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Dr. Zipper never missed a beat

IN the auditorium of the Third Street School in Los Angeles, I watched the kindergartners through third-graders enter, teachers attempting in vain to keep order and quiet among the fidgety children who were thrilled to have escaped their classrooms for a few minutes. The neat lines gave way to masses of children poking, prodding, and teasing each other. I was perched in the back on a folding chair trying to catch a glimpse of my child. The more curious children eyed the stage where musicians and their instruments were scattered. The others concentrated on finding seats next to their best friends.

I craned to spot Katie, my kindergartner, as she made her way down front. Her whole class plopped itself down on the cool linoleum floor in front of the auditorium seats. Her teacher, reminding the students one last time to sit Indian-style so that children behind them could see, retreated to find her own seat.

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In that scene I saw myself as a kindergartner 30 years earlier filing into a noisy gymnasium in Evanston, Ill. I, too, sat right down front on the shiny gym floor to get the least obstructed view of what was about to take place before me: the annual Dr. Zipper Concert.

I remember wondering in those moments before the concert began - would he be a doctor like Dr. Seuss? Or would he wear a white jacket? Where do you suppose his zippers were? My six-year-old imagination was cut short when, at last, the ``unknown'' Dr. Zipper emerged and buoyantly leaped onto his podium, brandishing the thinnest of wands in his right hand.

Much to my disappointment, he looked absolutely normal. He was tall and lanky, with a high forehead and prominent nose. I remember it was his hands that immediately caught my attention. Long and slender fingers were in constant motion. He was sometimes hard to understand, but what he lacked in clear enunciation he more than made up for in energy and enthusiasm. He acted as if he were going to let us in on the greatest secret of mankind. And in many ways he was: the world of classical music, the composers who gave it to us, and the instruments that continue to translate it.

HE held the children in rapt attention as he stepped up to his music stand. With three short taps he magically turned the gym into a concert hall. The melody of Strauss's ``Blue Danube'' floated out. ``1-2-3, 1-2-3,'' I listened for the beat Dr. Zipper had told us about.

Then it was on to an exploration of how characters or moods could be introduced by instruments. Prokofiev's ``Peter and the Wolf'' provided the medium for this message. We picked out the violin playing Peter; the bassoon becoming the wise old grandfather; trills on the flute, the little bird; and of course, the rat-tats on the kettledrum, the gun shots of the hunters.

We listened to marches. He taught us what ``pizzicato'' and ``pianissimo'' meant. We were amazed to learn that a very famous composer lost his hearing but went on composing. And we saw and heard the differences in a violin, viola, cello, and bass viol.

I've happily remembered so much that Dr. Zipper shared with me as a child. His enthusiasm became my appreciation. Now I sat curious, nervously twisting my wedding band as I wondered about the Dr. Zipper about to emerge from the wings of this auditorium. It just couldn't be, could it?

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The musicians took their seats gathering up their instruments, the students settled themselves and fell quiet, and a very familiar tall man with a receding hairline bounded up onto his podium and in a thick Austrian accent introduced himself to my child as Dr. Zipper.

The same man 30 years later still sharing his love for and knowledge of music with elementary school children. The wonder of it all. Here, thousands of miles away from the school in Illinois where I first made his acquaintance.

And now my daughter was about to be let in on that most wonderful secret I first heard about some 30 years earlier. With three taps of his wand the familiar strains of the ``Blue Danube Waltz'' filled the auditorium. And this time I just sat back on my tippy chair, listened, and loved.

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