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  • Apr 22, 2014
    In recent visits to high school orchestras around our state, I have been sharing this story from March 26, 2013. It is the top musical experience of my life:

    Peter Markes plays a very expensive violin.

    I was in Tainan, Taiwan, traveling with the band Horseshoe Road as part of our American Music Abroad tour. In the audience of our last performance were administrators from the Chi Mei Museum, and they wanted to give us a VIP tour of the museum that next day. Chi Mei is a Chinese billionaire who invests, among other things, in fine art and has the largest collection of rare violins in the world. Recently, the museum moved to its new Taj Mahal inspired building, but we arrived upon a nondescript six-story box in the middle of the industrial Chi Mei electronic-components factory. Driving up, there are replicas of several major sculptures, including David, Venus de Milo and the hauntingly beautiful Pieta.

    We had high hopes that we might play a Stradivarius violin in the antique instrument gallery. Instead, we were taken straight to a double-steel-door vault, a room about half the size of a 30-seat classroom. It was lined, floor to ceiling with nearly 1,000 violins in cork-lined cubbies. The violin curator took us straight to a wall of Stradavari, Guarneri and Amati violins. Within 15 seconds, we saw the oldest known cello, viola and violin still in existence. In 30 seconds, he pulled out the oldest known Amati violin, ca. 1560, and handed it to us to play. Andrea Amati (1505-1577) is the father of the modern violin whose design remains basically unchanged almost 500 years later. We asked if we should wash our hands, and the curator just laughed.

    The person responsible for acquiring and maintaining this world-class collection is Mr. Dai-Ting Chung, Curator of Stringed Instruments for the Chi Mei Culture Foundation. “You just say my name when you looking for violin. Everyone know who I am.” As our shock continued, he started pulling out the Guarneri violins. The first was Niccolo Paganini’s violin, made by Giovanni Guarneri (father to the more famous Guarneri del Gesú). For readers unfamiliar with Paganini, he was the premiere violinist of the nineteenth century, composing works so virtuosic that only he could play them. Fittingly, Dai-Ting handed over a bow used by Jascha Heifetz, a premier violinist of the 20th century and one of the first to make master recordings of Paganini’s works. It was surreal.

    Unfortunately, the five “Strads” [by the most notorious Antonio Stradivarius (1644-1737)] were out on a photo shoot. Of equal quality and value are the instruments of Guarneri del Gesú (1698-1744). Dai-Ting brought those out next. He spoke of a purchase he made in one day, saying the decision was very sudden, and he had to ask his billionaire boss permission to make the deal. He needed approval to spend $32 million…for two violins. At this point I was no longer nervous and easily settled upon my favorite instrument: the 1744 Guarneri del Gesú “Ole Bull” (recently purchased for a cool $16 million). It sounded exactly the same across the entire instrument, whether singing high up the E-string or belting a low open G. It was the first violin that I just stopped playing to catch my breath and think about what was happening. It was so beautiful, unmatched on the day, and I wish I played it longer. Ten minutes later, I pulled it out again on my own just to have one more ride!

    Most people do not realize the value and importance of the bow, that two-pound stick that is the birth of any violin’s sound. When I asked about bows, Dai-Ting opened a case of over $2 million worth of bows. He had twelve made by François Tourte (1747-1835), the father of the modern bow as we still know it today. There were eight by Dominique Peccatte (1810-1874), a contemporary of Tourte’s. We played Fritz Kreisler's bow (another giant among 20th century violinists), and used a self-rehairing concept steel-composite bow made by Vuillame.

    Dai-Ting showed us the best specimens of each maker, 400-year-old violins that had never cracked. He allowed us a few pictures though I regret we didn't make it out with a picture of him...he moved too fast!  On our way out, near the entrance to the vault was a violin “family tree” poster that I've seen before, including important violins and makers from the 1540s to present. On it were four blue dots, marking the four violins on that list not yet in the collection. I am not sure what to make of a day where I played nearly a billion dollars-worth of instruments. The closest I've come to this musical experience was the first time I conducted in Carnegie Hall on the same stage as Tchaikovsky and Bernstein. I often try and recall each moment of our half hour in the Chi Mei violin vault, knowing I must return someday.


    Peter Markes

    2014 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year

    Twitter @PeterMarkes



  • Apr 01, 2014

    On March 31, I was invited to serve as the opening speaker for Oklahoma’s historic rally for education at the capitol. This is that speech: 

    Oklahoma Teacher of the Year Peter Markes speaks at the March 31 teacher rally.

