The most important life lessons I have ever learned came from my music teacher in Yerevan, Armenia.
When I was 15, Rita Israelovna Petrosian was my music theory and solfege — the study of singing and musicianship using solmization syllables — teacher.
Soft-spoken and kind, Rita Israelovna was a brilliant musician, hard-working single mother, and most importantly, a remarkable teacher. She encouraged curiosity in her students. She taught us how to connect the most complicated music theory concepts to the real life. She pushed us to be the best we could possibly be and made each and every one of us believe in ourselves.
But the most important lesson I learned from her is that with passion, drive, and hard work, anything is possible.
One of my first projects was about a musical form. As I started digging deep into the topic of my choice — the prelude form — I got excited to learn about the evolution of this form and before I knew it, my project turned into a research paper.
Flipping through 60 pages of my handwritten work, Rita Israelovna gradually raised her eyebrows in an amusement, gasped, slowly looked at me and said: “Բալիկ ձան (my dear child), there is nothing you cannot accomplish if you work hard.” I stood there in wonder. What does she mean? Why is she saying this?
Day after day, Rita Israelovna made me work harder than I could have ever imagined. She gave me the toughest assignments and expected more from me than from any other student in that class. She knew right away I was hungry for challenges, so she accepted her own challenge of supporting me in my passionate journey of discovering music and what it meant to me. She encouraged and helped me in my struggles, making sure I never lost faith in myself.
Three years later, I became a student in the dream school for anyone pursuing a music career, Moscow Conservatory. Rita Israelovna changed my life in the most profound and insightful way.
Music teachers have a unique platform to inspire and influence their students because the power of music is penetrating and everlasting.
Music is the force that keeps me going, and this force motivates me to inspire my students to stay strong and never give up. Music’s transformative power is evident in the way my students grow and mature, and it gives me pure joy to watch them blossom.
Through music, I teach my students to recognize beauty, have more love, compassion, respect, integrity and understanding. Through music, I teach my students how to be truly human.
As a State Teacher of the Year, mother and, musician, I want to thank all my colleagues in arts education for making this world a better place by bringing beauty, passion, and love to our students. We should never forget what got us into education and why we do what we do every day. We should always remember that we have an enormous power to influence our students. Let’s not take a single day for granted but use it as an opportunity to help our students discover their passions and help them use the power of their dreams to find their voices.
Twenty-two years later after my graduation from Conservatory, I received a package in the mail from one of my classmates, Gohar, now a movie director and a producer. It was titled, “From Armenia with Love.”
My heart palpitated as I unwrapped the protective bubble paper and discovered a VCR video. The video contained Rita Israelovna’s last interview, only a year before she passed away.
In that interview, she was asked to name the proudest accomplishment of her career.
“Argine Safari,” she said. “Argine inspired me to be the best teacher I could possibly be.”
Tears came down my face as I thought of all that Rita Israelovna did for me. You taught me that with passion and hard work, anything is possible. You taught me that my dreams and goals were worth all the hard work and pain. You taught me that music can change the world.
Rita Israelovna, I am forever grateful to you.
Pascack Valley High School’s Argine Safari is the 2016-17 N.J. Teacher of the Year. Safari has taught students about music theory, led concerts, and launched a nationally recognized vocal program at the school. An award-winning music educator and advocate, vocal coach, clinician and conductor, Safari is also a pianist and vocalist.