By David Gianopoulos
Virginia Rath was a music teacher in the Three Village area first at North Country Elementary School and then at Gelinas Junior High School in the 1960s and 1970s. I met her when I was in fifth grade. One day, at the end of class, she asked me to stay after. She said, “David, I’d like you to stay after. I’d like to talk to you.” I didn’t know if I was in trouble or not. I used to get in trouble quite a bit when I was a young kid. And she said, “I want to tell you something. I think you may have the best voice in this school. You have a gift and you’re talented, and you need to know that, and you need to work on it.”
Well, I had never heard once in my life that I was good at anything. See, I couldn’t read. And when I say I couldn’t read, I literally could hardly read at all. I had dyslexia. And back then, people didn’t know what dyslexia was. She looked me in the eyes and said, “You have a gift. You need to know that and you need to work on it.” Over the years after that she would stop into my class in sixth grade, knock on the door, and ask to work with me privately on singing. My teacher at that time was not too keen on letting me out of class because I was behind on everything. And I was. I was not a good student. I couldn’t read. But Mrs. Rath won that debate with my teacher and he reluctantly let me go and work with her. And what a lucky person I was because she gave me hope that there was something that I could do well. And do well at school. And excel.
Mrs. Rath stayed at North Country the next year while I and my classmates went off to junior high at Gelinas. But the following year she moved to Gelinas Junior High School and became the music teacher there. So I was lucky to have her for two more years. We did many classes together, but also she had me do solo performances with Janet Tramposh in the “Sound of Music.” When we were in sixth grade, she did the musical “Amal and the Night Visitors.” It’s an opera, along with “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” — all these great songs — and she’d have the soprano section and the alto section and the tenors and the bass, and some of these songs were complicated. But she worked those kids like a taskmaster. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a sixth-grade class sound more beautiful or professional. Her drive and commitment were incredible. Virginia Rath died Oct. 12, 2016. I am forever grateful for her guidance — and showing me that there was a light at the end of the tunnel and it wasn’t a train. It was my future. Over the years since then, I’ve gone into the profession as an actor, I’ve done many TV shows and movies, I’ve done many plays — Shakespeare in the Park — and one of the reasons that I believe I am where I am today is because of her. She watered the plant I was as a young boy and gave him hope. I am forever grateful.
Virginia Rath Bidwell was buried at the Caroline Church in Setauket Tuesday, Oct. 18. I so wish I had been able to be there. What a gift she was. May she rest in peace.
[Arrangements were entrusted to the Bryant Funeral Home of Setauket. Please visit www.bryantfh.com to sign the online guest book.]