Once a teacher, always a teacher

Jeremy Bender

Platinum Member
I just came across this lovely letter written years ago in tribute to a drum instructor....

Posted Nov 29, 2012 at 10:00 AM

Once a teacher, always a teacher
Phil Salah died on Tuesday, November 13, 2012. Who is Phil Salah, you ask? He was my drum teacher. “Why should I care that your drum teacher died,” you ask? Phil was a humble man, always putting his students first. He never took a vacation with his wife, who traveled all over the world — as that is what she loved to do — because his students were that important to him. So important, in fact, that he taught for 65 years. Yes, 65 years. Phil was 87 years old when he died and continued to teach up until six weeks prior to his death, when he broke his wrist. That, in itself, would be equivalent to “death” for any drummer.

Why was Phil Salah important? How many people do you know who can practice their craft, their passion, for over six decades? He had thousands of students — some who practiced for a short time, others who were infused with Phil’s passion and became drummers and educators like him; humble men and women who were given the gift of music by someone who lived it to his core. He had offers to travel and play all over with small and big bands, but his students came first.

Phil and Shirley didn’t have their own children but loved their nieces and nephews and Phil’s students as their own. Former students would often visit Phil at his modest studio over a music store in Worcester. He would always have visiting students sit behind the drum kit and take a picture to put on his board. That student joined the many others whose pictures were on the board. It didn’t matter how long the student took lessons with him, Phil took pride in all who came to him to learn a bit of music from someone who everyone knew and respected. Generations of families could claim Phil as their teacher, mentor, and friend.

My dad was a jazz drummer and he knew that Phil was the only teacher who could bring me where I needed to go. My dad started teaching me when I was 5 and then my older brother Tony took over for another few years. I started studying with Phil when I became a teenager and had already played my first professional gig with my dad’s band. I didn’t know everything and still don’t. What I learned from Phil is to never stop learning. There’s always something new to learn — a new technique, new musical style, different way to hold my sticks, new hardware, new drums. I hadn’t studied formally with Phil for years. But, each time I saw him he would teach me something new. Or remind me of “Do you remember when...” and his face would light up. He took pride in the fact that he was an educator. He taught the love of music — all music. He taught the joy of practice. He taught how to get lost in your playing, let the music enter your soul and just play.

Phil was important. Phil was a teacher. All of his students can and rightfully so can make the claim “he was MY teacher.” He was mine and he was everyone’s. Now he’s with the angels, playing his instrument for all eternity. We have the memories. He was MY teacher and I hope that I can make him proud.

Comments on worcestermag.com

No Way Jose

Silver Member
He liked what he was doing.


Senior Member
That's really something, to find one's passion. Sounds like a happy man to me!


Well-known member
I absolutely get where both the writer and the drum teacher are coming from



Well-known member
This is great!

The teacher/student connection can be amazing when it clicks. It doesn't always, but that's OK.

When it's special, there's nothing like it. I've had a few teachers who I had that connection with and many years later.. still do. My wish is I have done the same to some I have taught over the last 40 years as well.