    Hello my fellow Oklahoma teachers. I come to you with deep humility as your ambassador during this time of great turmoil. I remember standing on these same steps as a boy watching my father, already a veteran teacher at that point, fight for better pay. And here we are, a new generation, and still we must do the unspeakable. We must leave our students, so that maybe our voice will be heard and their future secured.

    I grew up on a farm in Waukomis, Oklahoma, the son of farmers and teachers. From the age of ten, I spent my summers driving a tractor, working the land. Imagine what would happen if our government told my family that instead of planting wheat each year, we must also plant soybeans, corn, and cotton. Imagine if they gave us no additional equipment and also told us that we can only plant the seeds just below the surface, barely dusting them in. And in spite of all of our hard work, if there should be a drought or a hail storm or some other crop failure, imagine if the government stopped backing our crops with any insurance. What if they called my family a failure? 

    This would be unheard of. Education is equally life-sustaining to agriculture, and it is not allowed to thrive. Our legislators are failing to help us in our need, and yet they have an abundance of resources available to them. It is embarrassing to tell our colleagues from around the nation that we have $300 million of possible oil tax revenue, and we are still the 49th state in education funding. We all know how grading works…49th is just a coward’s way of not making us 50th. We’ve all watched legislators pretend to feel sorry for us and try to ease their own guilt through educational grants and foundations. But why should we have to take our time to fill out an application, jump through hoops, just to obtain the meager funds and materials that should be available for the asking? They are making a choice, and many of our elected officials are choosing on the wrong side of history.

    A speaker on the steps of the Oklahoma State Capitol at the March 31 teacher rally.

    The few courageous people still entering our honored profession have few of their needs met, and over one third of them leave the classroom within three years. We do not receive a living wage should we choose to raise a family. Many of us are unable to teach with the same passion that brought us into this profession because we are forced to dust over creativity and deep thinking. We are expected to teach more, diverse students with a fraction of the resources, and our crops are failing; the laborers are leaving the field. I have two young boys, and I think even they would understand the absurd economics we are facing. I am saddened that we are building their future on this plan. 

    Teachers, we cannot lead others until we lead ourselves. We are a body of professionals, and we must champion high standards through our appearance and our language in every conversation that we have. Lead yourself professionally, always. As we move forward today, apply your skills with urgency and importance in your voice. Remember, we are the practitioners of education. Nobody understands the challenges and successes of teaching more than a teacher. We are the ones who must share positive stories and creative solutions to our legislators. Teach them about the passion and influence that you have every day in your classroom. Lead them to understand that teachers are the future.

    Thank you.


    Peter Markes

    2014 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year

    Twitter @PeterMarkes



  • Mar 26, 2014
    “Where words fail, music speaks.” -Hans Christian Anderson

    As part of National Music in Our Schools Month (#MIOSM), we recently celebrated Oklahoma Youth Arts Day at the capitol. The drove of legislators who descended on the fourth-floor rotunda when the 2014 All-State Children’s Chorus began singing was impressive and easily testifies to the impact that music has on each of us.

    Through the practice of a performance art, music students increase their self-worth. Regardless if students perform for the accolades, they do receive applause and other positive feedback, and encouraging our students to develop and share their gift should be at the heart of a music education curriculum. Performance skills help to increase self-confidence and independence, valuable skills as our students enter the job market required to present themselves, their brand and their company with a high level of confidence, a sureness that is inherently structured through music performances. Indeed, many of our legislators likely gained at least a portion of their political presentation abilities through a school performance art.

    Our music students develop a rigorous work ethic. Music education provides opportunities to fail and to be rewarded through hard work, more so than innate ability. In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell cites a study of music conservatory students broken into three categories of ability, and the one factor that determined each separate level was the amount of time students spent practicing. Simply put, hard work is rewarded with high ability, and music students learn this experience through consistent practice and a ceaseless need for detail.

    More rapidly than any other discipline, a musician can create. Whether he pops out a riff on his guitar or she improvises over a melody on the radio, our students can create something that didn’t exist five minutes ago. Additionally, inherent leadership opportunities abound in a music classroom. Unlike athletics where only a few students have a leadership role at one time, music students succeed or fail together. Regardless of whether a student is the leader of a section or in the back row, the leadership and success of each player is necessary to create a proud product.

