The music in Sue: Lake Katrine’s Lichtenberg recalls a tuneful teaching life

Sue Lichtenberg. (Photo: Carrie Jones Ross)

Sue Lichtenberg. (Photo: Carrie Jones Ross)

Former Marlboro High School and New Paltz Middle School bandleader Sue Lichtenberg was locally produced. She was born and bred in Lake Katrine, and has spent her entire existence immersed in the sound of music. She is bold, brainy, animated and sharp-witted. When she conducts the orchestra, she flails, twitches and shakes as though trying to summon deities from an angry volcano. These days, she is playing with wax and wicks.

Carrie Jones Ross: Where did you grow up?

Sue Lichtenberg: Lake Katrine. Kingston. HudsonValley. I’m a local girl who loves the area. There’s very little as inspiring as our Catskill Mountains. If I ever need a little boost, I get in my car and take a drive through them. It’s invigorating.

CJR: What was it like growing up in such a large family?

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SL: Pretty normal. I like to ask my identical twin boys what’s it’s like to be a twin, and they usually respond with, “What’s it like to be a single person?”

CJR: Married? Kids?

SL: I have five kids. Yes, I know that’s a big family, especially in today’s world, but that’s what I’m used to. Carly and Dave are from my first marriage, and Chris, Bobby and Marc are from my current marriage. It’s a lot to handle, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

CJR: Where did you go to high school and college? What did you study?

SL: I was one of the band geeks in Kingston High School, and I graduated in 1977. I went on to be a music major at SUNY Fredonia, where I earned my bachelor’s degree in music education. I got my master’s degree in music education from the College of St. Rose.

CJR: How did you settle on music?

SL: When I was setting up my schedule in eighth grade, I had to make a decision whether it was going to be art or music. I was a college-bound student, so there wasn’t room for all the electives I should have taken. I chose music. It was a grueling decision because I have tremendous passion for art.

I’ve been studying music since I was six. Piano is my first instrument, then clarinet, then flute, then sax. Once I was in college, I learned how to play the rest of the band instruments.

I was in Blanche Moak’s dance classes from age six to 17, and my mom bought me every craft project under the sun that I expressed an interest in. So, I’ve loved and studied the arts from a very young age.

CJR: Where did you teach music?

SL: I taught music and band in the New Paltz Middle School and then Marlboro High School for 12 years.

CJR: How do you cope with that horrid squawking sound the kids make with their instruments in the beginning of the year?

SL: I actually don’t mind it. I listen carefully, and I can hear who needs what help, and with what. It’s actually useful and doesn’t bother me at all. I compartmentalize all the instruments and hear what needs to be fixed.

CJR: How on earth do you “teach” music? How do you get the kids to transition from squealing clarinets to a cohesive orchestra?

SL: You teach music by finding out where each kid is at in their own playing and you go from there. In terms of band rehearsing, you constantly work on listening with the kids and getting them to play the music accurately. Trust is a big issue and you have to spend a lot of time developing it. The kids have to trust enough to give the band director control of the group.

CJR: What were some of the biggest differences between Kingston and Marlboro?

SL: Kingston is a small city inside of a much larger world. Marlboro is a tiny hamlet that views itself as the center of the universe. It’s a difficult concept to wrap my head around.

CJR: What was it like teaching in such a different community from Kingston?

SL: Challenging. The band room is pretty much the same wherever you teach. It’s full of great kids who think outside the box and who want to be pushed and cared about. It’s also full of great parents who share the same larger world.

CJR: Favorite piece to conduct?

SL: Hands down — “Yiddish Dances”! [Composer: Adam Gorb.] It’s the toughest piece I’ve ever worked on with a high school ensemble, and all of us became completely immersed in it. We took it to the NYSSMA Majors festival in my last year as a music teacher in Marlboro High School, and came away with a gold medal. Great way to end my public school teaching career.

CJR: Memorable student?

SL: Oh my … there are so many. I’ve been truly impacted by all of my students, from the kid who has found a niche in band even though they really struggle to play, all the way up to the kid who is so accomplished that they made it to the All-Eastern Band. I love all my students.

CJR: What are you up to these days?

SL: Well, I’m still teaching private lessons in my house, but I’ve given up all school teaching. I’ve recharged my love of art, and started working with candles again.

CJR: Why candles?

SL: You remember I mentioned that my mom would get me crafts to work on?  Well, candles were one of them. I’ve been making candles on and off, pretty much my whole life.

I found out some cool things about the name Lichtenberg. It means “Light on the Mountain.” Rumor has it that the Lichtenbergs in Germany were candle-makers, who would light the street lamps, possibly heading towards the mountains or on the mountains. For all I know, candle-making could be in my genes. Maybe that’s why I love it so much.

CJR: What did you do before the Cranberry Barn?

SL: Taught music and raised five kids.

CJR: What was it like raising five kids and working fulltime?

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