Let’s make ‘Sound of Music’ – Part I | News, Sports, Jobs

Forest Hills High School in suburban Grand Rapids, Michigan was my first high school teaching job. The year was 1963.

I had completed my Bachelor of Music in public schools with a major in organ and theory, and a minor in voice and music education.

I was well on my way to my Masters in Counseling. Unfortunately, my growing family demanded that I temporarily put an end to my studies and look for a job to meet my growing financial needs. Miraculously, a call from Forest Hills High School saved the day.

The school superintendent called me and said they had an immediate opening for a high school choir director and a counselor for grades 9-11. He told me that this was a very unusual hiring situation, but after checking with all the colleges in the area he had come across my name and that I was the only qualified and available candidate.

He asked me if I would be interested and, if so, would I come for an interview, “as soon as possible.”

I almost screamed, “You bet,” but I remained a bit calm and professional and asked, “Would tomorrow morning suit you?” »

It was a prayer answered, even before it was uttered. The next day I drove to school and was ushered into the superintendent’s office. I had a hard time staying calm.

I was ready to say “Yes” to almost anything. I needed a job. I had bills to pay and a wife and children to feed.

After listening to the job offer, I was more than ready to “sign on the dotted line,” but first there was a “school visit”. I was shown the choir room and the multipurpose room which had a performance stage.

I was also shown what my counseling office would be. It was all a dream come true.

The paperwork was ready to be signed and I remembered my hand shaking a little when I added my signature to my first teaching contract. It was the start of a journey that for me has become the “trip of a lifetime.”

1963, November 22: It was a day and a year that will be remembered as “the day President Kennedy was assassinated.” I remember that day very well.

I had attended my weekly Tuesday lunch at the North Grand Rapids Rotary Club. I had been asked to become a member of Rotary simply because the club, which is part of the worldwide organization of Rotary, had lost its pianist member. (Each club traditionally had a short singing session at the start of its weekly meeting.)

The singing session always ended with “America, the beautiful.” After lunch, I drove back to Forest Hills High School, parked the school car, and walked into the school office.

A very unusual sight greeted me; teachers, students and administrative staff were crying and hugging each other. Of course, I could see that a great tragedy had happened, but I had no idea what it was. Coming back from my Rotary meeting, I hadn’t listened to the car radio.

When I asked, “What is going on?” I learned of the Kennedy assassination. Needless to say, the rest of the school day was spent calming the kids down and dealing with our own grief.

Our nation’s “Camelot” dream had come to a violent end. Staff and students did their best to return to some degree of normality, but it was difficult. A presidential assassination has a knack for shattering a nation’s hopes and dreams.

A few weeks after the assassination, one of my students in council brought me a poem he had read in a local newspaper.

He said, “I thought maybe you could do something with it.” It was called “Six White Horses.”

The poem, composed by a Detroit-area high school student, told the story of little Johnny Kennedy as he watched his dad’s funeral procession pass by en route to Arlington Cemetery.

The poem moved me so much that I felt the need to make a song out of it. I walked to the choir room, sat down at the piano, and in fifteen minutes I had composed the music for the poem, “Six white horses.”

A few weeks after the event, the song was sung at my first Forest Hills High School Choir concert. The song’s performance received an extended standing ovation and I received numerous requests for copies, but declined.

There was no doubt in my mind that the song, given the mood of the country at that time, could have been a “international success” but there was no way I could justify taking advantage of someone’s grief. The song has only been performed once since that time.

Time has passed and other events have helped us move forward and look to the future again. There was a lot of enthusiasm from the kids for the high school choir program and its potential.

I had been hired by the Lowell Showboat in Lowell, Michigan, as the new Music Director and wasted no time in getting started building a Showboat Chorus; and, of course, my first group of recruits were members of the Forest Hills High School Choir.

They, and in many cases their parents, were more than eager to join. They would provide a solid musical foundation.

Dinah Shore the internationally acclaimed singing star, was to be the featured singer/host, and everyone wanted to be part of the act.

It was very exciting, and frankly, a little scary for me. (I had never been the musical director of a popular hall, but as I had learned by reading and adopting Robert Frost “The road less travelled”; and “I took the one that traveled the least, and that made all the difference.”

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]

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