    Perhaps the greatest benefit a music classroom offers is a sense of belonging. Many of our students elect to be there, and because of this, we have a rare opportunity to maximize the social component, the feeling that we share something great with our peers. Music is “our” thing, and by sharing our music, we may be more universally accepted than anyone else.

    Any legislator would credit their success to their strong self-confidence, work ethic, leadership ability and creativity, and they all want to belong to something great. Music-Education-For-All seems like a solid formula for this success!


    Peter Markes

    2014 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year

    Oklahoma Teacher of the Year Program



  • Mar 04, 2014
    “Music is the universal language of mankind.” -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

    As we enter national Music in Our Schools Month, the National Association for Music Education is embarking on an exciting campaign called Broader Minded, which carries the slogan, “Students aren’t standardized. Think beyond the bubbles.”

    What is happening in a music education classroom? First, consider linguistics. Music students read and convert symbols into a musical language that is universally understood and accepted. Some historians even suggest that music pre-dates language, and for many of us, our first lesson and perhaps even our first words were tied to song— “the ABCs.”

    Music students experience daily physical education, converting those symbols into a physical motor skill, engaging left- and right-hand independence, tapping feet and at higher levels being encouraged to move or sway with the music as another means of letting out the feeling of a phrase. Indeed, all music is for singing or dancing!

    History and culture are imbedded daily on a base level with lessons about composers and time periods, and eventually with more complex ideas on style and the way in which a piece must be performed. From the length of note to a specific way that a rhythm should be performed (think Jazz or a Viennese waltz), students must attune to details based solely on the name of the composer or the title of the piece.

    Finally, science and math pervade every day of music. Most people quickly cite the complexities of rhythm in this symbolic language. Far beyond those concrete elements, however, are much more advanced skills. Consider the spatial reasoning needed for a string player to use his entire bow, without pulling an inch too far, all the while never looking at the stick, but instead at his music or the conductor. Consider the calculus that a flute player or vocalist must engage to inhale and release a breath that will perfectly align with the height and length of a phrase while at the same time being loud enough, but not too loud in context with the other parts.

    The music student must also understand and adjust the relationship of her pitch as compared to her own instrument and the up to 110 other individuals in her ensemble. Within these subconsciously enacted complex formulas, the music student is also responsible for deciphering a conductor’s gestures of tempo, dynamic and style, to name only a few.

    Does music education take students “Beyond the Bubbles?” Answer: D—all of the above.


    Peter Markes 

    2014 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year

  • Feb 25, 2014
    To quote Japanese music educator Shinichi Suzuki, “Teaching music is not my main purpose. I want to make good citizens. If children hear fine music from the day of their birth and learn to play it, they develop sensitivity, discipline and endurance. They get a beautiful heart.”

    OKTOY Peter Markes poses with students.

    I was inspired recently when I met a group of teachers at a Great Expectations conference. The title of this blog post was our topic of discussion.

    The power of a teacher is to make a child safe, to challenge, and to encourage to give courage. Our power is to create other incredible teachers, police officers, potters or architects. Our positive influence rings in the heads of supportive spouses or co-workers. Most importantly, at the heart of the power and influence of a teacher is our ability to create the next generation of supportive, loving parents that children deserve and constantly need.

    Never forget that we are the leaders with many followers dependent on our leadership. Teachers, exercise your power of attitude – choose it.

    We can’t lead others until we lead ourselves – embrace and increase your professionalism. We are measured by what we give, and we must constantly search for new things to give. In addition to giving our best prepared lessons and teaching techniques, we must also remember the most important gifts of kindness, patience, peace, gentleness and self-control.

    If we reflect on the influence of our own teachers, our memory quickly takes us to the intangibles. Few of us remember a specific art project, unless it still hangs in our parents’ homes. None of us are likely proud of any test score, aside from the one that afforded a great scholarship. Some of us might remember a special visit to a state monument or a time we played in this stadium or that concert hall. But all of us remember how a teacher made us feel – how he dressed, how she smelled, how important we were to them as an individual.

    I can reflect on several teachers that I still believe in my heart-of-hearts that I was their favorite. As I have matured in my own teaching, I know that these teachers were highly skilled at giving every student value, making each feel like “the favorite” every day.


    Peter Markes
    Oklahoma Teacher of the Year 2014

    Oklahoma Teacher of the Year Blog
    Oklahoma Teacher of the Year Program




About Peter Markes

Peter MarkesPeter was selected as the 2014 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year.  He is in his twelth year as the string orchestra and Advanced Placement music theory teacher at Edmond North High School. 


Last updated on December 31, 1969