My tenure in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula was coming to an end. The Ontonagon School District, where I had been employed as “to visit” An elementary school music teacher at three different schools, in addition to being the director of the high school and middle school choir, he had to cut staff. My position would be reduced to part-time.
Unfortunately, my living expenses remained the same and there was no way I could live on a part-time income. It was time to move on. I explored every possibility, but the only option was to leave UP and seek employment in greener pastures elsewhere.
My heart was heavy as I considered the alternatives. I had come to love UP, its rugged beauty, and its people; and I had known many summits as well as its sometimes unforgiving valleys. It was a place that allowed me to grow beyond personal difficulties.
It allowed me to make peace with the past and to forgive, to be forgiven and to move boldly into the future. It was also a place where I grew up professionally; produce and direct “Sound of Music” in the impressive Théâtre Calumet.
It was a place where actors and I walked in the footsteps of such giants as John Philip Sousa, Douglas Fairbanks Sr., James O’Neil and Sarah Bernhard and even one of my organist idols, Virgil Fox. We walked and wept with Jewish children destined to be victims of the Holocaust in our Suomi production of “I have never seen another butterfly.”
I loved playing for Sunday morning services and gigging at Trinity Episcopal Church on the only three-manual pipe organ in UP (apart from the three-manual Wurlitzer Theater Organ which I played at Michigan Tech hockey games).
I had to leave those who at first were strangers, but over the years had become dear friends. These are countless memories, never to be forgotten; but now it was time to start a new chapter. But where?
I remembered that, “God helps those who help themselves.” It was time to get to work and use the gifts I had received. I remember reading somewhere that “Only the Mint makes money, the rest of us have to earn it.”
I asked myself, “How soon could I start”income“still have money? The answer was simple; it was as soon as I started a new job. Question: “How was I going to find this new job“? The answer was once again so simple,” Look for it and leave no stone unturned. »
Sometimes it’s a good idea to have a conversation with yourself. Chances are you already know the answers to your questions. All you need is to hear yourself say it.
I immediately set to work, using all available resources, and was encouraged by the philosophy that “a “Yes» will follow the next « no ». Bingo! Hastings High School in Hastings, Minnesota contacted me and asked if I was available for an interview.
They were looking for a choir director and they were impressed with my resume. A date and time were agreed upon and on the appointed date I got off at Hastings, and the next morning went through the interview process.
One of the things I had learned early in my career was to keep important documents: schedules, photos, letters of appreciation, comments about my work from parents, school staff, students who had been in my choirs and theater groups, business leaders, politicians, clergy and community members. I had five volumes in my collection from Forest Hills and Creston High Schools in Grand Rapids, Michigan and Suomi College, Gwinn and Ontonagon High Schools in Michigan’s UP Literally a box full of testimonials. Yes, it’s good to sell yourself, but it’s even better to have others sell for you!
Today, with the availability of the Internet, everything would have been different. My information could have been entered on a USB key and I could have carried all this information in my pocket; Also, I had duplicate copies available to leave with a prospective employer. We have come a long way in a short time.
The interview went well and a few days later I learned that I had been hired. I guess they were impressed. They said “Of all the candidates who applied, you were the only one who brought”a box of testimonials. I moved to Hastings, bought a house and moved in. The work (perhaps unfortunately) lasted only a year.
I had this weird philosophy that “choral” should be more than just “Amusing” time. I was a firm believer in the concept that children should not just learn “Remarks” but they should also learn music theory and the history behind the notes. In other words, they should learn the language of the music they sang.
They were going to be graded, and just being in the choir didn’t automatically mean “A”. Most of the children accepted the program, but a few had their program modified and dropped out. I even had parents call me to tell me what I was doing was unheard of and crazy.
Fortunately, I was brought up knowing that “You can’t please everyone.”
When the kids heard that I had been Michigan Tech’s hockey organist and that the Minnesota North Stars had asked me to be one of their organists, they asked me if I wanted to play too. for the Hastings hockey team. What could I say, but “Yes”?
For Christmas, I embarked on a bold program. There was a community choir in Hastings and I invited them to join the high school choir and play George Frederic Handel’s Christmas section. “Messiah” for our Christmas concert. The community choir loved the idea. They inspired the children and the children, in turn, inspired the community choir. Our concert was a huge success.
I was so thrilled with the children’s performance that, as a reward, I wanted to take them on a choir tour in Washington DC; I had been there twice with the Creston Choir which performed at the Lincoln Memorial, Arlington Cemetery, the Senate and the White House Rose Garden. I knew I had the connections for the Hastings Choir to do some of the same things.
I had established a “choir parent council” and they were 100% behind the idea. However, the school principal and the school board said “no.” The children and I, of course, were very disappointed. I was offered an alternative. It was, “Why don’t you take the kids to Winnipeg for a weekend?” » The offer came with this stipulation, “We had to raise the money for the trip!”
One way or another, schools never run out of funds for anything athletic, but when it comes to supporting the arts, funds miraculously dry up. This school was no different.
It’s not a reflection on our Canadian neighbors, but going to Winnipeg isn’t quite the same as going to Washington, DC, but, if the choice was between Winnipeg and nothing, the choice was easy. The next day I announced “We are going to Winnipeg. All we have to do is raise money. »
I love a good challenge, and raising funds for my students was a real challenge. I had heard of a company (in Ohio?) that sold frozen pizzas. It was a whole new concept. You bought the frozen pizzas and frozen toppings, put the pizzas and toppings in your oven at home, and after the specified time, the pizzas, piping hot, were ready to eat.
I proposed the idea to the parent council of my choir. They loved it. We printed out order forms for the kids to use when they went door to door to sell the frozen pizzas, and off they went.
Within a week, we knew our sales campaign was a huge success. The order numbers were out of sight. I called the pizza factory and ordered pizzas……..lots of pizzas.
On the afternoon of the delivery date, a tractor-trailer pulled up in front of the school. I think the school administration almost had a heart attack. The children proved that “Where there is a will, there is a way.” That evening much of the Hastings population ate piping hot (frozen) pizza and that spring the Hastings Choir performed their very successful Winnipeg Spring Weekend Tour.
When someone is hired by a school as a new teacher, your first year is a probationary year. At the end of that first year, you are either hired and placed on tenured status, or the school can simply fire you, for no reason.
I guess the pizza truck was my final death, “the nail in the coffin”. I was told that I was not a “team player”; a typical athletic expression.
I suppose I was more concerned with the growth and welfare of my children than the opinion of the administration, and that, my friends, is not a permanent position.
I will always cherish the sight of that pizza truck pulling up in front of the school gate and seeing the excitement of the children and the dismay of the school administration. “Thanks for the memory.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Gerrit Lamain is a former Copper Country resident who served as a music teacher at Suomi College. He has published a book, “Gerrit’s Notes: A compilation of essays”, which can be found on Amazon. His email address is [email protected]