A Full Circle Musical Journey Between Student and Teacher

Caroline Doctorow.

When Chris Kline, a third grade teacher at Sag Harbor Elementary School, opens for Caroline Doctorow, it will be the completion of a full circle journey. Kline first learned to play the guitar from Doctorow, and he remembers sitting in her living room in Bridgehampton when he was 10 years old, listening to her sweet voice and feeling inspired by the love she felt for her music.

“The love for what she does, she puts it into her music,” said Kline. “At that time in my life, school was not always my first priority, but music always was. The four years I spent with Caroline, I learned the crux of what I know today.”

When the two bumped into each other at Harbor Books last month, Kline had continued his musical education for 20 years. He practiced with many teachers and performed beside many fellow musicians. Doctorow, who had been busy raising her little girls who were still in diapers when she started teaching Kline, now had two grown daughters and had traveled the world as an award-winning professional musician. But she remembered Kline.

“When you’re a teacher, you have a couple of students that stand out, and he was most certainly one of them,” said Doctorow. “It’s not a surprise to me that he is still pursuing music. It’s a joy for me to see him thriving in his life in so many ways.”

The two will be playing as a part of the Songwriters Share, a series begun by Nancy Remkus as a way to celebrate the joys of local music. Remkus was also the founder of Morning Program, which brings Sag Harbor Elementary families together every morning to start their days with song. Kline has gone up to the mic at Morning Program several times this year, and incorporates music into his classroom throughout the day.

“It’s hard to think of a better thing to do for school kids than to start their days by singing together,” said Doctorow. “It gives me a good feeling to know that Nancy started that and now Chris helps carry it on.”

Songwriters Share is a series at the UU Meeting House, and Doctorow has been a part of it since it began four years ago. She loves playing at this venue, which she says has amazing acoustics and really lets the instruments and voices shine. Doctorow believes that sitting together and listening to local musicians share their songs is a precious opportunity.

“The feeling of community and fellowship that you get from sitting with people and sharing stories is becoming too rare,” she said. “Society has become so fractured through technology, but singing still brings people together. You try to write songs that speak to you, but also give people a way to say ‘I’ve felt that too’.”

Kline feels honored to be a part of this series. He admires many of the East End songwriters who have been included in past performances.

“In my timeline of playing my music for people, this is quite an important moment,” said Kline. “I hope I’m able to convey that through my song choices. That will all come out as I put my heart into the music.”

As he poured through his body of work, he looked at songs he wrote in Utah, becoming more influenced by bluegrass music and the sound of the banjo. He looks to Caroline’s band, with twin fiddles and an upright bass, and sees how the music will complement one another. She knew, without even a second thought, that he’d be up for the job.

“When I saw her in the book store, she prompted the question,” recalled  Kline. “She hadn’t thought about it before that day, but it was sweet to have this inclusion in her life.”

For Kline, it feels like picking up a conversation that was paused long ago, and it feels natural.

“It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been away,” he said. “You just pick up where you left off. That’s the beautiful thing about music. Maybe the song was on pause the whole time, and you’re just right back into it.”

Caroline Doctorow and Chris Kline will play the Songwriters Share at UU Meeting House on the Bridge/Sag Turnpike in Sag Harbor on Friday, March 2. Show begins at 7:30, and tickets are $20.