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The Student News Site of Concord-Carlisle Regional High School

The Voice

Concord-Carlisle High School's Student Newspaper
The Student News Site of Concord-Carlisle Regional High School

The Voice

Concord-Carlisle High School's Student Newspaper

“Life Lessons with Ms. Smith”: Retirement of CCHS’ Choral Director

“Life Lessons with Ms. Smith”: Retirement of CCHS’ Choral Director

(A special thank you to Mr. Thomas Keane and Ms. Kristen Lynch for their contributions!)

Anyone who knows CCHS choral director Deborah Smith will immediately recall “life lessons with Ms. Smith,” just one of Ms. Smith’s many memorable antics that have made her well-beloved by her chorus students. Now, Ms. Smith imparts her last “life lessons” and reflects on her time at CCHS as she takes a step out of the spotlight after teaching here for 18 years of her 34-year-long career. She leaves behind a legacy of charisma, energy, supportiveness, and a bit of goofiness in the performing arts department. She has led multiple ensembles and fostered the evolution of the choirs at CCHS, which currently encompass the Combined Chorus and three auditioned groups: Men’s Chorus, Melodies, and Select Choir.

When asked what her first emotion is toward her retirement, Ms. Smith pauses contemplatively and reflects, “It’s sad… which is surprising to me.” She describes, “I [realize], ‘This is the last time I’m going to do… district auditions or Allstate auditions or the March concert…’ so I get a little sad and nostalgic.” Now that each event of this year will be her last, Ms. Smith says, “there’s more meaning to it… so I really want it to be the best it can be, the greatest of all.” Ms. Smith describes that she gets “overwhelmed” when she sees the names of alumni who have attended her last concerts.

Ms. Smith mentions that one of her favorite moments from her career was in 2020, “a week before the world shut down” due to the COVID-19 pandemic, when Select Choir was chosen to perform at the All State Conference. “We almost didn’t get that performance,” thanks to the global lockdown induced by the pandemic just days later, she adds. Even the experience of the pandemic itself, however, produced light in spite of the challenges. Ms. Smith says that the music videos produced by the choirs during the pandemic were another highlight of her career: despite not being able to sing together, “it was so creative” and “so exciting” to have all of the students involved in creating a number of beautiful music videos that were even nominated for three Emmy awards.

Above: Ms. Smith with students from Pathways and LAUNCH, CCHS’ special education programs. Photos courtesy of Kristen Lynch.

Yet another highlight of Ms. Smith’s career, she says, has been “working with the Pathways and LAUNCH students”—she fondly recalls, “[It] has been so rewarding. I have loved [working with them] so much… and I’m really grateful that I got that opportunity, even if it was just my last three years.” Thomas Keane of the Pathways special education program calls Ms. Smith “an agent of change.” He explains, “In 2019, I joined up with Ms. Smith to be part of a music education class that could support students with more significant needs.” For the LAUNCH special education students (ages 18-23) who “were continuing their journey from the Pathways Music Program Class,” Kristen Lynch describes, “[Ms. Smith] often adjusted and re-adjusted her schedule to fit [their] vocational needs.” Ms. Lynch says that “Ms. Smith’s passion and love for music permeated through each lesson, whether it was within a group or personally tailored to teach or highlight a student’s strength and/or confidence.” During COVID, the collaboration was met with complications from hybrid learning and masks, but Ms. Smith remained dedicated to the life of the program and the wellbeing of her students. Describing it as a “comprehensive music therapy class,” Mr. Keane says that the class has grown to “[incorporate] music, movement, and serious (re)percussion with a variety of instruments the students can experiment with.” Ms. Lynch adds, “[Ms. Smith] taught so much more than musical notes, instruments, and lyrics. She taught pure joy, perseverance, confidence, and life lessons, all through many smiles and bouts of much laughter.” Mr. Keane concludes, “Ms. Smith is a musical trailblazer when it comes to advocating [and] ensuring access to public education for all.”

Above: Photos of LAUNCH & Pathways students in the Chorus Room. Photos courtesy of Thomas Keane.

Ms. Smith says her joy from working with the special education students is reflective of the joy she gets from teaching music in general: “I love watching kids take a piece of music and make it come to life. I think it’s very exciting and fulfilling, and that’s why I do it.”

Ms. Smith has strived to “[foster] a love of singing and… [an] appreciation for all kinds of vocal music.” Ms. Smith observes that individuals can be “very narrow in what we like” until “our eyes are open to other lanes,” which is what she hopes to have achieved for her students throughout her career. She also emphasizes “how wonderful it is to be in a community where everybody works together toward a common goal and supports each other and has fun together [while] [working] hard together.”

Ms. Smith’s last year has been an eventful one—not just in terms of emotions, but also in terms of landmark performances. In particular, Select Choir earned a gold medal for their performance at the Massachusetts Instrumental Choral & Conductors Association (MICCA) Festival at the end of March, which was judged by nationally-renowned adjudicators. The last time Ms. Smith recalls Select Choir receiving this difficult-to-obtain honor was around 2017, so she says, “I just really wanted one before I retired.” Still, Ms. Smith underlines that the final result was “not the be-all-end-all” and that she prioritized the process of preparing for the festival in and of itself. Ms. Smith was “beside [herself]” when the ensemble received gold—the highest possible rating reserved for the most elite ensembles. In Ms. Smith’s words, “[the judges at MICCA] don’t give out [gold medals] willy-nilly.” It was a testament to the effort of Select Choir under Ms. Smith’s thorough instruction.

Above: Select Choir at the 2023 MICCA Festival, where they earned a gold medal.

Ms. Smith’s last concert, the Choral Pops Concert, was held on Wednesday, May 24 and attended by a throng of alumni in addition to the normal chorus families and friends. Although there were a few blips naturally arising from the pressure, excitement, and magic (and technical difficulties) of live performance, Ms. Smith says that the “adrenaline rush” and subsequent “unpredictability” of the concert was overpowered by the spirit of “fun and joy” that infused the performance. Visibly touched by the memory, Ms. Smith reflects, “What more could I want?… How could I not be happy with all the spirit and emotion and caring?” She says that the experience reflected her goal as a music teacher: to foster an environment of “reaching out and creating emotions and love and support of each other.”

The Pops Concert included a surprise tribute for Ms. Smith, which she called “very special” and moving. With a speech from Superintendent Dr. Hunter, amusing memories shared by Concord Middle School chorus director Dan Rivenburgh, and the first public viewing of the combined chorus’ Emmy-nominated video filmed during COVID (You Raise Me Up), Ms. Smith says it was a moment she will “remember for a long time.”

Above left: Combined Chorus at the Choral Pops Concert. Above right: Ms. Smith’s tribute during the Pops Concert. Photos courtesy of Rui Ma.

Undoubtedly, Ms. Smith has made a significant impact on the lives of her students in and out of the performing arts—in her speech, Dr. Hunter mentioned that Ms. Smith has always left her door open to students to support them in any way possible. The community is deeply grateful for her inspiration of so many students, and we hope that her legacy will continue to echo long after the last notes have been conducted.

Above: Combined Chorus with alumni singing their final farewell song to seniors and to Ms. Smith, “May Our Paths Meet Again.” Photo courtesy of Rui Ma.

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