The Day the Music (Theory Teacher) Died

When I was in college my music theory teacher blew his brains out. His name was Mr. Griffith. The reason that we were given for his action was that he was losing his hearing and couldn’t deal with the fact that he was going deaf. That was, of course, BS.

About a week before his death, Mr. Griffith had gotten busted for having sex with another guy in one of the stalls in the first floor bathroom of the Dillards at McCain Mall. I’m pretty sure THAT’S why he did it.

I knew that he was doing it. Having sex in the bathroom at Dillards, that is. It seemed like everytime I went to the mall on the weekends I would see him there. Wandering around. Looking for a potential bathroom stall partner. Sometimes, my friends from college would be with me when I saw him.

Them: Oh look, there’s Mr. Griffith. I guess that he’s here to buy more records.

 Mr. Griffith had a massive record collection.

Me, to myself: No he’s not. He’s here cruising for guys, you dumbass.

In the beginning Mr. Griffith didn’t like me. He didn’t think that I had any musical talent because I was a drummer. After I aced my first 3 music theory tests, he changed his mind. He even complimented me on my 8 bar original musical piece; our first composition assignment. Only mine wasn’t original. I had forgotten to do the assignment and 10 minutes before class I went into one of the practice rooms and picked out the Meow Mix commercial jingle on the piano. I copied in to my staff paper and turned it in. During class, when he played all of the compositions, everybody laughed when he played mine. He didn’t get it. He thought it was good and didn’t understand why people were laughing. I guess he didn’t watch tv. I got an A.

Mr. Griffith had a lisp. Whenever he talked he sounded like Elmer Fudd. He kind of looked like him too. Bald head and ruddy face. All he needed was the hunting cap. He called me Wobewt.

Somehow, Mr. Griffith ended up being friends with my percussion teacher, Mike Echols. I have no clue how that happened. They were polar opposites. They used to play tennis together. Maybe that was the connection. IDK. I don’t remember all of the details of how it happened, but I ended up being Mr. Griffith’s partner in a game of doubles tennis. Me and Mr. Griffith against Mike Echols and Harvell Smith. Harvell was another drummer and sat next to me in Music Theory. He always had a wet head during class because he had swimming right before music theory. Harvell was a hippie.

Anyway, we lost. Afterwards we went to Pizza Hut. Mr. Griffith complained about me not using a fork when I ate my pizza. He had these big bug eyes and just stared at me in disbelief. Like I was some kind of neanderthal.

Dude, it’s just frickin’ pizza!

One time, Mr. Griffith had a mid-semester party at his house. It was for all of his music theory students. This is when I learned of his massive record collection. He had 3 walls full of shelves; all containing records. Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart. All of the classical composers. While he was playing the Blue Danube on the piano, I scanned his collection. I was hoping to find at least one non-classical record. Three Dog Night, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix…anything other than classical. I did come across a few Benny Goodman albums, but that was about it. Nothing current. No Rock and Roll. No Pop. Nothing past World War II. After a while I gave up, and just had another piece of the cake that he had made. It had white icing. The design on it was a music staff with the first 8 notes of Beethovens 5th Symphony.

It looked kind of like this, only not that good.

Every few weeks we would have sight singing in Mr. Griffith’s class. I hated sight singing. I sucked at it. I could sing the notes okay, but I just couldn’t sing the correct corresponding la, fa, do, whatever. I never understood how those kids in the Sound of Music learned how to do it in like 5 minutes.

Scale degree Number  Syllable Note if in key of C major
Unison, Octave “one” Do C
Augmented unison “ouey” (“way”) Di C♯
Minor second “ta” Ra D♭
Major second “two” Re D
Augmented second “tay” Ri D♯
Minor third “thra” E♭
Major third “three” or “ti” Mi E
Perfect fourth “four” Fa F
Augmented fourth “fair” Fi F♯
Diminished fifth “fahv” Se G♭
Perfect fifth “five” Sol G
Augmented fifth “fave” Si G♯
Minor sixth “sahx” Le A♭
Major sixth “six” La A
Augmented sixth “sakes” Li A♯
Minor seventh “sahv” Te B♭
Major seventh “seven” or “sev” Ti B

If you are not familiar with music theory or sight singing, then that chart is probably Greek to you.

We didn’t have our sight singing tests in the classroom. We would have to sign up for an available time that was convenient for us and do the test in Griffith’s office. Ugh. It was absolute torture. I would usually throw up before I went in. It was sheer terror. Kind of like being thrown into the deep end of the swimming pool when you don’t know how to swim.

When you entered Mr. Griffith’s office, you would have to sit at the piano with him. He would produce a piece of music. He would then play the first note. You would have to sing the song using the correct syllables for each note. I could sing the notes okay. I was pretty good with intervals, as long as they weren’t too complicated, but I just couldn’t get those stupid syllables.

Here is an easy example, just to give you an idea.
Let’s say that the first 2 notes are a C and an F. Mr. Griffith would play the C on the piano, so that you would know what note to start on. The interval between a C and an F is a perfect 4th. If you want to sing a perfect 4th, then just sing the first notes of Here Comes the Bride.

Dooo, do do dooooooo.

The interval between the first 2 notes is a perfect 4th. Only you couldn’t sing it Dooo, do do doooooooooo. You would have to sing it as Doe fa fa faaaaaa. When the syllables are not written on the sheet music, then it becomes complicated. Especially if it’s some jacked-up piece of music that you are not familiar with.

I would always sing ‘la’ on every note. Mr. Griffith would look at me with that same bug-eyed look of disbelief that he gave me the day that I ate pizza with my hands.

I wanted to slap him.


I never got any good at sight singing with syllables. I still can’t do it. But, somehow, I managed – with the exception of one B – to get an A in all of my theory classes.

I went to Mr. Griffith’s funeral. It was my second one. The first was my Uncle Merwyn’s when I was 10. Mr. Griffith had shot himself in the head with a gun while he was sitting in his car at the park. I guess that he didn’t want to face the humiliation of his Dillard’s bathroom arrest coming out in the paper. Which it eventually did. Only he wasn’t around to read it. He was dead.

Every time that I pass McCain Mall or go into Dillards or hear the Blue Danube or eat at Pizza Hut or watch a tennis match on tv, I think of him.

I also wonder who got his record collection?


4 thoughts on “The Day the Music (Theory Teacher) Died

      1. The poor guy probably didn’t have much more than his teaching job to love about life. Realizing that was in jeopardy might have been enough to tip the scales. Too bad he didn’t find someone who could’ve helped him see tomorrow.

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