At NCUHS: Choral director receives surprise send-off

Retiring North Country choral director Anne Hamilton reacts to a musical tribute from present and former students.  New words to the song “’Til There Was You,” were written by Adam (left) and Matt Podd, who have gone on to professional music careers in New York City.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Retiring North Country choral director Anne Hamilton reacts to a musical tribute from present and former students. New words to the song “’Til There Was You,” were written by Adam (left) and Matt Podd, who have gone on to professional music careers in New York City. Photo by Joseph Gresser

by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle June 5, 2013

NEWPORT — The choral program at North Country Union High School has been successful long enough to have established traditions.  For instance, the Christmas concert always ends with a performance of the “Hallelujah Chorus,” in which alumni of North Country are invited to participate.  Similarly, the second part of the annual pops concert always features solos by graduating seniors set amid choral performances.

At this year’s concert, on May 29, the traditions were unexpectedly mingled.  Anne Hamilton, retiring after serving as the school’s choral director for the past 13 years, planned a medley of Beatles songs for her final North Country concert.

During the performance, Ms. Hamilton said a few days later, she looked out into the audience and noticed that many of her former students were present.

“I didn’t want them to leave without getting to say hello to them,” Ms. Hamilton said.  So shortly before the final selection, “Hey Jude,” she invited alumni in the audience to come down to the front of the auditorium and join in the final section of the song.

Ms. Hamilton couldn’t have prevented them from doing so.  Unbeknownst to her, a conspiracy had been hatched by present and former students.

When the final strains of “Hey Jude,” were sung, accompanist Vivian Spates turned over the piano to Mark Violette.

“When I saw Mark at the piano, I felt things were spiraling out of control,” Ms. Hamilton said.

They were, perhaps, but not in a bad way.  Sheets of music were distributed as Mr. Violette played the opening bars of “’Til There Was You,” a song from the musical The Music Man, that was actually covered by The Beatles.

“There were notes on the page

But we never knew their meaning

No, we never knew it at all

’Til there was you,” sang students past and present.  Meredith Wilson’s original words had been replaced with ones written for the occasion by brothers Adam and Matt Podd.

“You put songs in our lives

And you taught us all sight-reading

Do Re Mi Fa

Ti Ti Ta La

’Til There Was You!”

Ms. Hamilton, seated next to Ms. Spates in the front row, seemed overcome by what was happening before her eyes and ears.  At the next verse…

“And there was All-State!

And other logistical nightmares

The drama of high notes and hormones,”

Ms. Hamilton burst into laughter.  She kept smiling as the chorus concluded their serenade.

“So we thank you

For the time that we had

And the joy we found in singing

We’re so grateful for all those years

Singing with you.”

After their first time through the song, North Country graduate Phil Gosselin, an actor who usually resides in New York City, took the microphone and thanked Ms. Hamilton on behalf of his fellow alumni.

ann hamilton spates

Ms. Hamilton and long-time accompanist Vivian Spates enjoy the witty lyrics and the enthusiastic performance. Photo by Joseph Gresser

He was followed by Joseph Cornelius who said he was taught by Ms. Hamilton in pre-school, a claim she later denied.  Mr. Cornelius was one of Ms. Hamilton’s students when he attended elementary school in Island Pond and at North Country.

“I hoped that my two daughters would get to study with her,” Mr. Cornelius said, “but it was not to be.”  He urged present North Country students to appreciate their good fortune in having the experience of Ms. Hamilton as their teacher.

After another chorus of “’Til There Was You,” the concert ended as present and former students surrounded and embraced Ms. Hamilton.

A couple of days after the concert, Ms. Hamilton reflected on the event and her time at North Country.

She said an all-Beatles concert was not a random choice.

“That’s the pops concert I wanted to go out on,” Ms. Hamilton said.  The quality of the music and the opportunities it gave for her students to shine made for an ideal final concert, she said.

“I want the students to feel they can be successful, and that means to be truly successful,” Ms. Hamilton said. “Everyone’s a winner, doesn’t work.”

Ms. Hamilton said she was very pleased that the seniors who chose to perform solos all rose to the challenge of performing such familiar and beloved music.

She said she was caught completely by surprise by the tribute organized by her former students.  The Podd brothers, she said, were at North Country giving a presentation to students on Tuesday.

“They were very coy about whether they would be able to make it to the concert,” Ms. Hamilton said.  After the workshop with the students, she took them out to dinner and invited Mr. Gosselin, one of their former classmates, whom she knew was in town working with QNEK.

At dinner, the Podd brothers told Ms. Hamilton that Mr. Gosselin would be delayed by a rehearsal.

“They didn’t tell me that it was a rehearsal for their surprise,” she said.

Ms. Hamilton said she herself followed a popular choral teacher, Glory Douglass, when she arrived at North Country after six years teaching at North Country Union Junior High School and nine years cruising between Brighton, Morgan, Holland and Charleston teaching music to elementary school students.

Ms. Hamilton said she had 11 years between graduating college and beginning her teaching career.  Although she was certified as a music teacher, Ms. Hamilton said, she felt she needed more training.

One of the benefits of going back to school, she said, was making the acquaintance of Sandi MacLeod, who today directs Music-Comp, a program that helps students learn to write music.  Ms. Hamilton has been involved in the program since its inception and she said she plans to continue working with the organization after she leaves North Country.

Ms. Hamilton said she also plans to continue leading Northsong, a locally based chamber choir that performs around the Northeast Kingdom.  Northsong will allow Ms. Hamilton to continue her collaboration with Ms. Spates, whose musicianship and generosity she praised.

Aside from that, Ms. Hamilton said she plans to take some time to think.  She said she is “50 percent committed” to learning the violin.  Her husband, Amos, after retiring from the Customs service, took up the clarinet seriously and frequently plays chamber music with friends.

After 13 years teaching at the school, Ms. Hamilton still has much good to say about North Country and the Newport community.

She said that the Rotary Club’s steadfast support of the annual music festival has translated into a general support for student artistic achievement.

“This community has always been supportive of the arts, it’s legend.  People around the state can’t believe it,” Ms. Hamilton said.

She said that she has been very well supported by the administration and her colleagues at North Country.

“This is a very nice job,” Ms. Hamilton mused, “This is a very nice job.”

contact Joseph Gresser at joseph@bartonchronicle.com

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