Imagine a health affliction that ends a career but not a life: a surgeon contracts Parkinson’s disease, a NASCAR driver goes blind, a world class sprinter acquires rheumatoid arthritis, or an orchestra conductor goes deaf. My last example is not hypothetical. It happened to Dr. Isaiah Jackson, music director of the Youngstown Symphony from 1996 to 2006. Isaiah, as he likes to be called, came to the Mahoning Valley with impressive credentials:
A lesser person would be depressed and bitter after being wrenched from the podium by a hearing loss. This is not the case with Isaiah. He remains upbeat and engaged. His spouse Helen and their three children have been remarkably supportive, he finds strength in prayer, and he maintains a demanding professional schedule in the Boston area where he lives. He is president of a family music education enterprise called “Rhythm, Rhyme, Results” which produces innovative hip-hop and rap tracks to teach math, science, social studies, and language arts to middle school students. He also teaches a course entitled The Future of Music at Harvard, he teaches conducting classes at the Berklee College of Music and the Longy School, and he offers private conducting lessons to undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate students.
Isaiah has enriched the lives of hundreds of thousands of young and old over a career spanning four decades. Perhaps the most important contribution that he has made, though, is showing us how to cope with personal tragedy.
© 2009 Tom Shipka
Note: The sources of information for this commentary are Dr. Jackson in a recent online interview, a Wikipedia article about Dr. Jackson, several musicians who worked with Dr. Jackson, and the commentator’s own experience as coordinator of Dr. Jackson’s appointment as Scholar-in-Residence in the College of Arts and Sciences at Youngstown State University from 2002 to 2006.
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