A beloved teacher who brought the gift of music to an entire generation of Triad-area students is stepping down from her podium. Now a senior citizen, and concerned about the pandemic, Winston-Salem Forsyth County Schools orchestra teacher Margaret Rehder is retiring after 35 years.

“It just made sense at this time because I don't think I could walk away while I'm standing in front of the kids. The kids have had a good break from me, so it'll give whoever takes my place a clean slate to work with, and that will make it an easier transition,” says Rehder. “I think the online teaching was better than nothing, but I just missed seeing the kids. I'm also in that high-risk age category, and I think it's time for somebody younger to take the baton.”

She and her husband — whom she calls her biggest cheerleader — are currently settling into their new home, where Rehder looks forward to landscaping and playing with their two golden retrievers. But once the pandemic subsides, she'll be busy in retirement: leading the Winston-Salem Civic Orchestra which she formed, performing in the Winston-Salem Symphony violin section where she's held a position since 1979, and conducting the symphony's Youth Philharmonic.

Rehder spoke with WFDD's David Ford about her decades-long career.

Interview Highlights 

On her introduction to teaching in 1984:

I cried every day. It was a nightmare. It was horrible. There were only two people in the class that actually knew how to play anything. There were two beginners. Everybody else —oh, my goodness! They couldn't read music. They couldn't play with nice tone quality or in tune. So, we went all the way back to Tune A Day Book One. And we got better. And then we actually went to contest in the spring and we got an excellent. And I thought to myself, ‘Okay, I'm going to have to quit this, but I can't quit while I'm this bad at it.' Then I kept going and you know it just kind of hooks you. It's the most interesting job in the world, and I just fell in love with it.

On lessons learned from her mother, legendary music educator Minnie Lou Raper (May 24, 1927 – May 4, 2017) who taught for more than 60 years:

She would just love them until they learned, and I was always absolutely in awe of her relationships with her students. And it set for me a high bar having just that incredible warm relationship between teacher and student.And she had little funny sayings. My favorite one was, ‘If you don't want them to break any rules, don't make any rules.' [laughs] I love that, so I had fewer rules as I went along. Also, you cannot do anything but match what's coming at you. So, as the teacher, if I'm coming at the students and I'm not enthusiastic, I cannot expect enthusiasm from them.

On not making assumptions:

Probably the most important thing is to make no assumptions at all. Do not assume that if the student is acting in a negative fashion that it has anything to do whatsoever with that classroom. It's always an indicator that there's something going on there and you need to respect the fact that that child may be going through a difficulty, not to take anything personally or make assumptions. And the same thing is to not make an assumption about what a student knows. You'd be surprised how many students are afraid to disappoint you, or to be embarrassed that maybe they don't really understand about how to decipher rhythm or pitch reading. It takes a little digging sometimes, but you have to get to the core of what does this student really truly understand and grasp. You cannot skip steps. I ended up wanting my classroom to always be a safe place that was a happy place that they could leave their stress and their worries behind. And I would tell them. I said, ‘Be where you are. And right here we're making beautiful music. We're together.' And…I don't know. I think that's pretty important.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This transcript was lightly edited for clarity.

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