July 14, 2005
Tifton--- A veteran high school teacher received a big, emotional surprise, a surprise many teachers wish they could get.
At first, the idea sounded too good to be true. Former students would travel thousands of miles, at their own expense, from several states to honor their choral teacher.
"That puts a lot of creditability to what I do, doesn't it? It ment something to them. That's kind of nice," says Susan Beck, who taught chorus in the Tift County School System, and now teaches in Crisp County.
Teachers frequently wonder how their students have done over the years, but rarely know. They wonder if they left a positive professional legacy. If Susan Beck ever asked herself those questions, she got a stunning answer. Several of her former students missed their high school singing experience so much, they organized a choral reunion.
"I came 2,600 miles from just outside of Reno, Nevada," says Lisa Wachob McKenna, a former Tift County High School choir member who now rescues wild horses out west.
The reunion was not so much for themselves, but for their beloved choral teacher. "It's an honor they remembered the choir. They remembered me," says Susan Beck, as former singers shouted and hugged each other. "They are happy aren't they? I'm happy, too," says Beck.
She taught them more than how to sing. She taught them about life. "You have to stay focused. You have to finish the task. If you quit too soon you won't get to the end of it," says Beck, who believes those qualities work in any profession.
She used singing to instill the values. She believes singing is a valuable individual freedom. "You can sing forever. It's a wonderful way to be who you are. Good for humanity, I think," says Beck.
The chorus warmed up like they did years ago, with backs straight, breathing exercises and vocal scales like that had done hundreds of times before. She could see how her former students had changed, some with receding hairlines and some with glasses, and Susan Beck realized she had changed.
Students remembered her demanding style, where they practiced until they got it right, regardless of the time it took. Now, as she looked out from the director's stand, she realized she had mellowed a bit. "I have gotten nicer over the years," says Beck, spontaneously before repeating a particular part of a song.
They had a community concert performance in three hours, and Susan Beck wasn't concerned one bit. "They sound better as adults. The fullness of their voices; Ah, gee, the depth. It's great," says Beck after the rehearsal.
"If all we did was the rehearsal it would be worth it. It's so great to be with this group and sing again," says Lisa Wachob McKenna. Some of them haven't sung in a choir for 30 years. They had butterflies and questions. Could they read music? Could they sing on key? "We've got to do it again," says Beck, minutes before their special concert. Show time came quickly where she would direct a concert in her honor, with 35 trained voices from the past.
"This is neat," says Teresa Roberts Stout between songs. People like to savor good memories regardless of how old those memories are, and rarely, if ever, do they get to relive them.
After the concert, the choir members wanted family pictures taken with her. Children had heard of the legendary Miss Beck, and now they got to meet her and see her at her best, directing their parents. The former high school choir members came home again, sang beautifully for their be-loved choral teacher who still helps them succeed regardless of where they live and what they do in life.
The Tift County Choral group enjoyed this reunion so much they plan to have another one next year, where they expect even more singers to remember the good times.