to structure and teach one of the requirements in the Pennsylvania Public School Curriculum.

The requirement had been there for decades. Essentially, every student in 8th and 9th grade had to take two 45-minute periods a week of a subject simply entitled “General Music” for those two years of their public-school education. What General Music consisted of from school to school and teacher to teacher varied, but typically included singing some American folk songs, studying some of the history of music, and, if the instructor was courageous, listening to a recording of classical music for a few minutes… until the class veered out of control.

Being sequestered from grades four through seven at St. Peter’s Episcopal Choir School for Boys in Philadelphia, I’d been removed from whatever might have been going on in the music classes at my local public school… but, I’d heard the stories. My friends in my working-class neighborhood had gleefully related to me how some kids would play with the blinds and shoot spitballs at each other after about three minutes of classical music was played on the phonograph in a music classroom… or at least until those students were sent to the principal’s office. And, of course, the singing of songs such as Go Tell Aunt Rhody or Oh! Susannah by Philadelphia teenagers who had already become fans of Elvis Presley and the Everly Brothers, and about to become fans of the Beatles, was, let’s say, not an activity they particularly looked forward to.

Saul Feinberg had another idea – one which ultimately became the subject of his doctoral dissertation at Temple University’s College of Music. Saul never took time out from working, but continued to be employed as a classroom music teacher in the Philadelphia Public School System as he attended evening classes at Temple to fulfill the requirements of his Doctor of Musical Arts program. After all, he had a wife and two children to support! Being in the trenches with the teenagers, he experimented, honed and refined his methodology. His goal… to devise A Creative Problem-Solving Approach to the Development of Perceptive Music Listening in the Secondary School Music Literature Class – his version of the General Music curriculum requirement. A tall order!

Saul was a strict disciplinarian, and did not tolerate playing with the blinds or spitball outbreaks. However, it was what he did and said and what he had his students do and say in those 45-minute classes that kept the rapt attention of those teenagers and made misbehaving a non-issue. As part of his D.M.A. program, he took as many courses as he could in psychology and specifically in the psychology of learning. He vociferously read author-scholars such as Abraham Maslow, Jean Piaget, John Dewey, Charles Leonhard and many others. He became convinced that we all learn best by solving problems, and specifically for his purposes – solving music listening problems.

Having first taught at South Philadelphia High School, one of the more challenging teaching/learning environments in the Philadelphia Public School System in the 1950’s, Saul arrived at Abraham Lincoln High School in the northeastern part of the city in the fall of 1960 – the same year I arrived there as an eighth-grader. As I have written in previous blog posts, he seemed to be a magician of sorts – a brilliant educator who could take a classroom full of my classical-music-disinterested neighborhood friends and turn them into passionate classical music lovers! It was amazing to observe. Saul taught at Lincoln for more than thirty years, changing the lives of thousands and thousands of young people who, before taking his course, were absolutely certain that classical music held no interest for them whatsoever.

Beyond my parents, Saul was, without question, the single biggest influence in my life. Everything I know about teaching music listening I learned from Saul… for which I am forever grateful. Saul, you will be missed, but never forgotten.