As an 8-year-old girl at the YWCA, Annmarie George heard a sound that she would never forget. The sound was that of a piano, played by an older girl in the lobby. George took a seat, watched, and became immersed. When the pianist’s ride came, she stopped and walked out, leaving George in the lobby, alone with the 88-keyed instrument.
“She just stopped playing,” George said. “That’s when I knew that I wanted to play the piano and that set off my love of music.”
The day was rich in symbolism and memories that George, now in her 40th year of teaching at Gannon University, still revisits. Her career has included more than 46 years of teaching.
George received her Bachelor of Science degree in Music Education from Daemen College in 1966 and her Master of Science degree in Music Education from SUNY Fredonia in 1970.
One thing that George says became clear to her on that day at the YWCA was her love of music. She is a visionary in the field of music, establishing courses at Gannon in Psychology of Music, Music in Advertising and Marketing, Music in Medicine, Music in the Theater, Twentieth Century Sound and Beethoven’s Legacy.
Awards that she’s received include Citations of Excellence in Teaching by the P.M.E.A and M.E.N.C, the Distinguished Alumna Award from Daemen College and the Gannon University Distinguished Faculty award on April 16, 2010.
George also founded the Schuster Gallery at Gannon and served as director from 1973-1983. During that time, she established a valuable asset to Gannon by attracting notable artists from not only the Erie area but also from the New York City and Washington, D.C., areas.
Outside of class, she is most commonly recognized for her extensive work at the Erie Philharmonic, where she has compiled notes on more than 100 classical composers to be read during sessions at the Philharmonic. The Rev. Shawn Clerkin, a fellow Gannon professor of George’s, before becoming a peer of hers, had her in class during his undergraduate study. He said that it’s never a mystery when George writes the notes.
“If you find out that Annmarie is writing the notes for a show at the philharmonic, you’re going to tend to listen closely to them,” Clerkin said.
Clerkin remembers George, as an instructor, to be very stern and straightforward. He started out as a family-medicine major, and largely attributes his transition to theater communications to George’s Introduction to Music class which he attended in 1981.
“She is a woman who is confident, who is strong, intelligent, who pulls no punches and tells it like it is,” Clerkin said. “When she walked into that classroom, she didn’t just walk into the classroom, she took the stage.”
To this day, George holds to her long-time routine of being stern and in control from the outset of each and every course that she sets out to teach. She references her methods-class teacher, Mr. V, from her junior year in college who explained to her that “students will only perform as high as you demand of them, if you lower the bar, they will achieve less, if you raise the bar, not only will they match it but sometimes they will surpass it and do more.”
“Boy was he right,” George said. “There’s so many things that I learned in his classes that I still use today.”
That’s why George included him in her acceptance speech when she received the distinguished faculty award at Gannon. Along with Mr. V, she thanked Sister James Frances Mulligan, who taught her during her freshman year of high school that she could “hang with the boys.” She also thanked the late Bruce Morton Wright from the Erie Philharmonic.
When asked why she teaches, George cites examples of past students’ successes. She doesn’t cite the accolades, honors and awards. What she strives to do is foster the success of her students.
“I just want to give students an outlet to succeed,” said George. “I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that students get the recognition that they deserve.”
This was evident in a story that she likes to tell about a past student who went on to be very successful at the corporate level of Pizza Hut. George saw promise in the work that her student had done to create a marketing strategy for Pizza Hut.
“I contacted Pizza Hut, packaged the project up and sent it away,” George explained. “This student did such a bang-up job that I wanted Pizza Hut to see what she was capable of.”
All that transpired was Pizza Hut contacting the student to come be a part of their company, a position she holds to this day.
The success of the student was a validation of the hard work that George does as an instructor. One way that George has softened up her many years of teaching is that she now totes a large box of candy and/or fruit into her classes.
“I don’t remember there being any candy,” Clerkin said as he traced the memories back to 1981.
While her classroom procedure remains constant, George has spent many years bettering herself and her community.
In a world where everything is in flux, Annmarie George remains a constant. She is a constant embodiment of strength, facilitation, ambition and more to the community.
Mr. V, Sister James Frances, Bruce Morton Wright, the girl at the Y, the marketing-whiz at Pizza Hut and many others, according to George, are responsible for the positive impact of her hard work.
She has continued their work and been recognized accordingly but nothing has changed. She will still wait for that email or phone call from a former student telling her of their successes. She will continue to love music, play the piano and teach. She will continue to provide a means to her students’ success. And while there is still much work to do and her resume continues to grow, she still abides by the thoughtful words of an E.E. Hale poem that her mother gave her long ago that, like the sound of the piano and those teachers, inspired her to do the work that she’s done.
“I am only one, but still I am one,” the poem reads, “I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”