A lifelong teacher of music, Michael Abelson liked to keep people on their toes with his dry sense of humor — such as leading elementary school music groups in singing “Tequila” during seasonal concerts, his sister-in-law, Lu Ann Abelson, recalled.
The parents laughed every time.
“He could read scores and look at them and play them flawlessly,” Ms. Abelson said. “He was a music genius [and] was very modest.”
Mr. Abelson, who taught music in a number of Pittsburgh Public Schools for more than 25 years, died Tuesday from complications related to heart disease. He was 68.
Music was everything to him from a young age.
Well-known for his prodigious memory, Ms. Abelson recalled, he could play classical arrangements by ear at age 5. The piano was his instrument of choice.
Mr. Abelson, who lived in Pittsburgh, was a Taylor Allderdice High School graduate and went to Carnegie Mellon University on a chemistry scholarship.
He was almost halfway through college by the time he realized his life belonged to music education, so he switched gears and began teaching immediately after he graduated from college in 1967.
“With music teachers,” his sister-in-law said, “it's perceived you want your kids to go on and go to Juilliard, but that’s not what we want. We want them to go on and have a lifetime love of music. That’s exactly what he did.”
Mr. Abelson retired from teaching in Pittsburgh Public Schools in 1995 due to a heart attack.
He left behind a classical music collection of more than 4,000 CDs as well as the many compositions he arranged through his years.
His latest and final composition was performed in May of last year.
“He did anything for anybody and didn’t expect one thing back in return,” said Jennifer Dunlap, his niece.
When he was not devoting his time to engaging with his students, he would talk about his love of music to anyone who would listen. He would be sitting in a hallway with his laptop and earphones, Ms. Dunlap said, and would pull aside a person walking by to have the individual listen to a piece of his collection.
“Just like with his students, he really had a love for music,” she said.
“He did everything he could to nurture and provide whatever assistance he could to get children to love music, and he did that.”
A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at Mt. Lebanon Cemetery.
Michael Majchrowicz: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @mjmajchrowicz.