Retirement Gratitude Countdown

As I approached the last 10 days before I officially retired on July 1, I wanted to use Facebook to thank many people who had helped me in so many ways. So I started a 10 day gratitude countdown. Here is the summary of the 10 days, followed by the full text I posted each day.

The Summary

Day 10 – Artistic License

Day 9 – Colleagues

Day 8 – Administrative Assistants, Custodians, and Administrators

Day 7 – Friends from NVOT Faculty & Staff

Day 6 – Golden Knights Music Parents Association

Day 5 – Evan Cooper

Day 4 – John Housley

Day 3 – Dr. Mallory Thompson

Day 2 – John P. Paynter and Dr. Dean Simpson

Day 1 – Dr. Otis D. Kitchen and the alumni of NVOT

The Tributes

Day 10 – 10 work days left before my official retirement date from Northern Valley. Today I am thankful for the artistic license I have enjoyed over these 31 years to program exactly what I thought would serve the students best, without pressure from my superiors or the community.

Day 9 – 9 work days left. Today I am thankful for all the colleagues who have made this experience memorable – marching band staffs, All-School Musical Production faculties, and my friends in MEBCI, NJSMA, and NJMEA. I wish you all the best for the future.

Day 8 – Only 8 working days until July 1. Today I want to say I am grateful for the administrative assistants, custodians, and administrators who have been the backbone of the program at Northern Valley for all this time. Without your support, I could not have attempted half of what I’ve done.

Day 7 – Today, with 7 days left til July 1, I am grateful for the NVOT faculty and staff friends, past and present, who have been supportive of our music program and kind to me, both professionally and personally.

Day 6 – With 6 professional days left, today I am grateful for the Golden Knights Music Parents Association. This organization has supported my efforts in countless ways, and is the model for successful music parents organizations. I am especially grateful to Chona Chona Dizon Freedman and Stratos Mandalakis, the current President and Vice President, for their unique and selfless contributions to the support parent organization model.

Day 5 – 5 gold rings . . . um, wrong countdown.
Today there’s only five weekdays left before July 1. Today I am grateful for my colleague and friend Evan Cooper. Evan was the second Northern Valley faculty member I met when I arrived at Old Tappan back in 1982. We were band directors in opposite buildings for many years until he became the Related Arts Supervisor in 1997. For the next 11 years, Evan coached, encouraged, critiqued, and motivated me. He was the driving force behind my nomination/election as the NJ Master Music Teacher in 2003. Although he had the largest supervision load in the district (5 departments in 2 buildings), Evan was always ready to listen to my concerns, advise me when no sensible answer seemed possible, and assist in any way possible to keep the NVOT instrumental program at the top of its game. I value his ongoing friendship, and look forward to many more years of collaboration.

Day 4 – Only four more wakeups . . .
Today I am grateful for John Housley, who I met when he was a sophomore in 1983, and who has now been a colleague for many years. We were amazed at his audition for Apopolous in “Wonderful Town” back then; he was extremely talented and uniquely so for a high school student. After graduation from NYU, and then coming on board as our All-School Musical Production director, John was invited to join the NVOT faculty in 1994, and he has been raising the bar for our productions ever since. His award-winning direction, design, choreography, and lighting earned him and NVOT a record-breaking number of awards in the Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Awards. His deft skills and dedication to our students, our production, our school, and our traditions has made him a master teacher. I am uniquely fortunate to call myself his teacher, his colleague, his student, and his friend.

Day 3 – So many of you have been following my countdown, which is very kind, but a few of you have questioned my ability to count. See the end of this post for my rationale.
Today, with 3 to go, I am grateful for my friend and colleague, Mallory Thompson. I’ve known Mallory since 1976, when we met at Band Camp at Northwestern University. All these years later, after 22 (we think) MEBCI Wind Conducting Symposia, innumerable roller coaster rides, margaritas, rehearsals, concerts, tears, laughs, and long talks, she remains one of the strongest musical and pedagogical influences of my life, and one of my closest friends. It might be said that it’s impossible for a friend to become your teacher, but I am quick to say that I have learned so much from her. Her conducting expertise, quick and exact diagnosis of conducting issues, knowledge of repertoire, and ease of helping people actualize their musical potential has been a major source of inspiration for me for 37 years. I am thankful that she was able to come to Tarrytown as a guest conductor for our WSW 25th Anniversary Gala in May, and return again to speak at my dinner in June. Mallory, you’ve helped made my dreams come true.
Yes, technically, I have only one more wake-up (tomorrow) and only one more day to go in to school. I’ve already surrendered my keys and my laptop over to my successor. I’ve already said good-bye to many people. It’s a long process, which has been evolving over quite a bit of time. I’m savoring these last days with wonderful memories and great expectations for the future. One more work day, two days of ‘vacation’ before June 30, and then . . . poof! Act 3 will begin!

