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Memorable Teacher Was Music to Students’ Ears – and Lives
Created by hospice on 12/13/2010 4:13:46 PM

Cherry Hill West English teacher reflects on his accomplishments, looks to his future

“Mr. Moore is one of those teachers that really made an impact,” says former student Sherri Brake. “To this day, I can remember lessons he taught in his English class using music lyrics -- Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ in particular.”

Brake had the unexpected chance to reunite with her beloved teacher in May of this year. But, instead of walking through the door of his classroom at Cherry Hill West High School, she was entering his home as his Samaritan Hospice social worker.

Mr. Moore, now 73 years old and living with a diagnosis of stage-four multiple myeloma cancer,** had chosen to receive hospice care in his Gibbsboro home from Samaritan Hospice. Brake and the hospice team -- comprised of a physician, nurses, a social worker, spiritual support chaplain, bereavement counselor, home health aide and music therapist -- began assessing and addressing Mr. Moore’s physical, emotional and spiritual needs and wishes and supporting his family in his care.

Some of those wishes include reconnecting with his former students and living long enough to enjoy the distribution of the novel he worked on intermittently over 40 years whenever his busy teaching life permitted.

To realize the first dream, after his diagnosis, his daughter Brenda took to the Internet to update former students and colleagues of his condition. The response was overwhelming and heartwarming. Her father has begun to hear from some students and is getting a first-hand glimpse of what his class, “Poetry of Popular Music” meant to them. Some have forged careers in the music industry while others remembered his creative approach and have applied it in their own teaching careers.

The memorable course, developed by Mr. Moore in the 1960’s, was never just about the music, he explained. “It turned into a course on Sociology – and so much more.” Jackson Browne’s “Song for Adam,” for example, became the springboard for a discussion on teen suicide while Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen” and “Society’s Child” prompted spirited class discussions on the timeless teen angst of ‘fitting in’ and the tensions prompted by inter-racial dating. Studying the rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar” provided the perfect backdrop for teaching dramatic technique and character development. In addition to classroom study, Mr. Moore took the class on field trips to the Electric Factory and Civics Center where they spoke with artists including Frank Zappa and went backstage to meet Janis Ian. The course has proved so unique that the Rock and Roll Museum in Cleveland has expressed interest in highlighting it.

Recalling the many nights he spent transcribing lyrics for each class and the hours spent mimeographing materials before the days of the copier, he said, “I did it because I knew when I came into the class, the students would be interested in what they were learning.” Brake agrees. “Mr. Moore shared his passion for music with generations of students,” she said. “And because of that, we were all excited to learn. I know that I wasn’t the only student impacted by his class.” The many calls, emails, letters, visits and concerns about his health he has received attest to that fact.  

If the retired teacher has any regrets, it is that while he “put my heart and soul into that course,” he had to delay his own career as an author. He’s referring to a novel he began writing in 1959 – the same year he graduated from Yale. After retiring in 1998, he returned his focus to completing No Second Eden about a young man’s first love and other rites of passage; he self-published it in 2002. His wish, said Mr. Moore, is to live long enough to sell his remaining 300 copies of the novel so that others can continue to enjoy the story lines and character development that were 40 years in the making. He welcomes having the same spirited discussions with former students and colleagues about his words that he used to facilitate about the works of other artists.

Social worker Brake is delighted to have the opportunity to help Mr. Moore focus his remaining time – one of the key missions of hospice care. “Mr. Moore is unique in being able to have this time for reflection and to determine what is important to him, and what he wants to focus on and accomplish,” said Brake. “He falls into the small group of patients who are referred to hospice care early enough to really take advantage of all of the services and staff available to help him.”

Instead of being in crisis mode, he is able to reflect and work on meaningful closure, she explained. He has even thought about what it will be like when his cancer reaches its final stage. “Whatever it is, I think I’m ready to handle it….I’d like to be awake for it, to see what it’s like to close my eyes for the last time,” said Mr. Moore.

And, not surprisingly, at this special time in his life, Mr. Moore’s introspections have turned to music. Working with a music therapist provided as part of Samaritan Hospice’s care team, he developed a song list to be played at his memorial service. The dedicated teacher is touched and honored that the song list will be implemented after his passing by a former student who now runs a music entertainment business.

“No matter what happens to me, if I die tonight it would not bother me. Death is part of the big scheme of things.” Then, as he has done throughout his life and career, Mr. Moore turns to music for the appropriate analogy: “Like Lennon said – he didn’t worry about death, he said it was like getting from one car to another.”

 ** In January of 2011, after this article was written and he connected with many former students, Anthony Moore passed away at his home.