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13.8.05

Mourning a Teacher

Timothy McNulty, Obituary: Ethan M. Stang / Former piccolo player with PSO, music teacher at Carnegie Mellon (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 6)

Jerry Vondas, Woodwind performer known nationwide (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, August 5)
Sad news has reached the Ionarts homestead this week. Last Thursday, August 4, flutist, piccolist, and teacher Ethan Stang passed away in Pittsburgh at the age of 80. Mrs. Ionarts, who is a flutist, has always spoken warmly of her four years studying with Mr. Stang, while she was an undergraduate student at Carnegie Mellon University. Demanding conductor Fritz Reiner hired Mr. Stang at the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in 1947, where he was principal piccolo player for 40-some years, through the tenures of Reiner, William Steinberg, Andre Previn, and Lorin Maazel. As you can imagine, he was a first-rate player, but the obituaries about him are just as much about his legendary sense of humor. He was an inveterate prankster, known for his impersonations of the serious conductors who led the orchestra. In the 1990s, he retired from the PSO but continued with his other great labor, teaching flute at Carnegie Mellon, which is where Mrs. Ionarts knew him.

What made him such a memorable teacher was his affable manner and the way that he took care of his students. Mrs. Ionarts remembers that a one-hour lesson, for which Mr. Stang received students at his house in Squirrel Hill rather than a campus studio, would turn into two hours and then an invitation to dinner. In the leadup to recitals or juries, Mr. Stang would routinely schedule multiple lessons per week for his students, without any expectation of compensation. In my experience, this is a far more effective teaching manner than the aggressive, driving sort that prevails in many conservatories. As for Mr. Stang's famous sense of humor, Mrs. Ionarts recalls that her teacher would make prank phone calls, harmless, for example, calling the grocery store and asking a clerk silly questions. He loved Halloween and costumes, in general, and had a child's spirit of wonder and whimsy. Mrs. Ionarts says there are still little stickers that Mr. Stang put on her music during lessons. In the picture shown here, taken by Mrs. Ionarts during a lesson at Mr. Stang's home, he is showing us a stuffed walrus (a gift from Mrs. Ionarts) that he believed he resembled.

We all, not only musicians, have memorable teachers, but Mr. Stang was one of the best. If your teacher is still alive, give him or her a call, because one day you won't be able to do that anymore. Memorials may be made to the Temple Sinai Fund for the Future, 5505 Forbes Ave., Pittsburgh 15217 or the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, 600 Penn Ave., Pittsburgh 15222.

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