Day 2 – Today I am grateful for the two teachers who have had the strongest effect on my life as a music educator and conductor: John P. Paynter and Dr. Dean Simpson.
As a freshman at Northwestern, I failed to make the cut into one of the bands conducted by Mr. Paynter, the Director of Bands, and a legend in his own right. An opening was announced on Eb Clarinet, and I went to Mr. Paynter and told him I was interested in the spot. I think he had a very good idea that I had never played Eb before, but he took me on anyway. From 1976-1981, I sat in the “hot seat” on Eb Clarinet, directly in front him. I memorized most of my concert music because I watched him all the time. It was an intense experience, and one in which I learned so much about conducting and interacting with players. When I became a Band Staff member, and eventually the Staff Manager, I gained experience in management from him that no class ever taught. After I completed my graduate conducting degree, I played in his Northshore Concert Band, and even re-joined NCB again in 1987 when he took the band to play at the first WASBE convention in Boston. At Northwestern, and in the years thereafter, Mr. Paynter was my mentor and inspiration.
When I applied for the job at NVOT, I met Dr. Dean Simpson when I flew in to Newark Airport for the day-long interview. He told me right away that he was retiring the following June, so once I was hired, I knew I had only one year to learn the ropes. Dean was a master teacher, a choral director of supreme musicianship, and had a dynamic charisma. His infectious laugh and high energy level made his rehearsals lively and electric. Through his example, I learned how to run a music department fund-raiser, produce a musical, and organize an exchange concert trip. He remained a tremendous friend and supporter in the years after his retirement.
Today, I honor both John Paynter and Dean Simpson, who helped shape my career and my life. As I walked out of the building for the last time today, I felt their presence and the result of their influence.

Day 1 –  Today is a totally unique day, and I’m trying to be mindful of it all day long. It is the first unofficial day of my retirement, with one official contractual day remaining, tomorrow. So in honor of this singular day, I share my gratitude for Dr. Otis D. Kitchen, who really made this all possible, and for all the NVOT alumni with whom I have had the honor to work over 31 years.
Completing this countdown would be futile without acknowledging and thanking Otis Kitchen. In 1970, I took my first private clarinet lesson down the street with Otis. He was the band director at Elizabethtown College, in the Lancaster County town where I grew up, and I was fortunate that he took me into his studio as a 7th grader. Otis helped me and my parents to pick out my first Buffet clarinet, and I took weekly lessons with him throughout junior high and high school. He successfully coached me through 3 sets of District and Regional auditions, and then stepped in as my senior year District Band conductor when Clifton Williams, the scheduled guest conductor, was suddenly taken ill. In addition, he invited me to perform with the Elizabethtown College Band during my senior year (we performed at Kennedy Center), and was also my conductor in the Lancaster County Youth Symphony (with whom I had the chance to perform at Damrosch Band Shell, Lincoln Center). Otis was an alumnus of Northwestern University, and he was the one who said, “Your only real choice is to go to Northwestern and play for John Paynter.” He coached me through my freshman audition with Robert Marcellus, and I was accepted. My parents (somehow) found a way to send me to Evanston, and the rest, as they say, is history. Otis continued to support me throughout my career, and recently drove all the way to Tarrytown on two occasions to hear two of my WSW concerts (and even gave my mother a lift so she could hear both programs as well). He is a true life-long mentor, giving me opportunities for pivotal life experiences, and I continue to be grateful for his ongoing advice and presence in my life.
And, to finish this 10-day countdown, the final thank you goes to the students: the Wind Symphony, Concert Band, String Ensemble, Marching Band, and All-School Musical Production alumni of NVOT. Every one of my professional dreams has come true because of you. Together, we have breakfasted, marched, sweated, bused, rehearsed, laughed, cried, ran for cover from the rain, worked out Prism overlap conflicts, waited in turn for Fuddruckers, cheered for successes, consoled one another in disappointments, and furthered the love of music beyond the circle of our community to an exponential degree. I wish you all the best that life can offer, and look forward to seeing you at another performance sometime in the future.


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